Rush has spent its 40-year career moving between 20-minute, epic-sized, multi-sectional overtures and four-minute, radio-friendly, pop-leaning songs. Before a filled arena Tuesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the trio did both, spending the first set running through songs, then moving into the more-complex, theme-based works, starting with their latest release, “Clockwork Angels,” and ending with one of their earlier records, “2112.”
Led by Geddy Lee, with Neil Peart on drums and Alex Lifeson on guitar, the recent inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened with “Subdivisions,” followed by “The Big Money.” Soon came “Grand Designs” and then “Analog Kid,” from their 1982 “Signals” album. Front man Lee drove the band on bass and played keyboards,, as well, all while carrying the vocals. For the record, he doesn’t fake simple bass lines while singing, he picks quick and hard around the frets during the vocals.
The decade of the tunes were easy to identify based on the synthesizer sound, Lifeson’s prog-rock licks and Lee’s high-pitched vocals.
The group routinely attacked all its tunes, the tempo always aggressive. They softened a bit on “Bravado” toward the end of the second set, Lifeson playing a melodic solo for one round before fanning his right hand over a high string to throw the sound back into overdrive.
Lee followed with a great bass solo introduction, a prelude to Peart’s first drum solo — a mere warmup for what he gave us later — during “Where’s My Thing?” Peart, who always makes the list of great drum-set technicians, stayed on his snare drum for a good part of the solo — a camera hovering directly above him gave us a great shot of his hands — before flailing methodically around his circular mass of tom-toms.
The band followed with “Far Cry” to end the set.
The second set ran through a number of tunes from their latest record, colored by a string section. Rather than a layered cliché of gloppy, prog-rock string arrangements, the addition added intensity to the tunes (imagine the strings’ contribution on “Kashmir”). During the powerful “Carnies,” Lifeson strummed a few fat chords to set the heavy tone, and the strings added haunting tones while Lee and Peart drove the bottom-end of the machine.
“Wreckers” was less intense but an equally original addition to the Rush songbook.
While the classic Rush kept the pavilion fans on their feet the entire show and produced the most energy of the night, it was the “Clockwork Angels” portion of the show that presented the most exciting music, ending with the near-ballad “The Garden.” The strings left after “YYZ,” and the show then went headfirst into its finale, ending with “The Spirit of Radio.”
They returned for the encore, “Tom Sawyer,” the crowd drowning out the song for the first few bars. Then came the show’s peak during the “2112” movements.
The crowd was largely men in their 40s and 50s, many with their sons or wives. There is no sense of aging among the band, not in Peart’s drumming, the vocals or guitar chops.
The three Canadians have been together for more than 40 years, a break here and there, but no actual break up. This is quite a feat and more than many bands, families, companies and teams can claim.