Rush Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul Tuesday, May 12
Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Rush stopped by St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night as part of their R40 Tour, a 34-date North American jaunt that the band claims will be its final large-scale trek across the country. However, if anything was clear at the almost sold-out arena gig, it's that Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart look like they're nowhere near being ready to stop.
Playing with the gusto of musicians half their age, the Canadian trio treated their Minnesota fan base to a three-hour set featuring 27 songs spanning the entirety of their four-decade career. Guitarist Lifeson bounced around the stage and posed for pictures while busting out his virtuosic riffs, singer/bassist Lee hit the high notes and nailed his low-end solos, and drummer Peart worked his way around his gigantic drum kit like only one of the most talented time-keepers can.
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The R40 Tour is so named because 2015 is the 40th anniversary of Peart joining the band for their sophomore record, Fly By Night, solidifying a three-man lineup that's stayed the same ever since. Tuesday's show naturally found Rush celebrating the whole of their 20-album discography, highlighting the top tracks from 2012's Clockwork Angels at the beginning, and slowly working backward until they reached debut single "Working Man."
Lee called this "devolving and descending in time," but things only got better as the show went on. "Far Cry," from 2007's Snakes & Arrows, was an early treat thanks to Lifeson's too-rare backing vocals, while "Tom Sawyer" and "YYZ" reinforced the genius of the 1981 prog-meets-mainstream classic, Moving Pictures, midway through the night, and a four-song suite from 2112 took fans to another world right before the encore.
A constantly changing stage setup morphed right along with the music, bringing back set pieces from each era's corresponding tours that were wheeled on and off the stage by tireless roadies. At various times there was a popcorn maker, a giant encased brain, and laundry machines behind the band, in addition to a bank of amplifiers that grew and shrank throughout the years. For the last two songs of the night, both from Rush's 1974 eponymous debut, this concept culminated with a couple of amplifiers arranged atop flimsy chairs and a giant recreation of Lee and Lifeson's high school gym in Toronto.There's a reason that Paul Rudd and Jason Segel's characters bond over a love of Rush in the 2009 bro-comedy I Love You, Man. All throughout the night and all across the arena, you could see grown men who didn't appear to know one another exchanging high-fives, shout-singing in unison, and generally geeking out over rare cuts like Permanent Waves' "Natural Science," trotted out for the first time in seven years, and Caress of Steel's "Lakeside Park," which hadn't been played live since 1978 before their current tour. [page]
Speaking of Rudd and Segel, the famous pair appeared alongside other celebrity Rush fans in two video segments recorded for the tour. There was the rap breakdown in "Roll the Bones," which featured Rudd and Segel assisting on the 1991 hit, along with Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage, This Is the End's Jay Baruchel, and the cast of Trailer Park Boys.
As the band came back from intermission, there was another pre-recorded piece starring Rudd, Segel, Jerry Stiller, and the kids from South Park arguing over whether Rush made a song about Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn.
Set list-wise, Tuesday's concert kept the same chronologically descending structure as the two preceding shows in Tulsa and Lincoln. However, Rush wouldn't be Rush if they weren't always keeping fans on their toes. There were several things that made the St. Paul show a unique stop on the tour, such as the inclusion of "Natural Science" and the tour debut of "YYZ," which hadn't been skipped in concert since 1992 prior to R40.
Notable omissions included one of the trio's biggest hits, "Limelight," and any material at all from their mid-'80s records Power Windows and Hold Your Fire, two of just five albums not represented at the show. Being from Rush's divisive synthesizer era, those are two of Rush's least-popular LPs, but I actually heard a group of fans lamenting their exclusion afterward.
The lack of "Limelight" was certainly strange, considering that Tuesday could be the last time most fans in the building get to see the band, but R40 isn't the Moving Pictures Tour. Rather, it was a one-of-a-kind commemoration of one of rock 'n' roll's most ambitious catalogs, and a pretty grand one at that.
Making it to the year 2112 might be a stretch, but here's to hoping that Rush can keep it up, on a smaller scale of course, to celebrate their 50th birthday in 2025.
The Crowd: Mostly people who've been following the band since their '70s and '80s heyday, but plenty of their offspring, too. Fans of all ages enjoyed imitating Peart on the skins, from the drunk guy in front of me to a boy no more than 10 years old enjoying the show with his parents.
Set 1: The Anarchist Clockwork Angels Headlong Fight Far Cry The Main Monkey Business One Little Victory Animate Roll the Bones Distant Early Warning Subdivisions
Set 2: Tom Sawyer YYZ The Spirit of Radio Natural Science Jacob's Ladder Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Cygnus X-1 Closer to the Heart Xanadu 2112 Part I: Overture 2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx 2112 Part IV: Presentation 2112 Part VII: Grand Finale
Encore: Lakeside Park Anthem What You're Doing Working Man
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