Concert review: Rush delivers the R40 goods at Amalie Arena, Tampa

The vet Canadian prog rock band treat a packed house to their 40-year career retrospective tour

click to enlarge Rush guitarist Geddy Lee at Amalie Arena Sun., May 24, 2015 - Tracy May
Tracy May
Rush guitarist Geddy Lee at Amalie Arena Sun., May 24, 2015

There is absolutely nothing like a Rush concert. Nothing. 

As impressive and breath-taking as it is to watch the Canadian power trio wield all its mighty musical weapons, tour after tour, is the sheer dedication their fans seem to have in endless supply. Typically, a Rush concert is comprised of a venue filled with thousands of rabid, unabashed music nerds, prepared to pledge their undying allegiance to their favorite band. Sunday night's Tampa stop on the band's current "R40 Tour" was no exception; the Amalie Arena was packed to the rafters with diehards ready to take part in the type of rock marathon performance the band has become known for. And, wow, what a show they got.

Opening just before 8 (and without the aid of an opening act), the band — which prides themselves on a rich sense of humor and not taking themselves too seriously — kicked things off with a hilariously hokey animated film that documented all of the different looks and style changes the three-piece has undergone throughout their long tenure. Fittingly, the road their animated counterparts traveled on in the clip ends when they reached a sign reading "TAMPA". A roar wailed from the audience that was heightened when a curtain rose to reveal the trio waiting to kick things off. And, in an instant, that indescribable yet undeniable Rush sound blasted into full effect as they launched into a razor sharp version of "The Anarchist," a cut off their last studio album, 2012's Clockwork Angels

Amid a massive, wide-open stage backed by a huge video screen and glowing with dozens of colorful, powerful beaming lights, Rush wasted no time at all in doing what they do best: playing live. And play they did. Embarking on a virtual backwards time trip, the band cleverly started with selections from their most 

click to enlarge Alex Lifeson, Rush - Tracy May
Tracy May
Alex Lifeson, Rush
recent output and worked their way back to the earlier days of their formation. Mock stagehands dressed in red jumpsuits recalling those seen on the cover of the band's 1981 masterwork, Moving Pictures, made frequent appearances throughout the set to move and re-position the extra contraptions that usually find their way onto the backline of a Rush stage. This time those included bogus washing machines, a popcorn machine, old gramophones and a over-sized brain.

Comfortably dressed in jeans, tee-shirt and loose-fitting button up, bassist/keyboardist/singer Geddy Lee kept his between-song banter to a minimum except for the occasional greeting or song introduction. He opted instead to let his many talents do the talking for him. As the backward-moving setlist approached the band's keyboard-heavy '80s-era output, Lee literally had his hands full as he alternated between seamless basswork, vocals and keys. And in the process, he pulled off classics like "Subdivisions" and "Distant Early Warning" with the greatest of ease while making them sound as fresh and inspired as ever.

Guitarist extraordinaire Alex Lifeson, dressed more dapperly in black blazer and slacks, delivered more than his share of the goods as well. Alternating between screaming, soaring solos and solid rhythms, he stunningly injected the right amount of guitar prowess into every selection with "The Main Monkey Business" — an instrumental from the band's 2007 Snakes & Arrows album — benefiting the most from his superb artistry.

And then there's Neil Peart: the solemn, stone-faced monument to drumming who has been the anchor, the chief lyricist and Rush's focal point for decades. What can be said about the man who has reinvented the role of the rock drummer as an awe-inspiring architect who effortlessly melds intricate jazz time signatures with booming rock 'n roll bashing and transforms every number into a showstopper with his fills and patterns? His every move was met with a mixture of elation and amazement from everyone in attendance. Every time. Donning his regular skullcap and casual dress, Peart's work was particularly superb during "Headlong Flight," which morphed into a jaw-dropping drum solo in its own right.

click to enlarge The Beast: Neil Peart, Rush - Tracy May
Tracy May
The Beast: Neil Peart, Rush
More flashes of humor and lightheartedness came in the way of a filmed montage featuring some famous guests/Rush fans lip-synching along to the spoken-word portion of 1991's "Roll The Bones." Actors Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Peter Dinklage, guitarist Tom Morello and the cast of hit Canadian comedy series Trailer Park Boys were among those who appeared hilariously mouthing along. 

