We had a fantastic time when we went to see Rush last night at Wembley Arena. The band had no support act so they played from 7:30 to 11 with a half hour break. I jotted down a few notes in the darkness, trying not to write on the same pages twice.
Long, long songs followed one after another, each a mosaic of complex rhythms and snatches of melody. This music really is in its own world - at one point a song reminded me of something and I tried to figure out what, until I realised it was itself. Louder pieces opened with a ferocious racket of hissing and spitting and then resolved into a scarcely controlled rampage. At the start of the evening it felt as though the band was performing more to the cameras supplying the screens than to the audience directly. Either I got used to this or they stopped doing it - I didn't notice which. The atmosphere was intense but fairly natural - no great stage posturing.
That said, singer and basist Geddy Lee's eyebrows are like a fouth band member. They never keep still, and have a completely independant existence both from their host and each other. To fill the space left by absent bass amps, this tour he has Henhouse rotisserie ovens, which are tended now and again during the evening by stage-hands dressed in kitchen whites. In the most energetic moments, Geddy skips and hops across the stage like a bunny. His voice pitches into the sound, an integral part of it in a way that surprised me given what I had read of his recording vocals separately. How on earth can he sing for so long? It's like a marathon - sprinted.
This show features pretty impressive pyrotechnics, but no fireworks could compare with the drums. I was awestruck and didn't write down much - I stared at the screens, watching as he switched grip for some songs. Neil Peart is an amazing drummer, but his tech must be no slouch either: the sound is superbly amplified - crisp, easy to distinguish yet resonant and satisfying.
Alex Lifeson opens on a guitar that glints in the light like burnished tortoiseshell. He is a model of restrained behaviour on stage. On his amps there is an array of what appear to be plastic dinosaurs; at the front are a matching line-up of something else - perhaps troll dolls?
At times it was too loud and distorted, but at its best his tone in solos seemed to vibrate in my head as though it were my own voice.
The audience, rows of pale faces in black Tshirts, sat or stood quietly apart from a crescent of more manic souls at the front. Some of the people near us sporting Rush Tshirts looked very bored; they were gone by the second set. Whenever there was near-darkness, blue lights of mobile phones showed up like glow-worms.
As well as the usual big lighting rig, there were several in huge blocks, suspended on cables above the stage. They swooped down like winged creatures coming closer to listen, turning their head as solos shifted from one musician to another. Green blades of lasers pierced the darkness, like beams from the eyes of a monster - and indeed there were lots of dragons on the screens behind. The videos and graphics are a performance in themselves, but of course I couldn't watch and write at once, so I only noted a few bits. In Hold Your Fire, splinters emanated from a ball. Later, images of people with added angelic wings were disturbingly beautiful. The high point was in the drum solo when the graphics were uncannily just what I would see in my mind's eye.
In the darkness at the end of a song, we noticed two very high-tech sound desks - I imagine controlling a lot more than the sound. The band members are like the drivers in Formula One - certainly the stars, but set in a firmament created for them by an incredibly talented team.