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Photos: A big Rush of nostalgia at MGM Grand Garden Arena

6/24/11: Rush at MGM Grand Garden Arena

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Rush at MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 24, 2011.

Robin Leach's Vegas DeLuxe

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6/24/11: Rush at MGM Grand Garden Arena

Rush at MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 24, 2011. Launch slideshow »
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Rush at MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 24, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Rush at MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 24, 2011.

Rush has become a nostalgia act in the best sense. That was obvious last night at MGM Grand Garden Arena, as the Canadian rock trio brought its Time Machine tour to Las Vegas. Without an album to support, the band offered a 3-and-a-half-hour tour of its massive catalog, spanning 18 albums and 37 years.

The crowd, including many of its most devoted fans from around the world who are visiting Las Vegas for today’s RushCon fan convention, got the Rush fix they wanted, hearing the music they bought on vinyl, then cassette, then CD and now digitally. The concerts have become as much a celebration of the band’s music as the members’ technical proficiency.

It’s satisfying to watch these masters of their instruments, who have played together for decades, wring an astounding amount of sound from their equipment. Geddy Lee sang and played his Fender Jazz and keyboards. At points, he quickly pulled his hand from his bass to add a keyboard flourish. When both hands were occupied, his feet added synth notes on foot pedals. It was an impressive choreography.

Alex Lifeson was focused on his guitar, which drives most of the band’s songs. But he also took turns on keyboard and at times switched between his Les Paul and an acoustic guitar or mandolin mid-song. And then there’s Neil Peart, whose drumming skills are legend. Glancing at the crowd, fans, likely drummers themselves, played along beat by beat with their Jedi master.

“We’re getting older by the minute,” Lee deadpanned before a 15-minute break midway through the concert. If they were, it wasn’t showing. The band had already ripped through favorites from the 1980s, 1990s and newer songs, including from a yet-to-be-released album. The opening set included “The Spirit of Radio,” “Time Stand Still,” “Presto,” “Stick It Out,” “Workin’ Them Angels,” “Leave That Thing Alone,” “Faithless,” “BU2B,” “Freewill,” “Marathon” and “Subdivisions.”

Coming out of the break, Rush played its Moving Pictures album -- their Abbey Road -- front to back, starting with the classic “Tom Sawyer” and followed by “Red Barchetta,” “YYZ,” “Limelight,” “The Camera Eye,” “Witch Hunt” and “Vital Signs.” They rounded out the second set with “Caravan,” the requisite Peart drum solo “Closer to the Heart,” “2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx” and “Far Cry” before returning with a couple of encores.

Despite the serious musicianship and music, Rush doesn’t take itself seriously. The show was salted with humorous videos in which Lee, Lifeson and Peart were cast as soda jerks, cops and hapless music producers. Perhaps it’s this willingness to also laugh at itself that has contributed to an interesting shift in the way the band is viewed beyond its fan base in recent years.

Critics have never loved them. Rush never fit the musical narrative of the moment -- there’s no Rush disco or grunge album. They always followed their own artistic arc, one their fans were eager to follow to find out where they were headed next.

But as they stuck with it decade after decade, a certain admiration of their passion and unique vision took root beyond their fan base. It’s hard not to admire three superb musicians who have played together from their youth through marriages, parenthood and personal tragedies, and now well into middle age. The music and the concerts have been the constants.

That shift came to mind near the end of the first set, as the band played the driving yet graceful “Marathon.” Over his ethereal synthesizer chords, Lee sang: “You can do a lot in a lifetime, if you don’t burn out too fast. You can make the most of the distance. First you need endurance. First you’ve got to last.”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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