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Rush

+ {Victor} + {Geddy Lee}

Canada’s number one hard-rock act by a cosmic mile, solid and stalwart power trio RUSH have never really wavered from their fantastical sci-fi manifesto. A futuristic concept act from outwith European borders (a rare thing in the prog-rock 70s!), RUSH have delivered a plethora of resolute and grandiose albums, highlighting the high-pitched vox of Geddy Lee.
Formed in Willowdale, Toronto, Ontario, during the autumn of 1968, guitarist Alex Lifeson, vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee (who almost immediately superseded Jeff Jones) and drummer John Rutsey were spurred by the classic Brit-rock sound of CREAM, LED ZEPPELIN and YES. The North American trio toured local bars and clubs, and finally found crucial exposure in 1973 through a hometown support slot to the NEW YORK DOLLS, while their own Moon Records (run by manager Ray Daniels) issued their cover of BUDDY HOLLY’s `Not Fade Away’ as their first single.
An eponymous debut set, RUSH (1974) {*6} followed soon afterwards. The album was duly picked up by disc jockey, Donna Halper, who play-listed “blue-collar”-type anthem, `Working Man’, which impressed Cliff Burnstein and the people at Mercury Records. The company duly signed RUSH for a 6-figure sum, re-mixing (courtesy of Terry “Broon” Brown) and re-releasing the set; it bubbled under the Top 100 for a time. Although a tentative start, Geddy’s helium-laced shrill was employed to stunning effect on tracks such as opener `Finding My Way’, the Zeppelin-esque `What You’re Doing’ and of course, their 7-minute jewel-in-the-crown, `Working Man’.
However, with drummer/percussionist Neil Peart replacing Rutsey (whose problems with diabetes escalated), RUSH began to develop the unique style which would characterise their classic 70s repertoire. As well as being a consummate sticksman, Peart masterminded the band’s lyrical flights of fantasy, beginning with album number two, FLY BY NIGHT (1975) {*6}. With the conceptually similar YES still world-beating favourites (although on a solo break), RUSH still found it difficult to progress commercially outside their Canadian confines. Creatively however, the trio attempted to wrestle the symphonic rock crown from their transatlantic neighbours with such mystical, grandiose fare as `By-Tor And The Snow Dog’ (all 8 minutes of it), `Anthem’, `In The End’ and the title track. Maybe, there were too many quiet moments like `Rivendell’ and the acoustically-driven, `Making Memories’.
Later the same year, RUSH delivered the adventurous CARESS OF STEEL {*5}, a record that had its moments (`Bastille Day’ and `Lakeside Park’), but which was dogged by the self-indulgently lengthy work-outs, `The Necromancer’ (at 12 minutes) and the side-long `The Fountain Of Lamneth’. Subsequent support slots on tour with nearest American counterparts, KISS and AEROSMITH, saw the trio establish a grounding within the rock fraternity.
This stage of RUSH’s career reached its zenith in 1976 with the concept album, 2112 {*8}; based on the work of novelist and hyper right-wing philosopher, Ayn Rand. Boasting a spectacular 20-minute segued title track, this feted prog-rock/sci-fi classic gave RUSH their long-awaited breakthrough; the record – interpolated with mini-magnum-opus `The Temples Of Syrinx’ – almost achieving a US Top 60 placing. Although not as bombastic and heroic, side two also packed a punch through `Something For Nothing’ and `A Passage To Bangkok’.
In the course of the previous three years, the group’s fanbase had swelled considerably, enabling them to get away with releasing a live double set, ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE (1976) {*8}. Featuring electrifying renditions of RUSH’s most celebrated material to date, the album was hailed as an instant classic’ its Top 40 success in the States leading to massive import sales throughout Europe. This persuaded the band to bring their live show to Britain/Europe, the wildly enthusiastic reception encouraging them to stay on in Wales and record A FAREWELL TO KINGS (1977) {*7}. Not surprisingly, the album made the UK (& US) Top 40, its success boosted by classy British breakthrough hit, `Closer To The Heart’, not long afterwards. In a day when prog-rock was supposedly laid out to pasture by the incoming punk/new wave, outsider bet RUSH were cashing in without a hint of compromise. The 11-minute `Xanada’ was the set’s crowning glory, while the opening title track was also effective. The principle chapter-closing part of `Cygnus X-1 Book One – The Voyage Prologue’, was uniquely entered into their follow-up album’s opening side-long salvo, `Cygnus X-1 Book II Hemispheres’. 1978’s slightly disappointing HEMISPHERES {*5} was the last to feature Peart’s trademark epics, the album consolidating the band’s growing UK support, while their native Canada lavished upon them the title, “Ambassadors of Music”.
While many bands of their ilk floundered critically, RUSH began the 80s on a high note, scoring a rare UK Top 20 hit single with `The Spirit Of Radio’. Taken from their million-selling PERMANENT WAVES (1980) {*7}, the track was characteristic of the shorter, leaner sound that RUSH would pursue throughout the coming decade. Songs such as `Freewill’ and `Entre Nous’ could well’ve fitted nicely into the YES canon, especially as these rival progsters had also went into the AOR mainstream.
Not escaping the increasing technological influence of 80s music, the band adopted a more keyboard/synth-orientated approach. And at first it proved critically and commercially fruitful as MOVING PICTURES (1981) {*8} – featuring cross-pollenating hits, `Vital Signs’ and `Tom Sawyer’ – struck transatlantic Top 3. It’d been five years since “All The World’s…”, but was it time for an update. Judging by double-set EXIT… STAGE LEFT (1981) {*6}, probably not, as it featured only `A Passage To Bangkok’ and `Beneath, Between & Behind’ from the group’s early repertoire.
