Rush tries to keep it fresh and avoid the nostalgia trap

Pop Music

July 07, 2002|By Eric R. Danton | Eric R. Danton,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Summer concert schedules always seem laden with the classic-rock detritus of aging musicians making their annual attempts at relevance.

From a distance, Rush could be mistaken for one of those relics from the '70s and '80s, with a deep catalog of songs like "Fly by Night," "Spirit of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer." There's a key difference, however - the Canadian trio isn't content to live as a nostalgia act.

"We could never be happy doing something like that," guitarist Alex Lifeson said by phone from Glens Falls, N.Y., where the band was rehearsing for a tour that stops Tuesday at Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Va. "I think for us, ... it's very hard for us to stay in one place; we always have to be moving forward."

From Led Zeppelin-flavored guitar rock roots on the band's self-titled debut in 1974, the Canadian trio moved into progressive rock and high-minded concept albums in the late '70s, adopted keyboards in the synth-happy '80s and even dabbled with a bit of ironic rap on 1991's "Roll the Bones."

With Vapor Trails, the first new Rush album since 1996, the band evolves again, abandoning keyboards and guitar solos for a melodic, riff-heavy sound.

Bassist Geddy Lee, Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart didn't know where they were musically when they started making Vapor Trails. After the band's Test for Echo album and tour in 1996, Lee and Lifeson began work on solo albums, and Peart was devastated by dual personal tragedies. His 19-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident in 1997, and his wife died of cancer about a year later. Fans weren't sure Rush would ever record again, and neither was the band - even during studio sessions for Vapor Trails.

"It was a little slow going in the beginning," Lifeson said. "We'd all been away from working together for five years, and there was a certain amount of concern about comfort, about feeling right in the project. It took us about two weeks of just talking, communicating, getting used to each other before we actually played anything."

With the recording process behind, Rush confronted a new concern: winnowing nearly 30 years of material into a live show that will satisfy fans and the musicians.

"There are songs that we've dropped for this tour that we've been playing for years and years that we thought it was time to retire," Lifeson said, though he wouldn't elaborate. "We've been smiling during rehearsals, and that's a good sign."

Eric R. Danton is a rock writer for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Rush is on

Where: Nissan Pavilion, Bristow, Va.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Tickets: $29.50-$78.50

Call: 410-481-SEAT

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