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Review: Rush turn back the clock on four decades of rock at Tampa's Amalie Arena

It's a guesstimate, but scanning Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sunday night, I'd say a solid third of the sold-out crowd of 14,827 was wearing Rush T-shirts.

"It's not retro, it's original!" I overheard one T-shirted fan emphatically attest to another.

Who would doubt it? Rush's legendarily obsessive fans live and die with the band, and you just know many have a drawer full of faded tees back at home. Rush may not be cool, you see, but for 40-plus years, they've never gone out of style.

So it's no wonder they all lifted their lighters and roared with approval as the Canadian prog-rock icons walked back a four-decade career in what might be their final show ever in Florida.

This concept of this tour – likely their "last major tour of this magnitude,” the band has said – is endearingly clever: A career retrospective in reverse, starting with 2012’s Clockwork Angels and winding all the way back to 1974’s Rush. It’s an unraveling of who Rush is and how they got here, and why that matters so much to so many.

Front-loading a three-hour concert with so much new stuff can be risky – it took Rush a solid 45 minutes just to reach the '90s – but their hardest-core fans didn’t seem to mind. Musically, the second half of their career is arguably as ambitious as the first – see the operatic rage of Headlong Flight (2012); the murky metallurgy of The Main Monkey Business (2007); the polyrhythmic power of Distant Early Warning (1984).

Roll The Bones (1991) even paid homage to the band’s Apatow-assisted 21st-century resurgence, with stars like Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Peter Dinklage and Tom Morello appearing via video to “perform” the song’s rap section. Later comedic clips featured Eugene Levy, Jerry Stiller and the lads from South Park, among others, proving Rush don't have a problem being the butt of all the cool kids' jokes.

But the good thing about working front to back is that when you return from intermission, it’s all about the glory days. Rush thundered back onstage with one of their biggest hits, Tom Sawyer, and two more furious rockers, YYZ (1981) and the righteously anthemic The Spirit of Radio (1980), which saw the arena bathed in rainbow lights.

The musical time warp was reflected in the mise en scene. Throughout the night, a team of jumpsuited “roadies” transformed the stage from a whimsical wondermagorium of brass, tubes and gizmos into a bank of coin-op washing machines and amplifiers topped with toy dinosaurs (shout-out to the suburban dystopia of Subdivisions!); then an ever-shrinking wall of amps. By the time they closed with the dino-stomping Working Man, there were only two amps teetering on a couple of stacking chairs. Talk about going back to your roots.

One thing that hasn’t changed over 40 years is the band’s jaw-dropping musicianship. Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart twisted and tumbled their way through every knotty number with stoic precision. They mostly make it look easy, but they’re not above a little show-offy showmanship every now and again. Lee and Lifeson strapped on double-necked instruments for 1977’s Xanadu; and all prog-rock, pyro-packed hell broke loose during a 10-minute selection from their operatic 1976 opus 2112.

Peart gave the crowd’s air-drumming diehards what they came for during a mini-suite of Cygnus X-1, from 1978’s Hemispheres, twirling his sticks and walloping every skin at his disposal during a prism-lit solo of epic proportions. His legendary pounding even sparked a fist-pump out of Lifeson at the end of Roll The Bones.

Even fans who’d seen Rush before had never seen them quite like this. The set was filled with so many early rarities (1980’s Jacob’s Ladder, 1975's Lakeside Park, 1974’s What You’re Doing), few would complain about the omission of some all-time hits (Limelight and Freewill were among those left on the shelf).

If this really is farewell, it’s a bold and creative way to go out. For lifelong fans, the memories of this last, long look at Rush will last forever. Just like those old tees.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Sunday, May 24, 2015 11:36pm]


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