News Segment


May 8, 2004

NEW YORK (Billboard) – Geddy Lee didn’t know it at the time, but on his 21st birthday — July 29, 1974 — he and his bandmates hit a career lottery.

That was the day Neil Peart joined Lee and Alex Lifeson in their band Rush. When Peart replaced drummer John Rutsey, he cemented a lineup for the Toronto-based trio that has lasted for 30 years, with Lifeson on guitar and Lee on bass and lead vocals.

“It’s beyond being brothers, it’s beyond being a family, it’s beyond a marriage,” Lifeson says of Rush’s personal chemistry. “It’s like a whole different kind of relationship that we have. It’s so unique that it really clicked with us. We’ve seen so many other bands disintegrate because of ego problems that sort of thing. That never existed with us.”

That is true probably because the members of Rush never wanted to be pop stars. Since its self-titled debut in 1974, the trio’s main goals have been to create its own sound and explore new musical terrain.

After three decades and several notable transformations, Rush’s latest studio album, 2002’s “Vapor Trails,” shows the group still holding to that aesthetic.

“Every time we went into the studio, it was always the feeling that we were pushing the envelope a little bit further,” recalls Terry Brown, co-producer of 10 Rush albums. “I always felt that we explored as much of their capability as possible.”

Rush will mark the 30th anniversary of its longstanding lineup with an international tour that opens May 26 at the Starwood Amphitheater outside Nashville. The North American leg of the tour will conclude with a hometown show in Toronto Aug. 22 before the band heads to Europe.

Rush’s tenacity through the years has resulted in 17 studio albums, five live albums — including “Rush in Rio,” released as a CD and DVD late last year — and five archival collections.

The band has received numerous accolades, including recognition from the Recording Industry Assn. of America as the best-selling Canadian band in the United States, for shipments that exceed 25 million copies.


The complexity of Rush’s songs led some critics in the ’70s and ’80s to accuse the band of being pretentious. But the innovation that sustains its career commands deep respect from fellow musicians. For some, the members of Rush have been personal mentors.

Drummer Mike Portnoy of the band Dream Theater recalls, “My nickname in was ‘Mike Peartnoy.’ Even in my high-school yearbook, it said, ‘Future plans: to become the next Neil Peart.”‘

When Portnoy, Jon Myung and John Petrucci formed Dream Theater while attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music, their devotion to Rush was a bonding thread.

Rush has godfathered many other acts, progressive (Queensryche, Fates Warning, Tool) and alternative (Primus, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, No Doubt).

Rush formed in 1968, cutting its teeth primarily on music by British groups, especially Cream, the Who and Led Zeppelin. Rush’s first gigs were at youth clubs and teen dances. When it started playing bars, the band stood out because it insisted on playing its original material along with cover tunes.

Now, the students have become the masters, and they advocate continual experimentation, writing intelligent lyrics and striving for lifelong improvement as performers.

The dramatic shifts in Rush’s albums chart its growth. Its commercial breakthrough, “2112” (1976), was a sci-fi concept piece. “Permanent Waves” (1980) and “Moving Pictures” (1981) feature shorter arena-rock compositions. “Grace Under Pressure” (1984) began an era where keyboards and other synth elements enhanced Rush’s sound. “Roll the Bones” (1991) and “Counterparts” (1993) were contemporary returns to form, with Lifeson’s guitar work more at the fore.

“The thing that they’re best at is making complexity accessible,” veteran music writer J.D. Considine says. “They pack an awful lot into a song and yet still give it a simple, straightforward appeal, which is a very difficult thing to pull off. Only a handful of bands have been good — Van Halen, the Police, Cream, Zeppelin.”

And few accomplish what Rush does onstage. A band that built its following with hard touring, Rush is most alive in front of an audience. Its stage productions, while entertaining, never overshadow its performance. The onstage grandeur belies the group’s small size.

“Three guys making that much music is phenomenal,” says Pierre Robert, longtime DJ of heritage WMMR Philadelphia. “The sound on the records is very full, but when you see it in concert, it lifts to another level.”

Queensryche drummer Scott Rockenfeld concurs. “Being a player, I appreciate they can play what they do on a record as a three-piece. They really pull it off well live, which can really be a difficult task with the world we live in of overdubs and putting all sorts of instruments on that don’t really exist in the band.”

Although Rush has considered hiring additional musicians for its live shows through the years, it never does. Instead, the band works with triggers and sequencers.

Lee, who has triple duties onstage, as vocalist, bassist and keyboard player, believes Rush’s audience appreciates this approach.

“I think our fans love that there’s nobody else out there,” Lee says. “I think they like to look at us as the world’s smallest orchestra. It’s nice to try to live up to that.”


Lee hopes the band will work on another album next year, but right now, it is focusing on the 30th-anniversary tour. The outing will mark Rush’s first concerts in Prague, Italy and several territories that were formerly behind the Iron Curtain.

As the tour approaches, Lee reflects on the start of the band’s career in the United States, when it first signed with Mercury. At the time, a 30-year run was unthinkable.

“You think is the beginning of something, but you don’t know what that means, and you don’t know how long it will last,” he says.

“I remember the first tour we did — that very first tour with Neil. We would all keep the keys to our hotel rooms from all these various Holiday Inns around the United States, because we thought, ‘Well, you may never get to these places again,’ and you wanted proof you were there.”

Christa Titus courtesy of Billboard