It would be simplistic to suggest Rush are riding the crest of a revivalist wave in the wake of the critically acclaimed Beyond The Lighted Stage film because, for the majority of those present on the Time Machine tour, this creative trio have always been en vogue.
Dedicated followers of progressive rock fashion have maintained a respect for, and revered, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart for 37 years and over-exposure on the silver screen was never going to do more than fill the masses with a certain sense of self-satisfaction.
That Rush have now become ‘mainstream’, ‘cool’, ‘essential’ and ‘reborn’ undoubtedly inspires a wry smile to break across the face of any fan long since mesmerised by musicianship par excellence and a diversity which still, judging by the two new songs showcased here, defines the Toronto band.
It would be easy for Lee, Lifeson and Peart to follow suit – to embrace that new-found popularity far beyond their own (on this tour, spectacularly) lighted stage and become the egotistical, self-centred, overblown rock stars so feted by the 21st century’s celebrity-obsessed society.
Thankfully these three are far too wise and experienced for all of that. And, if anything, the three amigos are more self-deprecating and modest than ever – poking fun at themselves, their music and their fans in such a way that it’s easy to imagine them cringing at the gushing reviews and unrelenting praise which has come their way since the release of that film.
The three mini-features beamed onto a pin sharp high definition screen prove the point and are worth the admission fee alone. Following on from the South Park-themed clip played on the band’s previous world tour, on this occasion Lee, Lifeson and Peart play a full part in delivering back-to-back comedy sketches just as inventive and incisive as their bulging back catalogue.
Long after the final chords of Far Cry had drifted into the Tyneside night a thoroughly entertained crowd stayed rooted to the spot watching the dream of two starstruck Rush fanatics descend into a nightmare. Forget the last bus, one last beer or an earlier night: like the Moving Pictures mini set this was essential viewing.
And so to that legendary album played in its entirety. The Camera Eye exempted, Rush concerts have frequently featured the highlights from the band’s 1981 classic. Yet played in sequence and (particularly in the case of Red Barchetta) with a new intensity and subtle reinterpretation, these landmark compositions have rarely sounded better.
If the decision to roll out Moving Pictures was the USP of the Time Machine tour then highlights beyond that post-interval segment came thick and fast. BU2B and Caravan, plucked from 2012’s upcoming Clockwork Angels record are already crowd favourites – heavier and more purposeful than many of Rush’s more familiar work, both songs hark back to the band’s early 70s blues-inspired heavy metal roots. Lifeson blasted out the power chords like a guitar hero reborn and on this evidence the band’s next album could be more Mastodon than Moving Pictures.
What a knowing Newcastle crowd bore witness to was a masterclass in guitar playing from a true giant of the genre. Previously we’ve been drawn to Peart’s incomparable drumming or Lee’s incredible vocal range but this was a night for the man in the jacket and jeans who looks like everyone’s favourite uncle but who attacks his fretboard with devilish intent.
On Stick It Out, Marathon and Freewill it was impossible to look away from Lifeson in free flow. But, in truth, it was difficult to identify a bum note all night. Playing with a smile on his face and with a steely determination in his eyes, Lifeson ruled the Metro Radio Arena stage for nigh on three hours.
Showing no signs of slowing down, Rush continue to set the pace in the world of progressive rock. Proving the over-complicated can be simply awe-inspiring, this Time Machine still has some way to travel.