Natural Science


“Hello, good evening Austin, Texas,” smiled Rush bassist and singer Geddy Lee into the microphone at his small keyboard set-up. “How are you Texans? I’ve been told it’s been 14 years since we’ve played here. How’d that happen? We’re sorry….”

Not as sorry as some 7,000 Lone Star salivates cozily ensconced into the Frank Erwin Center’s classic rock configuration. Boston, Scorpions, UFO: 1970s arena bash never flickered out in Austin. It got reconfigured. Not so of the local pit stop for Rush’s 1993 capitulation Counterparts. Full FEC drum, the Canadian power trio’s thunderdome set moved mountains as it has since the Nixon administration despite its forgettable album sponsor. Other than 1991’s Roll the Bones, off which shuddered last night’s third slot, “Ghost of a Chance,” the grunge decade was one of sporadic studio quicksand for the band. Millennial returns run about the same, 2002’s Vapor Trails a metallurgic hammer, but last year’s Snakes & Arrows brought down by drummer Neil Peart’s painfully New Age lyrics. Snakes & Arrows Live, a new double-disc set, corrects the problem same as opener “Limelight” each and every night.

Red River’s concrete fountainhead stood and emptied its burnt orange lungs at the Moving Pictures masterwork, its fair-haired architect Alex Lifeson delivering the first of almost three hours worth of hold-your-breath guitar solos. Signals’ “Digital Man,” ones and zeros only 25 years ahead of their time, batted second as if the deep album track had been anchoring Rush's live line-ups since 2112. “Ghost of a Chance,” a watershed tune in Lifeson’s long illustrious line of melodic precision, soared on the guitarist’s perfectly enunciated spacial soul.

1989’s Presto magically transformed Lee, Lifeson, and Peart into sensitive souls with a sound to match (“The Pass”), but that same serenity informing the guitarist’s six-string spirit-in-flight solos took down the group’s Nietzschian drummer after a series of personal tragedies. Clean-up hitter “Mission” reflected the namby-pamby melt of heavy metal’s one-time Big Three overlords, but with perhaps only a sole other exception (the lyrically gagging newbie “Workin’ Them Angels”), Pastor Peart was kept mercifully in check.

Proving the point immediately after, new instrumental “The Main Monkey Business,” which Geddy Lee called one of the band’s favorites, rattled King Kong’s cage while absolutely demanding that Rush one day cut an all-instro LP. “Red Barchetta” and conservation PSA “The Trees” roared classic and yet paled as gateways to the Spielberg-esque close encounter of Grace Under Pressure’s “Between the Wheels,” landing like Apollo 6 at a blue lazarium spectacular near you. Roll the Bones opener “Dreamline” ended the hour-long first set rocketing the 21st Century gypsy caravan Neil Peart so beautifully worded. Sixty minutes never evaporated with such a flash (pot) of genuine arena grandeur.

On disc, Snakes and Arrows shoots Geddy’s vocals upfont. Live - both on disc and last night - the material’s musical muscle leaves the same Vapor Trails as its catalogue precursor. Five new numbers top loaded the second set, their video visuals – something Rush helped standardize in coliseums around the globe – aiding their acclimation among older salvos. “Spindrift” and “The Way the Wind Blows” segued powerfully into synthesizer teeth cracker “Subdivisions.” When you swore nothing could out-quake such Signals, “Natural Science” levied 10 minutes of tidal Permanent Waves, after which a glowering “Witch Hunt” burned hotter than Salem, Massachusetts. The hits just kept avalanching. The encore, Vapor Trails hydrogen fireball “One Little Victory,” the sweet Jamaican pipe dreams of 2112’s “A Passage to Bangkok,” and closing failsafe “YYZ” left an ecstatic audience anything but iron deficient.

Colossal Rush peers of the 1970s aren’t quite yet extinct – Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones – but none have maintained the era’s Marshall stacks with such unwavering consistency and zero hype. Progressive is as progressive does, so if Snakes and Arrows set some jaws in stone with Peart’s touchy-feeliness, those very same weapons contemporized an exhilarating Rush 14 years removed and now graciously restored to Austin.

Frank Erwin Center, April 23, 2008

Digital Man
Ghost of a Chance
The Main Monkey Business
The Larger Bowl
Red Barchetta
The Trees
Between the Wheels

Far Cry
Workin’ Them Angels
Armor and Sword
The Way the Wind Blows
Natural Science
Witch Hunt
Malignant Narcissism/De Slagwerker (drum solo)
Spirit of the Radio
2112: Overture/The Temples of Syrinx
Tom Sawyer

One Little Victory
A Passage to Bangkok

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