Maybe being a Rush fan in 2012 isn't the international dorkdom give away that it once was, but you never could have told that from their show last Monday at the Barclays Center, the new arena's first rock show.
Rush played nine songs from their steam-punk themed new album, Clockwork Angels. Props and videos told a vague story about the band living together as gnomes, with punchlines that wouldn't have made it past Bazooka Joe. Unlike fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen, whose tours rescue his '80s songs from the abyss of '80s rock production, Geddy Lee still plays bass and synthesizer at the same time on songs like "The Big Money" and "Red Sector A." Neal Peart got two drums solos, and deserved a third one. Oh yeah, for the first time ever in Rush history, they're bringing a string section on tour with them.
Mainstream respect has been a long time coming for Rush, capped with this year's Rock Hall nomination, and critics are now either grudgingly or genuinely admiring the band's 40 year history of playing arenas with no support from media or pop radio. On their current tour, the band seems to have moved on from that history, choosing to revive cuts from Signals and Power Windows and leave out classics like "Freewill," "Limelight" and "Closer to the Heart." But at this point, Rush can play whatever they want. Nearly every fan will sing along to every song, and even more of them will contribute air guitar and air drums. More importantly, the band are the kind of showbiz pros that one could hope for--professional without being self-serious, high-production and still spontaneous. Throwing "Manhattan Project" into the set? Tossing a synthpop gauntlet with "Force Ten?" Alex Lifeson's improvised hoedown when his Gibson went out? Just as indispensable as "YYZ."
Not to leave casual fans unsatisfied, the band closed with "The Spirit of Radio" and encored with a still-raging "Tom Sawyer" and the game-changing "2112." The band's exuberance carried through the finish--I was reminded of the scene in the must-see Beyond the Lighted Stage, where Lee explains that he never gets tired of playing the hits, since they're always hard to play. My accomplice grabbed my shoulder and reminded me that the show was "fucking awesome." His date, the rock music equivalent of the one girl in a comic book store, was practically giddy. It would be cooler to write about Black Sabbath or AC/DC, but I left the Barclays Center wishing that more of my favorite bands were like Rush.