dirty rag

A Rush to Judgement - Bryan Gibson

Date: August 29, 2010
Venue: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Band: Rush

Sorry girls, they're married.

I haven't been much of a concertgoer these past few years. Sure, I've been to the occasional show (Elvis Costello, Wilco and Richard Thompson come to mind), but it's been a long time since I've been to a BIG old-school arena rock show with lights, explosions, fire and...come to think of it, I've never been to one of those shows.


Until now.

Let me explain. Back in 1984/85, I had been playing drums for a few years, happily practicing along to Beatles and Police records.  I even had a brief flirtation with prog rock, after being mocked by an OU School of Music drum instructor ("You've never heard 'Brain Salad Surgery?' I thought you were a drummer.") In the fall of 1984, I started high school and was playing in the school marching band.  Unknown to me at the time, there was an unwritten law that, if you play drums in a high school marching band, you must listen to Rush. After borrowing some cassettes from a fellow student, I enrolled in Rush 101: a crash course in 20 minute songs, goofy quasi-intellectual lyrics and insane time signatures.

I was a good Rush student, diligently practicing along on my drums every day after school until my parents couldn't take it anymore, then studying worn-out cassettes of Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves the rest of the evening. However, this scholarly behavior was not meant to last.

Thanks to my pal Mike, I started to listen to punk bands like the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks and the Repo Man soundtrack.  That music was raw, outrageous and FUN. Plus, you didn't have to be a genius to play it.  From that point, I somehow got into R.E.M., then the Replacements...one thing led to another, and the Rush albums were filed away, eventually being sold or given away.

Fast-forward to 2010. I read somewhere that there was a Rush documentary called "Beyond the Lighted Stage."  I LOVE music documentaries.  I will watch any documentary on any band or musician, even if I can't stand their music.  I got hold of a copy and was shocked by how good it was.  It was funny, moving and hit a nerve. Nostalgia? Maybe.

Anyway, after watching, I got the idea that it might be fun to see a Rush concert. I never got to see them way back when, so why not?  Lo and behold, they were playing Columbus in August.  I wondered how I would sell the idea to my wife, a massive Smiths/Depeche Mode/Bauhaus/Kate Bush fan (although she had branched out in recent years).  To my surprise, she said yes.

As August 29 approached, I realized that I didn't know any of the band's music post-1985.  A quick glance at recent online set lists confirmed that a third of the show was made up of songs I'd never heard of.  Oh well.  They were playing "Moving Pictures" in its entirety, so that might be interesting. 

This isn't a review; just some observations:

* First thing I notice upon entering Nationwide Arena: Rush fans like to wear Rush t-shirts. Some of these guys were wearing tour shirts from the 70s. The fact that the shirts didn't quite fit didn't seem to matter.  Picture the comic book store guy from The Simpsons and you'll know what I mean.

* There are a lot of guys at Rush concerts.  A lot.  The line for the men's room went on forever (whereas my wife sailed in and out of the ladies' room with no problem).  Not wanting to miss the first song, I decided to hold it until the band started playing newer songs (thank you internet spoilers).

* There is a goofy film that starts the show, then the band appears and rips into "The Spirit of Radio." The crowd goes absolutely nuts.  Kind of like Beatlemania, except it's middle aged guys instead of teenage girls. I always liked this song and get caught up in the excitement. The only show I've attended where the crowd cheers time signature changes.

* 2nd song: Time Stand Still.  An 80s clunker featuring a duet with the sampled, disembodied voice of Aimee Mann.  Hmm. Bathroom?  I guess I'll wait a little longer since it's only the 2nd song.

* 3rd song.  Geddy Lee: "Good evening Columbus!  Here's (???) from our album (???)!"  Bathroom. Now.

* The call of nature answered, I make it back to hear a slew of really boring songs from albums I've never heard of. Rush's old songs are better than their new ones. And by "new," I mean songs released in the past 25 years.

* Air-drums, air-guitar and air bass abound. We notice some guys doing all three in the same song.  Everyone knows the lyrics to the new songs as well.

* The band throws me a bone with "Freewill" and "Subdivisions." After an intermission, they play the entire ""Moving Pictures" album, note-perfect.  Later they will play parts of "2112," "La Villa Strangiato" and "Closer to the Heart." Not only do they nail every note of every song, they sound EXACTLY the way they did in 1976, 1981, etc.  I'm pretty sure they didn't change the keys of the songs.  Plus, the stamina needed to pull this off during a 2+ hour show...how are these guys doing this?

* Contrary to what I may have led you to believe, there were women at the show.  In fact, I saw one woman playing drums on her husband's/boyfriend's shoulder. Well done, ma'am.

* A surprising amount of weed at the show.  Rush nerds like their reefer, I guess.

* A cannon-type explosion goes off during a song.  Scares the hell out of everyone.  I look around to see if any senior members of Rush Nation have keeled over.

* Only one strange encounter at the concert: during "The Camera Eye," an incredibly drunk guy leans on me and mumbles something like, "I don't know where I am." I tell him, "Nationwide Arena." He then looks at me very intensely for a few seconds, only about six inches from my face.  It seems like he's going to hit me, kiss me or throw up on me. I'm not sure which would have been worse.  Luckily, he stumbles away and bothers a guy wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt. Side note: why do people wear other band's t-shirts to shows?

* Andrea during 2112: "This is the most Spinal Tap moment of the evening."

* The band ends with "Working Man" and we make our exit.

Despite my smartass comments, I'm glad I went to the show.  It was certainly different to any concert I've ever seen - a throwback to the big production rock shows of the 70s, featuring explosions, flame-throwers, indoor fireworks, strobe lights, films, you name it.  There aren't too many bands left that can pull this off without being tongue-in-cheek or ironic - Rush doesn't "do" irony.  Although I don't plan on making Rush a part of my regular music diet, it was fun to revisit the past for an evening and embrace my inner 14-year old high school band nerd.