SIGNALS (1982) {*6}, GRACE UNDER PRESSURE (1984) {*5} and POWER WINDOWS (1985) {*5} all reached both the US and UK Top 10, but truly classic songs were thin on the ground. “Grace” saw RUSH parting company with their long-standing producer, Terry Brown, and accessible, MTV-aimed sounds were the order of the day. Reggae, funk and anything else was thrown in to the mix, and it seemed they’d turned into something akin to The POLICE; they further refined their sound on 1987’s HOLD YOUR FIRE {*5}, which spawned yet another near UK Top 40 single, `Time Stand Still’ (crediting AIMEE MANN, then of ‘TIL TUESDAY).
After the almost compulsory live-in-concert set, A SHOW OF HANDS (1989) {*6}, RUSH opted for a fresh start with Atlantic Records; PRESTO (1989) {*4} being the first fruits of this new alliance. Incredibly, despite regular (at times deserved) critical derision from the trendier sections of the music press, RUSH went on to even greater success in the 90s, both ROLL THE BONES (1991) {*5} and COUNTERPARTS (1993) {*7} scaling the US Top 5 (but now only Top 20 in Britain!).
Certainly, PRIMUS’ well-documented admiration done the band no harm; Lifeson even bringing in the latter band’s Les Claypool for a guest spot on his ill-advised VICTOR project; completed by son Adrian Zivojinovich (on programming), Bill Bell (guitar), Peter Cardinalli (bass), Blake Manning (drums) and other guest: vocalist Edwin (of I Mother Earth), the eponymous VICTOR (1996) {*3} sounded like a bad KING CRIMSON – circa mid-80s.
That same year, RUSH released their umpteenth set, TEST FOR ECHO {*5}, but with all their convoluted imagery and production slickness, it was hardly stuff of legend. Nevertheless, the band were still looking good for their 30th anniversary bash contained within a retrospective triple-CD, DIFFERENT STAGES – LIVE (1998) {*6} – “stages” being from 1994, 1997 and a classic one from Hammersmith Odeon in ’78.
RUSH then took time out to contemplate their next moves. In the meantime, GEDDY LEE showcased his solo set, MY FAVORITE HEADACHE (2000) {*5} to an audience more interested in his backing than its sound. Assisted by long-time RUSH associate and guest co-writer/artist, Ben Mink (on keyboards) and SOUNDGARDEN’s Matt Cameron (drums), the record had a positive, alt-rock feel, although best songs `The Present Tense’, `Home Of The Strange’ and the SMASHING PUMPKINS-like `Window To The World’, were hardly ground-breaking.
Despite a traumatic time for Peart in his personal life, losing both his wife and daughter within a year of each other, RUSH re-emerged in 2002 with VAPOR TRAILS {*5}. Solid and thoughtful, it proved the Canadians were still relevant in the new millennium, even if they were long past their sell-by-date. With the triple-disc RUSH IN RIO (2003) {*7}, moreover, they not only proved they could still push boundaries on stage, they also proved that there was still a huge, wildly appreciative audience for their work. Peart, especially, can be heard going for broke here, both feeding on, and thriving off, the kind of energy that perhaps can only be generated by the exuberance of a Latin audience.
Also to mark over 30 years at the business end of rock’n’roll, RUSH chose to get their prog teeth into covering songs written prior to their conception. FEEDBACK (2004) {*6}, an EP/mini-set, showed Geddy and Co at ease with such gems as EDDIE COCHRAN’s `Summertime Blues’, the YARDBIRDS’ `Heart Full Of Soul’ and `Shapes Of Things’, BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD’s `For What It’s Worth’ and `Mr. Soul’, The WHO’s `The Seeker’, LOVE’s `Seven And Seven Is’ and ROBERT JOHNSON’s `Crossroads’ – the latter better known to CREAM fans.
It’d been some time since their last proper studio album, but now RUSH were serious in their intentions to recapture their halcyon days through the Nick Raskulinescz-produced SNAKES & ARROWS (2007) {*7}. Utilising the title from a long-forgotten Buddhist board game that played into the mystique of karma, lyricist Peart was back to his urgent best on the likes of `Armor And Sword’ (very WISHBONE ASH-meets-METALLICA), `The Main Monkey Business’ and the PLACEBO-esque curtain call, `We Hold On’. The need then for yet another double-live concert set, SNAKES & ARROWS – LIVE (2008) {*6}, well maybe, if one hadn’t felt the upsurge of the recession yet. And another one, TIME MACHINE 2011: LIVE IN CLEVELAND {*6} – well, that was just impertinent. That is, if you hadn’t followed RUSH for some time.
Once again held in the highest esteem by fans all over the globe, the mythical/sci-fi concept CLOCKWORK ANGELS (2012) {*7} garnered another Top 3 position (near Top 20 in Britain); its pseudo authoritarian ruler (“The Watchman”) versus the anarchistic (“lost city”) people was the backdrop to the set. `Caravan’, `The Wreckers’ and `Headlong Flight’ were chosen to represent the record as singles, although this hook-laden hour-long+ meisterwork was best-served by the explosive `Seven Cities Of Gold’, `Carnies’ and `The Garden’. A novel penned by Peart and sci-fi/fantasy scriber, Kevin J. Anderson, is said to be ready for publication.
Predictably, Canada’s ageing prog-rock kings produced further epic concert boxed sets, by way of 2013’s CLOCKWORK ANGELS TOUR {*6} and the anniversary-type curtain call, R40 LIVE (2015) {*7} – the spirit of RUSH would be sadly missed.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2012-Nov2015

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