In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Snakes and Arrows

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Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee.

To my great pleasure, I saw Rush last night on the Montréal stop of their Snakes and Arrows tour. My journey through their musical landscape has been a long one. Certainly not in an, “Are we there yet?” way, but rather, “I wonder what’s over the next hill!”

Their ninth studio album, Signals, was released on September 9, 1982. Twenty five years ago! This album is a special one to me because it was the first one released after I became a fan. Signals was also the first Rush concert tour I attended. I discovered their Moving Pictures album first, but I’d already missed the tour.

I saw them at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on November 15, 1982 and then again at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium on April 5, 1983. Both shows were in support of their Signals album, and this started a long tradition of catching two shows each time they toured. It hasn’t always been possible for me to get to two shows, but I usually did. This time is no exception. Don and I saw them in Montréal last night, and we’re going again with Kelly and Gord to see them here in town on Friday.

Given how young I was when I latched on to them, every new album is a tremendous gift and I no longer take their concerts for granted. Neil Peart just celebrated his fifty-fifth birthday this month, for goodness sake. The time will come when they decide to hang it up and enjoy a deserved retirement. With nearly twenty studio albums, I’m not about to get bored of their music even if no new albums are forthcoming.

Don and I drove to Montréal late Saturday afternoon leaving time to spare in case of traffic or other delay. Montréal hasn’t been kind to us this way in the past, though the delays usually make themselves known after the show. We arrived with plenty of time to spare and parked in the lot directly adjacent to the Bell Centre. With time to burn, we wandered off and each enjoyed a delicious smoked meat sandwich at Dunn’s, just a few blocks away.

The restaurant got very busy while we were there and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if other concert-goers had the same idea for a pre-show dinner. Though I didn’t hear anyone mention Rush or see concert shirts from earlier tours, there was an unusually high percentage of men in the place and while female Rush fans certainly do exist (I dated one), they’re in the clear minority.

After eating we went back to the arena, bought our programs, and found our seats. Don also bought a polo shirt this time around. We arrived about a half-hour early, but the time certainly went quickly. I am especially pleased to report that the people seated around us were very nice. No heavy drinkers who might vomit, no drunk people who might get the urge to throw beer, no people above setting paper on fire and throwing it down on us. There were some pot smokers, but they didn’t smoke continuously. And really, what’s a rock show without even a hint of the scent of weed?

One thing I noticed is many of their fans are aging right along with them. The crowd didn’t seem as animated as I recall a decade or two ago. I know I’m not as animated so don’t take this as a criticism.

The show was fantastic. I absolutely adore their music, but seeing them perform it takes it to another level. While they also are not as animated as they once were, it’s not apparent in the music, and it’s clear they’re still having a great time together. I enjoy a performance more when it’s obvious the performers are also enjoying themselves.

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I was especially pleased to hear Digital Man, Mission, Free Will, Circumstances, and Natural Science. They’ve been largely absent from the live shows until R30 and I’m glad they’re on the set list. It’s interesting to see the crowd’s reactions to the songs of different eras. I was floored to see most of the crowd go crazy for Subdivisions. It seems they picked up a lot of fans in the eighties! Given their extensive musical library, it’s always interesting to see which albums have no songs in the set list. By my count, eight albums were entirely unrepresented. The only one I really missed was Counterparts. Choices have to be made, but it is a gem of an album.

Many of the older songs were “refreshed” with new video introductions or video accompaniment. The South Park intro to Tom Sawyer comes strongly to mind. Of course, one doesn’t go to a concert to watch the video, but it’s still nice to see the old standards aren’t frozen in time.

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Neil Peart, on the electronic ‘side’ of his drum kit.

I simply cannot discuss the concert without mentioning the drum solo. Peart has raised the bar again and again, far past the point I thought possible. The melodic portions of the solo have grow far more cohesive, finding an excellent fit with the traditional beats expected in a drum solo. I always did like the orchestra hits, but found the rest of the melody part didn’t fit well with the rest of the solo. I really liked the brief Burning for Buddy vignette. The video of drummers, other musicians, and dancers is a long-time favourite of mine too. I marvel at how Peart’s drum solo has been in a continual evolution ever since I’ve been attending the concerts. There are still twenty-five year-old parts in there, though they’re getting harder and harder to find as the solo continues to evolve.

