Concert review: Rush presses on, hits the right buttons at Xcel Center

Perhaps not long for the road, the Canadian rock vets at least went long during Tuesday’s concert.

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER
Updated 5/13/2015

Although Rush’s current tour is not officially being billed as its last go-round, that notion was certainly on the crowd’s mind Tuesday night when the Canadian rock trio returned to Xcel Energy Center. As if fans didn’t already have enough to think about, between trying to copy Neil Peart’s intricate drum parts with their air-drumming and remembering all the deeply philosophical lyrics in “Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres.”

It’s no secret: Rush concerts are fanatical affairs. The fantastical prog-rock group’s current R40 Tour — coming 40 years after their first album — has been turned all the more fervent and emotional with hints that Peart may not be able to tour anymore due to a worsening case of tendinitis.

Either because of the farewell talk or the promise of an all-eras set list this time, Rush saw its attendance spike from its last local show in 2012 by a few thousand fans, to about 13,000 on Tuesday. The band, in turn, gave them two unique sets that clocked in at almost three hours total. Heck, there was even time for both parts of “Cygnus X-1.”

“As usual, we have a lot of music to get to,” frontman Geddy Lee said/warned in his unmistakable shrill voice (yes, he talks that way, too).

For its hourlong opening set, the trio played an almost entirely full-bore, hard-rocking batch of tunes as if wanting to prove it can still get heavy in its old(er) age. And indeed it can. A string of songs from the most recent album proved as much in opening the show, including “The Anarchist,” the title track “Clockwork Angels” and the epic rocker “Headlong Flight.”

Peart had already slipped in a drum solo by that third song. Which made sense, since he had two more solos to go.

Other recent (as in post-Reagan era) deep cuts filled in the first half such as “One Little Victory” and “Animate,” each furthering the fiery and feisty mold. Lee hammered away on his bass and barely touched his keyboards until the last song before the break, “Subdivisions,” while guitarist Alex Lifeson delivered some of his most wicked licks in “Far Cry.”

The start of the second set could have been mistaken for an encore, with the mega-hits “Tom Sawyer” and “The Spirit of Radio” kicking things off in high-adrenaline fashion. But the band had a loooong way to go from there, and a lot of wonky turns to make.

Some parts of the second set were the Rushiest moments in recent Rush concert memory. Like when both Lee and Lifeson donned double-neck guitars in a nonchalant rock-god manner for the roller-coastery “Xanadu.” And when the band rolled through the first side of its breakthrough 1976 album “2112” — the one with all the stop/go “suites” — to end the second set, which was greeted religiously by the crowd.

Throughout the show, the band showed goofy video montages with clips of “South Park,” uber-fan actors Paul Rudd and Jason Segel and blooper bits featuring jokes that only the band members could probably fully appreciate. Oh, those wacky Canucks!

Tuesday’s concert was ultimately a Rush show even non-diehards could appreciate. The sheer velocity and virtuosity were impressive, as was the obvious deep-mining of the catalog. Perhaps no other band can go that far into its discography that effectively. And neither Peart nor his bandmates showed any signs of slipping or slowing down.

But really, guys, it’s OK to keep touring and not play three hours. Other, normal bands do it all the time.

Here's the set(s) list from Tuesday's concert:

FIRST SET: The Anarchist / Clockwork Angels / Headlong Flight / Far Cry / The Main Monkey Business / One Little Victory / Animate / Roll the Bones / Distant Early Warning / Subdivisions

SECOND SET: Tom Sawyer / YYZ / The Spirit of Radio / Natural Science / Jacob's Ladder / Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part I: Prelude Cygnus X-1 (The Voyage Part 1 & 3 with drum solo) / Closer to the Heart / Xanadu / 2112 Part I: Overture / 2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx / 2112 Part IV: Presentation / 2112 Part VII: Grand Finale

ENCORE: Lakeside Park / Anthem / What You're Doing / Working Man (last two off band’s 1974 self-titled debut)

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