Rush July 25, MGM Grand.
I’ve seen Rush seven times inside MGM’s Grand Garden Arena, and I can’t remember the room bristling with the same intense energy I felt around me as the curtain raised on the Canadian rock trio Saturday night. It’s a shame, then, that the band’s R40 Tour stop opened with a handful of tunes most fans clearly didn’t know.
On paper, Rush’s 40th anniversary setlist seems genius: two sets and an encore, arranged reverse-chronologically to trace the band’s catalog back to the start. In practice, the strategy didn’t pan out, squandering massive momentum by beginning with three cuts off 2012’s Clockwork Angels, instead of classic songs that would have burned the building to the ground. Though better late-era picks followed—2007’s “Far Cry,” 2002’s “One Little Victory” and a fun take on 1991’s “Roll the Bones,” featuring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Peter Dinklage and others lip-syncing its rap breakdown—by the time longtime comrades Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart got to the super-familiar “Distant Early Warning” and “Subdivisions,” set one was over, and the race to the bar and bathrooms had begun.
What followed the short intermission, on the other hand, fully qualified as epic. After dispensing with obvious hits “Tom Sawyer” and “The Spirit of Radio,” Rush began stripping back its sound (and its look, its novelty stage props replaced by a simple wall of Marshall stacks) as it veered into the ’70s: the ominous “Jacob’s Ladder,” a pairing of both “Cygnus X-1” books, the psychedelic “Xanadu” and a solid chunk of the operatic “2112.” One could quibble about the simplistic “What You’re Doing” and a truncated “Lakeside Park” in the encore over, say, “Bastille Day” and “By-Tor & the Snow Dog,” but with a legacy this long, every fan’s sure to miss out on some favorites.
More surprising: For the first time in my Rush-going life, I detected a downtick in stamina from the three musicians, now all in their early 60s. Though Peart breezed through two drum solos, at other points his efforts seemed maxed out, and overall the group felt a hair less tight. It could be a sign that Rush picked the right time to start stepping away. Or maybe the band will be back next year, for yet another three-hour marathon. I won’t bet against it.
"The Main Monkey Business"
"One Little Victory"
"Roll the Bones"
"Distant Early Warning"
"The Spirit of Radio"
"Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres" (Part 1: Prelude)
"Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage" (Parts 1 & 3)
"Closer to the Heart"
"2112" (Parts 1, 2, 4, 7)
"What You're Doing"