Rush: Cool to be Uncool

Rush: Cool to be Uncool

Marcus Amphitheater, Summerfest

Milwaukee, WI

July 3, 2010

There are few bands that provoke as much of a love-hate response as Rush. It seems you either get it or you don’t. Try asking a fan why they like Rush. It’s inexplicable. Certainly, their critics have been equally as harsh as their fans have been adoring. Rolling Stone once characterized Rush fans as the “Trekkies” of rock. And to the extent that is true, I can’t help but admire fans that don’t care about popular taste or self-righteous critics and that are loyal to their heroes over many decades. And, like Star Trek, there is a kind of uncompromising earnestness in Rush songs that is both na├»ve and profound at the same time. It is no wonder that their greatest popularity is found largely in Canada and the US Midwest where being free from ambiguity or pretense is highly prized.

This summer, Rush is on their “Time Machine” tour where after an opening set, they return to play their classic album “Moving Pictures” in its entirety. Many fans, as well as some band members, consider this 1980 album to be the ultimate expression of the Rush sound. Of their 18 studio albums, Moving Pictures had the most commercial success with the AOR hits, “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight.” It also contains “Camera Eye,” which was the highlight of their concert in Milwaukee.

The band began their Summerfest show with “Spirit of the Radio,” one of the best songs ever about the music/radio business and the struggle bands often face not to sell-out. Most of the songs in the first set were from the second half of Rush’s career that I had long ago dismissed, along with many of Rush’s early fans, but there were a couple songs that I really enjoyed and will have to revisit. This set also included the classic "Freewill."

The second set began with “Tom Sawyer” and a wonderful “Red Barchetta.” During “YYZ,” the lakefront fireworks display began and was partially visible stage-right for the next hour which added to the excitement of the show and the 4th of July holiday atmosphere. After “Limelight,” came the 10-minute opus, “Camera Eye.” Camera Eye” is a wonderful song that is one of my favorites but don’t ask me to explain why. The way the song patiently unfolds in multiple parts while staying unified thematically is masterful. It’s also nice that the song is about two of my favorite cities, New York and London. After “Moving Pictures,” the band also played crowd favorites, “Closer to the Heart” and “2112.”

Returning to Wisconsin to see Rush at Summerfest reminded me of simpler, less complicated times when music was the most important and exciting thing in my life. Those memories of my adolescence, backyard BBQs with brats and childhood crushes, are becoming more indistinct as I get older but it was wonderful to watch Rush near Lake Michigan on a warm summer night in July almost as if I had never left.