Rush fans have waited a long time to see their heroes perform on theses shores yet it was still surprising that a band, 20-plus years since they were one of the rock world’s leading lights, could fill a venue the size of Wembley Arena.
Twelve years after their last visit to Britain, the Canadian trio rewarded their fans with over three hours of ‘greatest hits’ spanning their 30-year career. As bespectacled singer Geddy Lee put it, “Thank you for coming to our 30th birthday party – we are now going to punish you by playing way too much music”. From their response it sounded like the crowd could take that kind of punishment all night long.
Before the first note was played the crowd were treated to some stunning animation on a big screen at the rear of the stage. Cover art from each of the band’s 17 albums was brought to life on the screen, each morphing into one another in chronological order before the show proper began in deafening fashion with an extended instrumental medley featuring snippets of Bastille Day and Hemispheres among others.
Even before the show continued with arguably their best known song, The Spirit Of Radio, it became very obvious that the sound quality left much to be desired. Throughout the night Lee’s lyrics could best be described as indecipherable high-pitched noises amid a general cacophony of sound. What was lost in sound quality, however, was more than made up for in the visual department. Indeed, a part in which a cartoon dragon on the screen faced the audience and engulfed the stage in flames was worth the entrance fee alone!
There was also the very bizarre sight of a pair of washing machines on stage. All was eventually explained during the encore when Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson opened them up to reveal some t-shirts, which were duly distributed to those lucky people in the front couple of rows.
Rush are often described as a progressive rock band. Anyone doing so would be strongly advised to put heavy emphasis on the word rock though. Certainly songs like Subdivisions, Red Barchetta and Tom Sawyer have their prog elements – typically keyboard heavy with disjointed drum rhythms – but most of the Wembley setlist consisted of pure rock numbers which, due to the appalling acoustics, went by in a blur of sound and were instantly forgettable.
The only part of the show when everything came over crystal clear was during a short acoustic interlude when Lee and Lifeson sat upon their stools to perform the beautiful Resist and a wonderfully understated version of The Yardbirds‘ Heart Full Of Soul. After the obligatory drum solo from Neil Peart, during which many took the opportunity for some liquid refreshment, the trio served up a blistering home-stretch of guitar-drenched fan favourites.
After a shortened version of their classic 2112 opus, featuring some very dodgy vocals from Lifeson where it appeared he was about to sing the R Whites song any minute, it was straight into La Villa Strangiato and the wonderfully named By-Tor And The Snow Dog.
It was appropriate though, as they celebrated their 30th anniversary, that the band should finish right back where they started – the raucous Working Man from their debut album way back in 1974. After so many classic rock numbers what a shame it was that the main topic of conversation amongst most people leaving the venue was not the music but the sound quality.