1989/1990: Getting to be mature men, well and truly in their middle thirties , RUSH decided on a poppy direction. Man, I loved it! It turned out to be the album “Presto”, released in 1989. The tour was far briefer than had been the case for RUSH in the past, thankfully shorter in comparison by past grueling RUSH tour standards.. Alex Lifeson even took the chance during these eezy-breezy Progless No-Metal days, as much moolah already rolled in to show for the 1974-1989 recording period of the Torontonian’s top-selling 12 studio albums and 4 tours captured live officially, to ease back and do but a second Pop Rocking album with the Canadian Robin Zander-like (Cheap Trick singer analogy) now-(2014)Styx singer, Lawrence Gowan. Yes a second Pop Rock masterpiece would supplement “Presto” by RUSH, for the Lerxstian faithful only. That Lawrence Gowan album is officially called THE GOWAN – “Lost Brotherhood” LP, 1990 with Lerxst on the whole album! I played it all the time way back when these two albums were hot off the record shelves. Most RUSH fans complain about this light Pop Rock excavation of RUSH at the tail end of the 1980s as if their heroes had lost their minds, some half-expecting to find when stepping out of RUSH a “The Fountain Of Lamneth” showing-off Heavy Mental Metal guitar Lerxst. If they really knew his modus operandi they’d know he was off to do something else really different. And this time it would be different and mellow. There do exist those jolly contented fans who dig “Presto” and THE GOWAN, but they must contend with the opposite dumb catcalling that goes — after a listen to “Lost Brotherhood”: “Where is he (Lerxst) in the mix, I can’t hear him?”
Rush paint this night with bright, broad musical brushstrokes while studied battle cries are sent reverberating into the rafters, exciting RUSH fans on this tour stop in the Eastern United States for the 13th studio album, “Presto”, by the tremendously talented trio who never sound less like twice the amount of people they are.
And that is a fact. Not an illusion. RUSH trigger the backing vocals themselves and stomp the buttons to change to the sound they need. They have always been self-reliant. At the very least if Pratt, Dirk or Lerxst can’t get to it, maybe a long-standing member of the team can.
A string section here, an electric violinist there, a pianist there. As of “Signals” there could be found a trained musician, or like with “Power Windows” a choral choir. Andy Richards on piano or Pye Dubois who did some obtuse poetry as far back as 1981. Yet no one would step foot, as a musician, to share the stage with the three stooges. That would take years and a lot of a good reason to do. Solo efforts by Lifeson in 1996 and Lee in 2000 would eliminate the need to take the focus off RUSH.
That is why “Presto” live and organically played by the three on a DVD, that dates from 1990 is such an eye-opening beautiful experience. Yes, they might have made their mellowest numbers in “Red Tide” and “Hand Over Fist” but it didn’t mean that they didn’t play “2112” in 1990. As it turns out they would play lots of diverse tracks from their history on the tour. It was kind of cool, too as I liked two of the opening acts on the “Presto” tour. “Mr. Big” was cool and great admirers of RUSH and virtuoso musicians. VOIVOD were a steady and very heavy favorite band of mine from Canada. Are there any DVDs were VOIVOD and RUSH share the same DVD package?
THE PRESTO SHOW GETS UNDERWAY:
Visuals of the “A Show Of Hands” artwork comes to life to begin the show. Giant white rabbits take their corners quite placidly; motionless.
“Subdivisions” is the corker as it resumes its laidback feel first parlayed on the indelible 1982 “Signals” album from whence it comes from. Alex is spot on cue delivering the drastically-spoken-one-word “Subdivisions”. Peart looks a bit possessed and Geddy can’t find the right opening keyboard chords and anything sensible to gurgle out on his bass for the “Power Windows”‘s “Marathon” number. Jeez, it don’t work! So much Bass guitar juggling made for an indecisive time for the Gedster — from Fender to Rickenbacker to Steinberger to you-name-it — its simply a matter of having the wrong Bass guitar, as too many people would be whispering in his ear. Geddy hadn’t yet learned that he can just hang out with his 1972 Fender Jazz and still more Fenders (like the red one!). And what was that mistake; that flub up musically in “Marathon” that I just heard (while I was blabbing here)? What was that about?
