Long winded, and so far unedited, but for now I figured I'd post for you guys-
It’s gotta be fake!
That’s what I would have said if Rush’s Clockwork Angels Tour started in a similar manner to all the others I’ve seen. However instead of waiting online on opening night for a setlist to be posted, this time I was actually in the arena were months of touring would start. My sister and best friend made the 370 mile trek from Allentown to Manchester to be a part of something totally new. History has shown that Rush and Dream Theater are the two bands which I can’t keep myself from spoiling. And it’s not just the setlists, it’s pictures of the stage, watching intro videos in advance, and all in all half experiencing the show before it’s ever happened. This tour would be different, in a big way, because if any setlist was going to shock a Rush fan, it was going to be this one.
As fans waited for the show to start, every time a light as much as flickered the crowd went nuts. Of course this happened at least a dozen times before the band would eventually take the stage. Once the lights went down and the curtains hiding this rounds stage setup were lifted the crowd was on fire. True to their words the band had gone for their best steampunk interpretations for the tour. As the intro video rolled I browsed the stage to see what Ged and Alex brought with them this time. Geddy, who had previously sported dryers and chicken rotisseries this time decided to have a popcorn popper running during the show, and Alex’s usual amp spot on stage was taken over by three circular monitors to be used throughout the show.
As the intro video wrapped up the band took the stage and the already boisterous crowd grew louder, and as is typical for a Rush show I could barely hear the opening synth tones of “Subdivisions”, a song that was not only a great opener, but which ended up foreshadowing what was going to follow. For many Subdivisions marked the death of the Rush they loved. It was the first song Geddy Lee ever wrote on keyboards, and it was the song that kicked off what would become known as the “synth era”. I can simply advise that the fans that disliked the era might want to skip ahead a bit, as well as skip this tour.
What followed “Subdivisions” was a first set that left me in a greater and greater sense of disbelief. “The Big Money” and “Force 10” hadn’t been played in a little while, but both were singles and the lead tracks from their respective albums. Of course after that I expected something more mainstream, but was instead treated to “Grand Designs”. Of course after that Power Windows powerhouse it was time to go back to a classic… or you know, “The Body Electric” which hasn’t been played live since 1983. At this point you could already note a sense of shock that washed over die hard Rush fans, followed by a more reserved atmosphere during the song, finished by thunderous applause for these songs few expected to hear that night. What followed continued the trend as a third gem from Power Windows, and a personal favorite of mine, “Territories” was played.
After that the band finally ripped into what the radio addicted mob had been waiting for… oh wait, that didn’t happen for over an hour yet. Next up was “Analog Kid”, an upbeat and energetic number that got some mid-song spark out of the crowd the previous songs had missed. On the eighth song the band finally decided to leave the 80’s, but still not for earlier material. Instead they serenaded the crowd with the always beautiful “Bravado”. What came next was a curveball wrapped in a surprise. Not only did the band play “Where’s My Thing?” for the first time since the Roll the Bones tour, but it included a short drum solo from Neil Peart, which differed greatly from much of what he’s done in the past few tours. Even the closer of the first set wasn’t an old classic, but instead the newer hit “Far Cry”, which still seems to be going over great with fans. Overall I was honestly expecting to hear a fair amount of complaints about the synth heavy set as I wondered the halls during intermission, but was instead greeted with a range of middle of the road awe and those like me who took to the set hook, line and sinker.
For those without a penchant for statistics, skip this paragraph! To recap, Rush bookmarked the first set with songs played the last two tours, but other than that, here are the rest of the songs with the last year they were played (in a full tour) in parenthesis. The Big Money (02), Force Ten (04), Grand Designs (86), The Body Electric (84), Territories (88), The Analog Kid (94), Bravado (04), and Where’s My Thing? (92). Like I said, I would have thought it was fake.
If the rarity filled first set wasn’t enough, Rush doubled down on their recent purchase of a giant set of cajones in the second set by going through nearly an hour of material from the Clockwork Angels album. The awe and wow factors stayed in full effect for the second set for several reasons, but more on that in a bit…
If there wasn’t already enough about this night to make it incredibly special, the opening of the second set featured something that will probably only be seen at an opening night for a band as big as Rush. The intro for “Caravan” started and the band started to play… well, most of the band at least. Neil wasn’t ready yet when it came time for his part and they had to redo the first fifteen seconds or so of the song. Oh, did I mention an eight piece string section had gone up behind Neil at this point? No? Just so happens that for the first time in the band’s history guest musicians were accompanying the boys on stage. These highly trained and very dignified players set the tone for the set in the first minute of “Caravan”. During the soft intro they sat and played their parts, but then as the song explodes they jumped out of their seats and attacked their instruments, and would continue to rock out while they played the rest of the set. I spent most of “Caravan” admiring the string section and how good they sounded with the music, and it was made immediately clear that the decision to bring them on tour was a great one.
