Tuesday, 11 June 2013

24th May 2013: Rush - The O2 Arena, Greenwich

Part one of ‘James attempts to write a normal amount’. 

Rush are surely the biggest band that most people have never heard of, aren't they? Ultimate proof of this comes a few days after this gig when on round one of daytime quiz show par excellence "Pointless" (what can I say, I work from home…) it's revealed that only 3 of 100 people surveyed could identify the name Geddy Lee as a member of the band. Still, you wouldn't know this upon arrival at the O2, as hordes of middle aged men and the odd outlier like gig buddies Tim and Karin queue up for nigh-on 45 minutes to buy T-shirts at £25 a pop. “No T-shirt is worth queuing for 45 minutes for,” says Karin. “Not unless when you put it on, Peter Hammill magically appears in front of you.

Actually there's a lovely, chilled atmosphere in the queue – a chap in front of me and Tim joins in with our banter, we all roll our eyes in mock scorn and secret jealousy at the blowhard behind who is proclaiming loudly about having seen the ‘Hemispheres’ tour at the Southampton Gaumont, and we have a good old snigger at the £400 Rush leather jackets. “Who would pay that much money to look like that much of a knob?” I say, a question which is answered on the way to our seats as we spy two gentlemen proudly wearing the said matching garments in a way which Karin likens to teenage girl BFFs.

Photo: Tim Lawrie

Arriving in our seats, the PA keeps us entertained with selections from Crimson and Genesis, and the gods of fate and coincidence throw a complete curveball as I suddenly realise that the chap standing in the aisle by our block looking around for his gig buddy is my cousin Adrian, who I haven't seen in possibly years. “Adrian! ADRIAN!” I shout repeatedly, in an unintentional homage to both Rocky and Alan Partridge. He doesn't run up any steps to come and meet me, but to be fair the poor guy's just had a baby, so I'll let him off.

Eventually, with only 135 words remaining, the gig starts. (This is going really well, isn't it? Perhaps I'll reset the word count now we're talking about the actual thing.) Now, here's a confession, in case you're expecting the kind of gushing eulogies I sometimes dole out to my most favouritest bands – I like Rush, I'm on the way to loving Rush, but I am basically quite a noob compared to everyone else I meet this evening. The problem is, it took me until 2009 to start listening to them at all, and at that point I ended up picking up all the albums pretty much at the same time, and in case you hadn't noticed, there are quite a lot of them.

'Subdivisions' - Photo: Tim Lawrie

Whilst this means I don’t really know anything apart from "The Hits" very well, it does basically mean that I don't care what they play, as I sort-of-know it all to about the same degree. Which is just as well, since they've decided that this tour is to be a kind of “80's to present day” tour, with lots of selections from albums like ‘Power Windows’, ‘Grace Under Pressure’ and ‘Signals’. Kicking off with one of my very favourites, ‘Subdivisions’, is a good move on their part as this completely partisan crowd goes completely batshit crazy and doesn't let up for the next 3 hours. ‘Big Money’ is up next, not a song I know that well but it's ok, a thoughtful fan directly behind me sings the lyrics directly into my left cochlea in exactly the same register, pitch and accent as Geddy - to his own beer-befuddled mind, anyway. Nobody can sing like Geddy, let's be honest. And thank goodness for that – even Geddy can't actually sing like Geddy half the time, although he's in fine voice this evening, hitting a higher percentage of the high notes than in 2011 and commanding the stage and everyone's attention more than anyone who yelps for a living ought to.

Photo: Tim Lawrie

And over the course of the evening, the band give us a master class in how just 3 men can keep a giant arena audience entertained for the whole evening whilst playing far from their best known material. Geddy switches between bass, pedals, keyboards and bad jokes all evening (“We've got about 60,000 songs for you tonight…”) and makes it all look effortless, Alex Lifeson runs the full gamut of guitar techniques from the Police-esque strumming of ‘Grand Designs’ to the far more rifftastic display of ‘Far Cry’, and Neil Peart proves several times why he's widely regarded as the best drummer in the business, not least on his two solos, the second of which breaks new ground in having his kit trigger notes and samples to create a surprisingly electronic atmosphere, continuing on into a fantastic reading of ‘Red Sector A’.