“More than just a bottom of line?” is a lyrical faux pas. Geddy Lee even smacks his hand off the top of his head at one point as Alex contorts his face into what he hopes is a hidden grimace. This is RUSH. We know when they f*ck up! Lerxst makes it a mission to turn the “Power Windows” flubbed song into a winner, unperturbed by minor mistakes — they are not train-wrecks — and he digs in with some contorted physical poses. . . then in an inexplicable split-second reboot, Alex then breaks into supremely confident, striking cool Rock star poses as the teepee combination of blue laser lights speeds up emitting rays off to both sides of Pratt and a magical moment is to be captured as a just-like-the-record Lerxstian lead guitar solo lights the fuse on the sonic landscape. Lifeson shows himself the master of guitar FX. In the home stretch there is a special effects sound that permeates my core to the being. It is besides the “Hemispheres”/”Far Cry” chord, yet another original in the mad guitar scientist original sound canvas. It is the sound of a car speeding through a tube-like housing. The Holland Tunnel in New York is a good example. The effect of being submerged and being walled up is a captivating thing. Behind Al and Ged, at stage center, Neil Peart shakes up an avalanche as we dream with the uncle by the fireside.
“Anagram (For Mongo)” and “Chain Lightning” would have been right at home with this special atmosphere RUSH has created for this “Presto” gig. The lighters would’ve blazed for the “Presto” closing cut, “Available Light”. I can only hope that 35 years later these cuts long neglected from “Presto” may be blazed through as the supertroopers that make up the invincible line-up of RUSH trundle on with a get this, 41st anniversary tour. Like “Hold Your Fire”, the last of the saturating keyboards albums from 1987 — one album previous to “Presto” — made a point of saying, that indeed “anything can happen”.
A lighter more playful RUSH took place on record. Yet, not any less exacting.
On this DVD, at this gig, we hear “Superconductor” take on a new life. Peart does some magic with the floor toms or kick drum, as it is something bitchin’ in the low-end Bass range. A black and white television tests our ability to resonate with stars of screen and stage as the song updates that feel of living in The Limelight. The drive of “Superconductor” is ballsy and moves perfectly manically with the cavalcade of stars projected onto the screen behind the lighted stage where the band are working hard. This song seems to have all three members breaking into furious sweats. They look like they are earning their collective keep onstage.
The on-screen visuals of “Marathon” and the “Manhattan Project” are where our attention is directed and the God-awful big-screen painting where every violin is bowing itself and all manner of people are present, is frightfully dated and downright silly and almost annoying. Giant mouths fill the screen as they sing the chorus of “Marathon” in another episode of RUSH in-concert cartoon depravity; actually that’s kinda cool. “Manhattan Project” proceeds with the big-nosed Mad Magazine spoof goofs who beat each other senseless and, without warning though totally expected by us educated RUSH fans, the only man who can possibly hold a candle (and a dream) to the brilliant brain of drummer/lyricist/soon to write a lot of books — Neil Peart — during his lifetime flashes on the screen: (Albert Einstein, the nuclear physicist and man who never it appears combed his wild frizzy hair. Geniuses’ minds are always pre-occupied aren’t they?)
( To each his own and what a wonderful world it is, I say).
“Power Windows” would get another chance for a far in the future RUSH tour. Clockwork Angels’ 2012/2013 Tour and the late 2013 post – Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame induction, celebratory DVD and CD package, “Clockwork Angels Tour”, would see the Clockwork Angels (String Ensemble) help make it right. “Manhattan Project” would be redeemed from the beating it took especially on this “Presto” tour. “Mountain View” is a good example of the difficulty that an album like “Power Windows”, never intended to be fussed over whether it could be reproduced live correctly; it got a second wind.
RUSH NEVER STOPPED MOVING PICTURES
Up next, things get interesting as the whole stage takes on a special olden brick-building colored hue. “Red Barchetta” finds our bug-out Bubba drummer leading the band with his loud drum kit, through a brawny rocket-fueled “Moving Pictures” number. Hindsight being 20/20, I look and see that all of that tremendous 1981 album triumphs because of constant change-ups in timing decidedly more suited to jazz. It is not obvious. “Moving Pictures” is a Jazz Art-Rock heavy Prog album.
And knowing what I know now from reading so much of Neil Peart’s books, I will say that “Moving Pictures” is a percussionist’s dream. It is the best RUSH album for Neil Peart’s drums. That’s my humble opinion anyway.
