It’s not as if Rush has anything left to prove. The Canadian power trio’s long string of top-10 albums and sold-out concert tours and its large and loyal fan base speak volumes about the Atlantic band’s popularity, if not its musical relevance in 1994.
Entering the packed arena to music from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Rush seemed in a loose, spirited mood, matching the stripped-down, soulful tone of the group’s excellent new Atlantic album, “Counterparts.” Unfortunately, this hockey arena’s cavernous design offered little acoustic cooperation, laying sonic waste to the set’s beginning.
Too bad, because it was early in the two-hour show that the band — singer/bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neal Peart — was most effective in conveying its rediscovered inspiration, particularly with music from the new album.
Songs like “Nobody’s Hero,” about what it really means to be gallant, and “Cold Fire” signal a return to the more guitar-oriented sound that brought the band fame early in its career and represent an effort on the group’s part to sing about subjects more accessible than space travel and science fiction.
But a flat, heavy sound mix served to dull the music, counteracting the trio’s efforts. Blame can also be laid on Rush’s longstanding habit of relying heavily on vocal and instrumental samples, necessary to reproduce the band’s elaborate recordings but ultimately a spontaneity muffler.
The sound did improve in time for the much-anticipated oldies jam at show’s end. Old faves “The Trees” and “Xanadu” were greeted wildly, the latter even featuring the return of Lifeson’s double-neck guitar, not seen since 1981. The spacey “Hemispheres,” not performed since 1980, and hit “Tom Sawyer,” which ended with a mini fireworks display, were exciting show closers.
Musically, all three band members are still at the top of their game, particularly drummer Peart. His awesome solo still drops jaws, his technical precision and uncanny sense of dramatic timing still something to behold.
Rush seems dedicated to constantly reinventing contemporary, progressive rock , even in the face of grunge and slacker rock. And until the day comes that these three musicians lose their inspiration, a Rush show will remain one of pop’s great spectacles.
Maverick/Warner Bros. band Candlebox opened the show with a fairly likable if unspectacular 30-minute set. The Seattle quartet, sounding a bit like Pearl Jam meets Blind Melon, earned its biggest applause when guitarist Peter Klett played the riff from “Working Man,” a song from Rush’s 1974 debut album.