Imagine a place where complex instrumentals and drum solos did not send fans on beer runs or bathroom breaks, where mere musical passages were applauded nearly as enthusiastically as the entire songs themselves, where the bass player doubled on keys while the guitarist alternated between acoustic and electric — in the middle of songs. A fictional land? Nay, it truly existed on the laser-lit stages roamed by the Canadian power trio Rush in their prime, and it’s territory revisited with the release of their latest album.
Prog-rock pupil Adam Jones of Tool and drum disciple Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters were among the many being schooled by the seemingly ageless rock outfit for two sets and an encore at the Bowl Monday night. “Snakes and Arrows” (Anthem/Atlantic), the group’s 11th top 10 disc, continues the unique tradition of weighty lyrics penned by drummer Neil Peart sung even more uniquely by bassist Geddy Lee, whose characteristic timbre and register showed no signs of wear.
What does appear to have changed is the source of propulsion for the new music. Where once such staples as “Closer to the Heart” and “Red Barchetta” (both curiously omitted from the tour’s setlists thus far) were built around Alex Lifeson’s ingenious guitar riffs and use of harmonics, the “Snakes and Arrows” material, performed in abundance, seemed driven by Peart’s insistent beats first and foremost and with far less structural dynamics.
The band does take a significant risk by starting the second set with five new songs that dealt largely with faith and spirituality; galvanizing numbers like the closers “Spirit of Radio” and “Tom Sawyer,” if spread throughout the sesh, would have made the show more of a crowd-pleaser.
The band revealed that it does, in fact, have a sense of humor with the inclusion of brief video-projected comedy clips from “SCTV’s” fictional brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, respectively), the kids from “South Park” and the threesome themselves (as well as the unintentionally funny closeup video shot of Lee’s foot playing bass pedals).
But it was only near show’s end when the musicians finally showed signs of loosening up, after appearing so proficient and workmanlike all evening, with Lee and Lifeson prowling opposite sides of the Bowl and Peart cracking a smile after a drum fill now and then.