No, there’s actually more to it; what is really amazing is that the “Moving Pictures” 7 tracks all work live in-concert in any diverse RUSH style/era against any backdrop RUSH may hatch as the years go by. That a whole tour was virtually built around 30 years of “Moving Pictures”, where it was done in its entirety (2010 – 2011 RUSH Time Machine Tour) is the other half of its true magick quality. Yet it works as RUSH fuse the Rock and the Prog and weave it as a trio, with precision. Jaw dropping, is the performance of the fabled red car. What a nice self-assured air it is that personifies The Presto Tour drive, 6 RUSH studio albums down the line. “Moving Pictures” material benefits from the almost, dare I say, cocksure attitude we see on stage for this “Presto” gig. It is surely not the “Vapor Trails” return-to-form Tour insecurity or the jittery Down The Tubes Tour of the Mid-1970s, is it?
“Show Me, Don’t Tell Me” is the Rock star righteousness song. What do I mean? It means RUSH got a right to say that others talk about doing things exactly right. Meanwhile, RUSH actually do every thing right; Every beat of the drum brings a metronomic Geddy/Alex response.
DRUMMERS LEARN THE SNARE BY THE STARS
“This is one of our favorite songs…” from “Presto”, is Mr. Lee dutifully and admittedly drolly announcing “The Pass”. Do I detect what I have only seen from the frostbittendemonstormin’ frontman’s Cronos of Venom approach of Norway’s Immortal, with their own frontman/guitarist. Immortal are a Black Metal band. Yet Geddy Lee is as just asserious as a heart attack with his mean mean stride ‘gainst the microphone on this one.
Geddy — real name of Gary Lee Weinrib, hits each and every note while Alex Lifeson invents little Lego-like interlocking guitar parts, on the spot, adding to the intense drama unfolding onstage. Neil picks up the syncopation, and with triplets Rocks the song as Geddy intones, resolutely, and with absolute perfect pitch “Christ, what have you done?”.
The stark ending of Geddy singing by his lonely — “Don’t turn your back and slam the door on me” reminds me for a brief minute of how the man sang the Canadian National anthem, “O Canada” at a future date with keening precision. Kudos go to the sound man for getting the intense slapback echo FX going in perfect meter for “The Pass” and the other “Presto” tracks that feature it on this DVD.
“Closer To The Heart” is all Alex. Even Neil Peart’s usual stick spinning and tossing spectacle (not much at this gig at all… hmm) loses out to the acoustic guitar being picked like Classical master Andre Segovia, as it sits on the Lerxst invention: The Omega Concern guitar stand. The elongated unmistakable (The) Who-like jam-out makes for a spirited finish that energizes and breathes cool new life into a song, and the only one for RUSH, that is almost played out. The song will get a needed rest in the future. And when I guess it is brought back into the set well into 2015 or beyond, it will Rock with bone-jarring intensity, no doubt.
NO NATURAL SCIENCE FOR THIS PRESTO DVD, SORRY
Only because RUSH have so many great songs to add with each new studio release that they record. Not all bands decades-long in the tooth can manage this feat. When KISS announced “Hell or Hallelujah” at Sweden Rock, with RUSH on the bill 38 years down the line again with them. It was the new smash, supposedly, from their new smash album supposedly, “Monster”. The crowd did not audibly cheer. I would have needed to strain to listen to a stethoscope pressed to a chair someone in the KISS 2013 audience in order to be sitting and able to detect any outbursts of welcome happiness for the new tune.
RUSH got one packed bottle of rocket sauce as Jack Black the comedian said in, his dramatic comedic way in the RUSH career documentary, “Beyond The Lighted Stage” from 2010.
“Xanadu”, oh gorgeous Xanadu. This is a 12-minute number at its most appealing and it has just got to work. Lasers make grand designs across the cavernous venue’s seemingly unlimited, by use of a vivid stage show, ceiling. Hands raise up in the audience in triumph as Geddy confides “Oh yeah, paradise” as the last line only arrives to serve to cue the song’s hasty exit and entrance into a manic “YYZ”. Those aforementioned last words are not a vocal exclamation just said because it came out that way. It is a cue to begin YYZed, in earnest, much like Peart counting off 1-2-3-4, which there is no time for. Dirk’s funny sounds of a bass more suited to some other band is downright busy though and it takes Alex in a reverb storm to take a lead guitar segue to lift this song up to become a winner. Geddy drops down out of the soundscape’s visual spectrum as Neil Peart’s rotating riser starts to spin. Soon, the Professor is holding court in a most peculiar but satisfying drum clinic. It is drum solo time and the dance time for the stupendous independently-working hands and feet of Cornelius Ellwood Peart.
