Sunday, July 26, 2015 | 10:31 p.m.
It’s another Rush hangover, that pulsating headache that keeps the beat to “Overture” from “2112.” The ears are ringing like the church bells from the start of Cygnus X-1.
The first of these lingering, day-after hangovers was incurred ages ago, in 1984 at Cow Palace in San Francisco, a performance with such percussive power that it seemed the old barn would implode before the band reached “Red Barchetta.”
A show so powerful that, in my sleep after the concert, I dreamed about what I’d just seen, and the dream was so loud that I shot awake and bolted upright.
This was during the mid-song drum riff in “YYZ.” Rush fans understand.
All these Rush-infused memories are so plentiful and indelible, we don’t always know where to begin or end. On Saturday night, the band took that task themselves, rolling in reverse from finish to start during its “R40 Tour” stop at a jammed MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The “R40” designation is to mark the 40th anniversary of when drummer Neil Peart joined the band (which was 41 years ago, summer of ’74). This was a three-man march through time, from the band’s most recent release, “Clockwork Angels,” through its self-titled debut album released to great (by that I mean zero) fanfare in 1974.
The rewind-replay format split the show in two sections, with “The Anarchist” and “Clockwork Angels” kicking off the first set. The underrated “Far Cry” backed by explosions and bursts of flames behind the stage (as someone in my row called out, “Hey! It’s Bamboo Pool time!”) was a highlight.
So was a personal favorite, “Roll the Bones,” which upon release in 1991 was a song we were apt to sing while leaning over a craps table as dopey young gamblers. A series of celebs who also are noted Rush fans — Paul Rudd, Jason Segal and Trailer Park Boys, among them — lip synched the rap segment.
From “Signals,” the synth-happy follow to “Moving Pictures,” “Subdivisions,” showed why it has long been a “must” song in Rush shows.
(Something about this ode to secondary-school outcasts: John Payne, bassist and frontman of Asia and also for the original version of “Raiding the Rock Vault,” was asked five years ago to contribute a vocal-and-bass track to a version of the song for a compilation project in which Peart played the drums.
Payne loved being asked and thought he’d have the vocal-and-bass parts wrapped within a few hours; it actually took Payne two days to complete for the song’s vocal-and-bass complexities.)
The set that followed was loaded with Rush classics. “Tom Sawyer,” played in every concert since the release of “Moving Pictures”; a supercharged take on “Red Barchetta”; “The Spirit of Radio” (my vote for the band’s finest song); the Cygnus X–1 stretch from “Hemispheres” (in all of its bass-infused brilliance and weirdness); and the full first side of “2112” punctuated the post-intermission set.
The crowd stood throughout punching the air with requisite air-drum solos. Gray- and thin-haired devotees slapped one another’s backs and exuberantly grabbed their buddies’ shoulders (and, in some cases, the shoulders of strangers).
And, similar to the old days, a funny aroma filled the air — and the long-standing joke about those partaking doing so because they are suffering from glaucoma might not be such a joke with the advancing age of Rush fans.
Even so, remarkably, many kids were in this crowd — something that has become a phenomenon as Rush moves into its 40s – with one little girl, likely 10 years old or so, clapping to “Closer to the Heart” while seated on her dad’s shoulders.
During the walk out of the arena, one little girl being toted by her parents told me her favorite band member was Alex Lifeson because “you can’t go anywhere without a guitar god.”
Growing more urbane as the years have passed, the band’s sense of humor was never more evident than in the video intro (where they dress as polka band Rash and cover “Closer to the Heart,” polka-style) and a show-closing clip where the band is locked out of its own dressing room.
Behind the door are the lifelike images from Rush album covers over the years: The crew from “Moving Pictures,” the woman wearing the fly-away dress from “Permanent Waves,” the eagle from “Fly By Night,” all under the protective care of the jester from “Farewell to Kings” who served as doorman. When stopped by this costumed individual, Lifeson spat, “F*ck you, clown, let us in.”
Around the stage, too, were reminders of the band’s characteristic mirth, stage effects pointlessly placed behind and around the band: Chicken basters, a line of washing and drying machines, all being tended to by stagehands in apricot-colored jumpsuits with “R40” printed on the back.
In the second set, comically towering stacks of amps were set on either side of Peart’s drum set. Those workers continually disassembled and re-stacked those amps, to the great delight of those who were in on the joke, as the band raged away.
The encore was introduced by Eugene Levy as Mel of “Mel’s Rock Pile,” a long-ago sketch from “SCTV,” whose re-introduction of the band included the proud claim, “They opened for KISS! Twice! How about that?”
But, as always, as Geddy Lee says, it’s really about the music. All members of Rush are 61 or 62 years old today and still as musically astonishing as they were when the began touring 40 (or 41) years ago.
Argue what you want, but there are few bands, even today, who can match their musicianship. The guitar blast that opens “The Spirit of Radio,” the incredibly textured bass line in “Distant Early Warning.” The drumming, well, everywhere (start with “2112”) just blows your mind, every time.
Or, simply ask rock musicians making money by plying their craft about Rush’s musical proficiency. Usually you’ll hear some version of: If you can play your way through a Rush album, you can pretty much play anything else.
Leaving this show, I was hit with a wave (maybe permanent) of melancholy that this might really be it for Rush. And that is OK, finally. It’s probably best that the band finishes a live performance here and now, on a high note, while Geddy can still hit it.
As he once sang, a long time ago: “You can take me, for a little while. You can take me, you can make me smile, in the end.”
MGM Grand, a AAA Four Diamond resort, offers 5,044 rooms and suites.
MGM Grand features KÀ by Cirque du Soleil; Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club; and world-class entertainment at the Grand Garden Arena and Hollywood Theatre.
The resort offers signature restaurants by celebrity chefs including Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak, Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans Fish House, Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill and Michelin three star and Forbes Five Star restaurant, Joël Robuchon.
As part of its ongoing “Grand Renovation,” MGM Grand has remodeled all rooms and suites in its main tower and is adding several new experiences to its lineup including Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub, a new upscale dining/nightlife concept (coming in April 2013).
MGM Grand also features a state-of-the-art, non-smoking conference center, the Grand Spa, Cristophe Salon, "CSI: The Experience" and an inviting pool complex featuring the tantalizing daylife of Wet Republic.
Upscale accommodations include The Mansion, an exclusive hotel within the hotel; the luxurious two-story SKYLOFTS at MGM Grand; and The Signature at MGM Grand, a luxury all-suite, non-gaming hotel located adjacent to the main resort.