All this ... and there was still another full set to come following a brief intermission."Wer're gonna take a short break for medication," Geddy Lee joked. 

click to enlarge Rush, Amalie Arena, May 24, 2015 - Tracy May
Tracy May
Rush, Amalie Arena, May 24, 2015

Opening the second half of the performance after a series of outtake and blooper reels from comedic skits the band has filmed over the years, things got off to a rousing start with the band launching into its signature tune, "Tom Sawyer." As live images of each individual band member flanked video screens onstage, one had to be amazed at the sheer joy and exuberance all three musicians displayed while bashing out a song they've performed thousands of times. One thing that can certainly be said about this band — they never, no how, no way, phone it in. Personally having seen Rush on several occasions, I can wholeheartedly declare that Rush doesn't have "off" nights; what you get when you see this band is solid, honest, heartfelt, passionate, deep-rooted professionalism and craft. And that's exactly what was served up in abundance on Sunday night. 

Playful interaction between Lee and Lifeson at every opportunity gave the allusion that the two vets still genuinely like each other and get along well; a dynamic that isn't always obvious with lots of other longtime rock outfits.

click to enlarge Rush - Tracy May
Tracy May

"YYZ," the dynamic fan favorite instrumental, was accompanied by one of the most impressive and breathtaking light and laser beam shows I've ever witnessed. A barrage of rainbow hues seemed to go on for miles and added to the sheer drama the frenetic song conjures on its own merit.

Continuing to travel back in time and dusting off plenty of obscure nuggets along the way (particularly the rarely played 1980 epic, "Jacob's Ladder"), Rush brilliantly transported most of the over 40-aged attendees back to the formative days when their initial fascination with the band began. As the set progressed, amazement soared as long lost favorites like "Cygnus X-1" and "Xanadu" made the setlist, and found both Lee and Lifeson sporting double-necked guitars in another nod to their earlier days.

Rush isn't inclined to shy away from elder or lesser-known material, and boldly treated fans to an array of songs ranging from hits to deep cuts, undoubtedly one of the many reasons why their fans remain so dedicated to the trio and their approach. 

click to enlarge Rush - Tracy May
Tracy May

Wrapping up the extended evening with an encore that relied heavily on their 1974 self-titled debut (the only album in their catalog released before Peart joined), Lee and Lifeson donned matching paisley-patterned guitars as video images reflected scenes from a high school gymnasium, a nod to some of their earliest gigs. Both the Led Zeppelin-inspired cuts "What You're Doing" and "Working Man" rounded out the spectacular, nearly three-hour performance that most assuredly pleased every single fan in attendance. 

"Thanks for celebrating 40 years of music with us," Lee said as the band left the stage, adding "Thanks for being supportive." He, Lifeson and Peart are well aware of the undying loyalty and support their fanbase has showered upon them for so many decades. Performances as fantastic as Sunday night's prove Rush is more than capable of repaying that loyalty. 

Set List: 

The Anarchist
Clockwork Angels
Headlong Flight
Far Cry  The Main Monkey Business
One Little Victory
Roll the Bones
Distant Early Warning

click to enlarge Rush - Tracy May
Tracy May

Tom Sawyer
The Spirit of Radio
Natural Science
Jacob's Ladder
Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part I: Prelude
Cygnus X-1
(The Voyage Part 1 & 3 with drum solo)
Closer to the Heart
2112 Part I: Overture
2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
2112 Part IV: Presentation
2112 Part VII: Grand Finale


Lakeside Park
What You're Doing
Working Man 

click to enlarge Rush - Tracy May
Tracy May

About The Authors

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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