Sunday, May 11, 2008 | 12:03 p.m.
There is a ringing in my ears at about the same pitch as Geddy Lee’s voice as it catapults the guitar solo in “Something For Nothing.” I’ve felt this before, 11 times total, after every Rush concert I’ve attended, most recently last night (that would be May 10, or the day before Mother’s Day) at Mandalay Bay Events Center. When I called Mom this morning to wish her a happy Mother’s Day, I told her my ears were whistling because of the Rush show.
“I can’t stand that band,” she said.
She has never understood.
I was 16 first time I saw Rush in concert, at the Oakland Coliseum Arena during the band’s Moving Pictures tour, a show from which was recorded as the classic “Exit Stage Left” live album. At the time my tastes in music ranged from Queen to AC/DC, Journey, Led Zeppelin, ELO, the Blues Brothers, a lot of the dance music that was out in the disco era (I did own the Chic album and two Village People records, and I learned The Hustle), and have loved the Beatles for as long as I can remember. But a friend of mine, a ne’er-do-well named Doug, had an older brother with an “advanced” music collection (advanced, meaning he owned a stack albums that included Y&T, Nazareth and UFO), and he played for me Rush’s “2112.” Whoa. It was wild. Geddy’s voice jarring, higher than any woman vocalist I’d heard. I remember actually listening to the lyrics, the storytelling of the connected first side and the explosive instrumentation. It was so different, so out of the dark.
When “Moving Pictures” was released, Doug and I had a friend who worked at a record store at the mall. He called us when the shipment arrived, and we rode our bikes over to pop open the case. I still have that album, with my little fingerprints still visible from when I grabbed the fresh copy, which seemed wet with ink when I bought it.
What I remember most about that show at the Oakland Coliseum was the thick fragrance of pot that hung in the air. In those days it was a fairly common odor at concerts, especially at the Coliseum, which reeked of reefer for every show, even “Disney On Ice.” I felt the stench had permeated the very structure of the arena, similar to how old kitchens can smell of garlic. It was amid that odor that the band played “Passage to Bangkok,” and I turned to my buddy and said, “Hey! This song is about pot!” It’s the smartest pot song ever, likely. They also played “Red Barchetta,” a song about a hopped-up sports car being aired out on a country road.
Since, I’ve owned every Rush release, most in multiple forms. I’ve got nine CD versions of “Tom Sawyer,” “The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill.” I’ve seen them in Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Reno and here in Vegas. When they took the stage at Mandalay Bay, many in the audience had seen a dozen shows just on this tour – it seems Rush is becoming the next Grateful Dead, with a loyal (but smaller, and probably richer) collection of fans hooking onto large segments of each world tour. I spoke to one woman who has seen four shows on this tour and had seen the band 24 times over the years (contrary to popular belief, Rush does have female fans; behind me in the ticket line was Glynda Rhodes, wife of Vegas land magnate Jim Rhodes). Rush is the rare band that can actually tour in support of a live album – the set list was largely unchanged from the 2007 Snakes & Arrows tour, after which the band released “Snakes & Arrows Live,” then launched another Snakes & Arrows tour.
It was not the best Rush show I’ve seen, given that I’d seen essentially the same show less than a year ago, but the band was characteristically powerful and added touches of humor with video cameos by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis (reprising their Bob and Doug McKenzie roles for a Great White North skit) and the boys from “South Park,” performing a garage version of the indefatigable "Tom Sawyer." The crowd was suitably aged, most graying or, like Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, admirably fighting a recession. There was also a large contingent of people carrying a Chilean flag, as Rush is huge in South America (and I expect one day they will be big in Japan, too. It’s inevitable).
There were some kids, too, as fathers tugged curious teens to the concert; Dennis Miller even spoke of taking his teenage son to a Rush show during this tour. On Saturday, as Geddy announced “a song about a car” to introduce “Red Barchetta,” I looked to my left, in the row in front of me, and noticed a young man, probably age 16, standing with his fingers pressed hard against his ears.
From one Rush fan to another: Good move, kid. Good move.