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Rush @ Marcus Amphitheater

July 4, 2013

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With “16,000 songs to play,” as vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee proclaimed, newly enshrined Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Rush brought to Summerfest’s biggest stage Thursday night a bold set list not built for the casual fan. Spanning 28 songs over two sets and more than three hours, Canada’s most famous rock trio eschewed such classics as “Working Man,” “Freewill,” “Limelight” and “Closer to the Heart,” opting instead for deeper cuts like 1991’s funky and goofy instrumental “Where’s My Thing?” and “Bravado,” 1985’s “Grand Designs” and 1984’s “The Body Electric."

After a 20-minute break, Rush returned with a seven-member string ensemble positioned above and behind drummer Neil Peart and proceeded to perform nine of the 12 songs from Clockwork Angels, the band’s 2012 sci-fi concept record. Whether, by dedicating more than one hour to new material, Rush’s intention was to sell more copies of Clockwork Angels or to distance itself from other aging rock bands that rely on past glories was unclear.

But this much is certain: Rush, whose members are 59 (Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson) and 60 (Peart), still can fill more than two-thirds of a giant amphitheater, fiercely dig into their heavy ’70s roots with a crushing new song like “Headlong Flight” and wholly embrace video technology. Elaborate storylines on giant screens, accented with a series of smaller dancing screens, enhanced the Clockwork Angels sequence despite flirting with sensory overload and betraying the thickening age lines in each man’s face.

Even some hardcore fans in the seats and on the concourses expressed confusion about Rush’s set list strategy, and the band’s signature humor and playfulness wasn’t as apparent as it’s been during previous Summerfest gigs. But by the time the trio wrapped up the evening with a slew of fan favorites—including “Red Sector A,” “YYZ,” “The Spirit of Radio” and an astonishing encore featuring “Tom Sawyer” and three movements from 2112—all appeared forgiven.

Peart also performed three engaging drum solos, proving why he should be the only drummer in rock allowed to take that spotlight, and Lifeson’s solos, especially on “The Analog Kid,” looked ridiculously effortless while sounding uncompromisingly lethal. Lee’s voice, however, has lost some of its crispness and depth.

Despite the changes apparent Thursday night, Rush remains Rush. Musically, technically and intellectually, few bands even come close.
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