Concert Review: Rush, Clockwork Angels Tour

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Rush performs ClockWork Angels, back by a string section
Pyro, smoke, lighting, steampunk, string section — this is Rush like you’ve never seen before. Photo by Jody Moon.

I’m just back from the Rush show in Hamilton, Ontario, courtesy of my wife who picked me up some pretty sweet tickets for my birthday. The Canadian prog rock trio and geek favorite has been feeling the mainstream love over the past few years — capped by the band’s long-awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few months ago (they’re also headlining some Candian postage stamps) — and the concert was one of the best I’ve seen. Rush pulled out all the stops, playing nearly 30 songs over the course of three hours with a steampunk-themed set, a string section for a chunk of the show, plenty of pyro, and three Neal Peart drum solos that sparked thousands of spontaneous air drumming incidents.

Rush rocking out
Canadian prog-rock icons, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neal Peart. Photo by Brad Moon

Opening with “Subdivisions,” the band covered a series of classics, including “Limelight,” “The Analog Kid” and “Far Cry” before taking a break and returning to play nearly an hour of material from Clockwork Angels. This was the band’s 2012 release, both a concept album and a steampunk-themed novel collaboration between Kevin J. Anderson and Rush drummer Neil Peart.

It can be tough to play new material for a crowd and expecting to hold an audience’s interest for nearly an hour to run through new tracks is a risky choice, especially for a band with such a deep discography (going back the 1974 self-titled release) and fans who expect to hear their favorites. Rush did a good job of selling the new stuff, though. Besides the steampunk-themed set design (as pointed out by commenter SofaCritic the bases of the props behind Geddy are not “steampunked” washing machines as I originally thought, although with the glass portals they fooled me), the lighting and video clips were intense, there was plenty of pyro and smoke, and, topping it all off, the band brought on an accompanying string section comprised of two cellos and five violins. The string section on stage was something I’ve never seen Rush do and it worked amazingly well.

Rush + strings
Rush, backed by a seven-piece string section. The stage isn’t usually so crowded at a Rush concert. Photo by Jody Moon.

After the Clockwork Angels set, it was back to classic material and Rush returned for a four song encore that included “Tom Sawyer” and 2112‘s “Overture,” The Temples of Syrinx” and “Grand Finale.” Put simply: It was a great concert. It could have maybe done with two or three less Clockwork Angels tracks, but then again who’s to complain about a band that puts this much effort into providing such a compelling night for their audience? After nearly 40 years of touring, Rush knows how to deliver a Hell of a show, they clearly still enjoy what they do (no going through the motions here) and, even if Geddy Lee’s voice can’t quite reach the highs it did a few decades ago, the band still puts on a musical clinic.

If you happen to live in or around Portland, Denver, Kansas City, Halifax or any of the cities that remain on the Clockwork Angels tour (you can see the full listing of remaining stops here) and you’re either a Rush fan or want to see what the fuss is about, buy a ticket. You’re not going to find an arena concert that’s more entertaining and polished than this one and you won’t regret the purchase.

Rush, in concert
Another shot of the full Clockwork Angels treatment. Photo by Brad Moon.
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