Some veteran rock bands indicate how much respect a new album deserves by the way they treat it themselves. In concert, they’ll plug it and play a song or two, often prompting fans to head for the beer lines. Then they’ll get back to playing the hits.
Not Rush. Performing at Scottrade Center Saturday night, the long-lived Canadian trio made the case for its latest release, “Clockwork Angels,” playing it almost in its entirety, bolstered by an eight-piece string section for added sonic depth and drama. Bassist Geddy Lee indicated this tour marked the first time that he, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart had been accompanied onstage by other musicians. “No one could stand us before,” he deadpanned.
Nevermind that the album is a complex conceptual piece about a world teetering between order and chaos, overseen by a mysterious Watchmaker character; rather than head for the concession stands, many of the fans packing the arena — predominately male and middle-aged — sang along, some adding air guitar, air bass and air drums.
The “Clockwork Angels” portion of the performance dominated the second half of a nearly three-hour show and was highlighted by furious takes on songs such as “Carnies” and “Headlong Flight” as well as more melodic fare, including “The Wreckers,” “Halo Effect” and “The Garden.”
Despite the heaviness of the conceptual piece, Rush didn’t take itself too seriously. The stage set had a retro-futuristic and slightly oddball steampunk theme that carried through to three comic videos that marked the show’s beginning, middle and end. Occasionally, a roadie would wander onto the stage, dressed in a lab coat or even a gorilla suit.
But there were also virtuosic performances by Lee, still possessed of an impressive vocal range; Lifeson, whose guitar solos were dazzling but surprisingly economical; and Peart, who took not one, not two, but three drum solos over the course of the night.
The first set opened with the familiar “Subdivisions,” but mostly focused on lesser-known album cuts that the band’s core audience may not have heard that often in concert, such as “Force Ten,” “Middletown Dreams” and “The Analog Kid.”
Rush rewarded its fans’ indulgence with a flurry of favorites toward the show’s end, including “Red Sector A,” the instrumental “YYZ,” and “The Spirit of Radio.” The encore included “Tom Sawyer” and selections from the band’s most famous concept album, “2112.”
If any casual fans or newbies wandered into the concert, they might well have pined for more radio hits. But for the faithful, Rush offered a show that challenged them and validated their continued interest, in the process showing the way a veteran band can continue to move forward without relying too much on looking back.
"The Big Money"
"The Analog Kid"
"Where’s My Thing?"
"Wish Them Well"
Drum solo ("The Percussor")
"Red Sector A"
"The Spirit of Radio"
"2112 Overture/"The Temples of Syrinx"/"Grand Finale"