Looking like he is cooking a soufflé, the Peart show has just begun as “Presto”‘s stand-out deep cut, “Scars” stretches out. It is a mesmerizing cavalcade of feel-good music. “Scars”, a studio cut that can’t turn up the volume on Alex in the studio version, brings a well-placed swiping scrap slide of the pick and a jangly quick-wristed jingle-jangle from the shadowy flexibleness of Alex who at just the right moment, makes for want of exquisite superlatives to describe his utter greatness, his deft weighty presence worth the price of admission: Alex Lifeson has that inexplicable quality and is “Presto”‘s tour-de-force. Geddy? He’s nice and calm and perfectly singing in sync with a bass that bores holes in the soundscape. Alex Lifeson boggles my mind as he noodles like he would on his VICTOR solo album — “Shut Up Shuttin’ Up”, to be exact. And that’s great. Everything clicks.
“Hey! Ah ha- Yeah!”, Dirk interjects as he jams with his own — and quite loud — pre-recorded back up tracks. The crowds reacts enthusiastically to the multiple echoes that bring the song to a close. At this point, Geddy asks “How ya doin’ out there? Alright?” He announces “War Paint’ as the big bunny and a descriptive film roll flesh out the video imagery of this very sturdy show’s obtuse yet compelling quality. Geddy tries and succeeds with a bit of a play on the harmony of his vocals, as Alex weaves his arpeggio spell with a hyper always-in-motion Peart hamming up the beat. “War Paint” doesn’t disappoint. Alex has what I am quite sure is his PRS black guitar for another spot-on “Presto” solo. It is especially noticeable during this refined style of music that RUSH are accenting that Lifeson’s pinpoint connect-the-dots-with-ease lead guitar exactness make as much an impression on the close listener as it did to Terry “Broon”, their longtime producer, who noticed that Alex could double his solos with every note where it should be.
The fast-moving plot thickens for the build in “War Paint” as the screen deals out the credits in a major motion picture way, the words “girls and boys together… paint the mirror black”. It is another big highlight of the night. If only the title track “Presto” could’ve graced the set list… All of the material on “Presto”, for tonight at least sounds perfect! Simply more of the 11-track album would have been just fine.
Going back an album to deliver a poignant tune, “Mission” sees Geddy inject with a bit of obvious pride a raw coolness, emitting perfectly-placed honesty as we know all the experimenting has led to a mission accomplished feel for this gig and tour. The same can be said for the band RUSH’s career to date, so far.
The electric Bass sound incongruities have long been taken care of, by this point in the concert, and RUSH proceeds to do a spirited and ultra-smooth rendition of “The Spirit Of Radio”. Though, an ill-placed chord makes for an awkward segue into the Heavy Metal powerhouse epic, “2112”. Peart tears up the tom toms as Lee and Lifeson rock side by side as the Ayn Rand-inspired hippie anthem of 1976 is a welcome bout of heaviness. Lifeson monumentally nails the lead guitar solo. Then watch closely, next, as Geddy steps up to face directly opposite Neil Peart. Peart looks upset as the instrumental “2112 Pt. 1. Overture” is coming to a close too fast, yet, and maybe it shouldn’t end so soon. (As the same can be said for other songs in the “Presto” tour set. We are used to seeing RUSH stretch things out. Not tonight, for sure). “La Villa Strangiato (A Lesson In Self-Indulgence)” rolls right up next sounding quite note-perfect. RUSH are firing on all cylinders. Then the free-form sensibilities of Lifeson lead the tight, winning Canadian unit into a trippy transition as “In The Mood”/”Pipeline” are done with an off-the-cuff yet, for all its inherent charm, a workmanlike feel. Geddy decides he will have the last word, musically and “Jazz Bass” is the title given to his ending creation.
— Rich Castle