The second set rolled on with the title track, one that has grown on me probably more than any others from the new album, and one that had half the stadium “raise their hand” when the song lyrics prompted. Through the next song, “The Anarchist”, I started to fully appreciate how much time the band had spent re-vamping the video/light setup for the new material. There is a completely new design for the lighting and some special video screens that gives the Clockwork portion of the set a whole new gear, which those who may not care as much for the new material will especially appreciate. The rest of the Clockwork tracks were a roller coaster of different energies, with some of the beats from “Carnies” really getting bodies moving, with a pyrotechnic filled finale that completely wowed the entire arena. Following that was the emotional “The Wreckers”, which featured one of the coolest video/lighting combo effects I’ve ever seen. The vibe went back to full rock with “Headlong Flight”, which everyone seemed to dig. The song even featured a breakdown in the middle that has to be heard to be fully appreciated. “Halo Effect”, with a guitar intro from Alex again brought things down a notch, and “Wish Them Well” picked them back up. At this point Geddy thanked the crowd for letting them indulge in new material, and again I was surprised by how positive the reaction to a long block of new material was. This whole time I was turned to me friend and sister repeating “we have one more for you”, implying it’s what I wanted Geddy to say, and he finally did, and the band went into what I consider the best song they’ve done this millennia, “The Garden”. A song of pure beauty on the album, it’s only magnified by the live string section, and offered a stunningly angelic end to the evening’s new material.
At this point the band has already played twenty songs, with only the opening track, “Subdivisions” really being a premier hit from the band, so clearly “Freewill” or the like was going to come next… but we wouldn’t find out immediately, because Geddy’s keyboards failed to make any noise to start the next song! After about thirty seconds of silence Alex finally wandered to the mic and told a long joke, another once in a blue moon event that made this show all the more worth it. Then I thought I had died and was carried to heaven by the Clockwork Angels, because instead of a hit the band went into another favorite of mine, “Manhattan Project”, still accompanied by the strings. A celebrated staple came after that, the drum solo. Shortened likely due to the partial solo in the first set, this tours solo is completely different from anything Neil has done on recent tours, and was a big step in the right direction. I had felt that since R30 the solo has gotten progressively less interesting, and he brought it up to a peak level this time. The solo lead into a song I thought I had grew tired of, “Red Sector A”. The strings really helped elevate this song to a point where I welcomed its return to the live set. Then the dam finally broke free as the band, over two hours after playing their last big hit, ripped into “YYZ”, which set the crowd on fire. The main synth line of the song was yet another part elevated by the string section, and assuming the band eventually releases this tour in video form I think this version might actually be able to compete with the crazy crowd in Rio.
After “YYZ” Geddy thanked and dismissed the strings from the stage, commenting that the band would again be a simple trio, and launched into the last song of the set, “Working Man”. Always a crowd favorite the song again featured the reggae intro and was abbreviated, but Alex’s solo during the song was clearly one of the most anticipated and appreciated of the evening. The band then thanked the crowd and left the stage, but eventually a single armed man returned…
Standing behind the drum kit spectators could on see the silhouette of a man with a large barrel slung against his shoulder. Neil then turns around to reveal himself holding a t-shirt cannon! After several tours of Ged and Al tossing out shirts to the crowd before the encore it seemed overdue that Neil get a piece of the action, and he did so in style. After many shirts had been jumped for the almost mandatory set of classics got played for an encore. “Tom Sawyer” and “Spirit of Radio” were, as always, played to a cheering crowd. While I enjoy the latter much more than the former, after a night like this there was no way I would even begin to begrudge them for playing the former. Even so, when Alex flubbed the start of the “Tom Sawyer” solo I’d like to believe it was because they were revolting against playing the song again!
When the dust had settled and the final outro video had played my only complaint with the show were the pre/post-set videos. Through both legs of the Snakes tour and the Time Machine tour myself and other Rush fans I know all found the videos hilarious, but this time around the videos were less humorous videos conforming to the steampunk theme of the evening and just didn’t have any special magic to them. This was easily offset however by the in-song Clockwork Angels video and lighting show.
If you’re a casual Rush fan, skip this show. If you hate the new album or synth era, skip this show. If you’re a diehard Rush fan who has been waiting a decade or decades for the set to take a sharp turn in a new direction, then this is the tour for you. If I had seen this set online I would have thought it to be fake, but it’s true, and it has to be seen to be believed. Geddy’s voice held up incredibly well, most likely due to the fact that they focused on material he can more easily sing. The strings took great things and made them even better, and the band once again upped their game in the lighting and video departments. I know die-hard Rush fans that have stopped going to shows because of boring setlists, and this will be the tour that brings many of them back into the fold. And while I only talked to hardcore fans after the show, not a single one was anything less than ecstatic about the setlist and the string section. If you’ve read this you’ll know whether the set is for you or not, and if it is I suggest you do whatever is necessary to see it, because it will likely be the best Rush show you ever see, or at least it was for me.