'The Percussor' - Photo: Tim Lawrie

The songs and the playing are enough for me, but then again, if you're going to play a giant dome like the O2, then why not use its capabilities? Hence there are giant screens showing both impressive modern graphics and wonderfully vintage animations for songs like ‘Force Ten’, there are fantastic light shows, and there are even giant pyrotechnic explosions which literally make me jump out of my skin. Ok, not literally, that would be disgusting. There's even a man who runs on stage in a chicken suit and throws things around, some guys with traffic cones, and a giant popcorn machine. No, me neither.

'Force Ten' - Photo: Tim Lawrie

But for me, the highlight of this evening is the second half of the set, when the band bring out a wonderful string section to accompany them for the vast majority of new album and probable personal favourite ‘Clockwork Angels’. I'm still inordinately annoyed about missing the Yes Symphonic tour in 2001, but this nearly makes up for it. Exquisite string arrangements for heart-rending new songs like ‘The Wreckers’ and ‘The Garden’ and the old classics like ‘YYZ’ cause Karin to wonder whether the band will ever sound the same again without their new wooden friends. (She might not have put it quite like that, mind.) And the best bit about this whole thing is that we can actually hear what they're playing thanks to a great sound mix– adding sumptuous harmonies here and biting riffs there.

'The Wreckers' - Photo: Tim Lawrie

For fans of classic (i.e. pre-1982) Rush, it might have been a long old, synth-and-new-album-heavy slog for the main part tonight, but not to worry, there’s still 30 minutes of the gig remaining, and following “the best instrumental ever to be named after an airport apart from perhaps ‘Heathrow’ by Level 42 – oh dear lord am I going to get it from certain people now” , the show ends with the “feel-good classics”, the closest Rush have to “hits”. ‘The Spirit of Radio’, ‘Tom Sawyer’ (sadly with real, non-South Park lyrics), and a nice chunk of ‘2112’. Who can argue with that?

Certainly not any the people we meet up with afterwards, including Bob "Top 5 gig of all time” Hodds, Matt “Loopy” Stevens, and Paul “Vitamin P” Tippett, who's even managed to catch one of the T-shirts fired from cannons on the stage.

They love lamp, you know. Photo: Oh, me!

Like much of this evening, it doesn't make a lot of sense to the uninitiated, but for those who are fully paid-up members of the clandestine society of Rush, it's the icing on the cake. Let's just say I may have learned the secret handshake this evening…

1209 words. That's actually not bad for me, honest, and I think Rush deserved it. Will try harder next time.

Rush Setlist

The Big Money
Force Ten
Grand Designs
The Body Electric 
The Analog Kid 
Where's My Thing? (Including drum solo)
Far Cry 

Set 2: (with Clockwork Angels String Ensemble)

Clockwork Angels 
The Anarchist 
The Wreckers 
Headlong Flight  (Including drum solo)
Halo Effect
Seven Cities of Gold 
The Garden 
Manhattan Project 
Drum Solo (The Percussor)
Red Sector A 
The Spirit of Radio (Without String Ensemble)


Tom Sawyer 
2112 Part I: Overture 
2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx 

2112 Part VII: Grand Finale 


  1. Good review James, I've never been a fan of Rush but I appreciate that many people are, I saw the question on pointless too :-)

  2. Usual top review, I'd just like to say I saw Rush in 1980 #oldbastard

  3. Great review, James, for a great evening of entertainment from a bunch of ageing rockers!
    I will have to correct a couple of your credits, though:
    'didn't run up any steps' I positively credit to my arthritis;
    'just had a baby', well, that one is all Jude! :-)

  4. All I can say is you lucky lucky b@#+/rd. I will never see my favourite band live coz it's pretty obvious they aren't ever coming here (Australia). Glittering prizes and endless compromises.....

    Glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Yeah I do take it for granted sometimes how much great stuff is right here on my doorstep. Nobody puts on a show like Rush, that's for sure!