It’s nothing new to see these guys joke around. They often goofing around during the show, but they’ve taken it another step with the stage props. For the Vapour Trails tour, Geddy had three coin-operated clothes dryers behind him. They were plainly running during the show and once or twice someone would come out from backstage, insert coins, and start them again. At the end of the show, the band would remove the shirts and toss them into the audience. I saw a photo of one that appeared to be an unusually psychedelic concert shirt from the front, but the back said, “Hey Man, this shirt came from Geddy’s dryers” printed on it. For the R30 tour, one of the dryers was replaced with an automat-style vending machine that would cycle through its selection of sandwiches. He also had a stocked refrigerator on stage during the Test for Echo tour.

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Got chicken?

Geddy’s changed everything for this tour, however. He’s got three Henhouse brand rotisserie chicken ovens on stage behind him. Twice during the show, a person wearing an apron and chef’s hat came out to brush the chickens, presumably with butter or whatever rotisserie chicken is brushed with. I’ve read it suggested that the “chef” at the Montréal show was none other than Jeff Burrows, former drummer of The Tea Party. I can’t say either way as I couldn’t identify Burrows if he were in a line-up. What I can say is no chicken was tossed to audience members.

The Wikipedia entry on Geddy states, “As of 2002, Lee no longer uses traditional bass amplifiers on stage. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with the empty space left behind by the lack of large amplifier cabinets, Lee chose to fill the space in a unique way.” This really does explain a lot … such as where the hell his amps are. Looking closely at my photos, I was bewildered to see the chicken ovens had microphones placed in front of them just as amplifiers would. I’d forgotten the dryers were similarly “miked” when they were part of his on-stage equipment.

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Alex, and his lovely big Gibson guitar.

Alex decorates his amplifiers with figures of various types and this tour, it’s dinosaurs. The top of the amps are covered with dinosaurs and two larger T‑Rex individuals on the floor peek our from either end of his row speaker cabinets.

What I still can’t understand is why his foot pedals are attended by a forest of Barbies. You can see them on the left edge of the photo here. Just on the other side of them are all his pedal-activated effects. Then again, why does there need to be a reason? If one guy has a chicken rotisserie, why can’t another have a Barbie crowd?

The only thing that bothered me was the excessive boominess of the sound before the intermission. The high-end was so quiet in the mix, and the low-end so overpowering, some songs were difficult to identify until the verse started. I thought we were  seated at a bass node where all the low frequencies reinforced each other. Happily, the problem went away when they returned after the intermission. We also came prepared with earplugs, which was good. Yea, tell me I’m getting old, but there’s just no need to have my ears buzzing for a day after the show. I enjoyed it just as much, and perhaps even more, and I didn’t risk hearing damage, whether temporary or not.

But all good things must come to an end, and so it was with the concert. I’m always disappointed when the concerts end, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m increasingly grateful for every time they come around and play for us. A great time was had by all.

A great time was had by all until we left to come home, that is. True to form, Montréal fucked us. The entrance to Highway 720 is but a few blocks from Bell Centre so what could go wrong? Plenty it seems, and it was far more trouble than it needed to be. As luck would have it, the ramp on to the 720 we were searching for was closed. This was not such a big deal. What made it worse, and wasted almost an hour of our time, was the insistence of Montréal’s police force in blocking a number of the streets approaching the ramp. I still don’t understand why, as the street is not just a means to get to the 720 on-ramp. Regardless, they had access to this street restricted from blocks away.

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Photo by Don. We were more than a block away from the detour signs and although we could see they were detour signs, we could not see which way the arrow pointed. A quick photo with a longish lens and a zoom on the LCD gave us a tactical advantage by being able to manoeuvre into the correct lane before anyone around us knew it was the lane in which they wanted to be.

You see what this means, don’t you? We had no idea the ramp was closed. All we knew was the way to the ramp was closed at more than a few points. So once we got there, we thought we had it made, only to see the previous 40 minutes was all for naught. Happily, there were detour signs and we followed them. This led to further bewilderment as the signs took us away and then back toward where we started, finally leading us to another entrance ramp. It seemed we were led two or three times farther than was necessary.

Once we got onto the highway were were home free. Still, even though we stopped at a Tim Hortons on the way, and I dropped Don off before finally heading for home, I still wouldn’t have expected to get home as late as 2:30am when the show wrapped up at about 11:30pm.

But it was totally worth it, no question.


Telemarketing must die




  1. Cathy


  2. Bradley

    Re: “tactical advantage”… well played boys, well played!

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