Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Today’s Tom Sawyer

28 October 2012: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio

In the foreword to my book, Marvel legend Tom DeFalco defines the Golden Age of Comics as whatever point at which the reader first discovered comic books. I couldn’t agree more and have been known to expand that same theory to musical discovery. Because he's a drummer and a fan of sci-fi/fantasy/all things geeky, I introduced Jack to Rush’s music a few of years ago, but it wasn’t until this year’s Clockwork Angels album and accompanying steampunk novel came out, that Jack fully claimed the band as his own.

My original intent was to take Jack to the Time Machine Tour last year, but travel plans forced me delay his live experience. As is often the case, hindsight proved that things turned out for the best. I’ve seen and heard the DVD/CD from that Cleveland tour stop and was disappointed with lead singer Geddy Lee’s vocals and, beyond the Moving Pictures set, the song selection didn’t do much for me. Any fears I may have had about either Lee’s voice or setlist decisions going into this show were quickly erased.

Jack and I have been excited about this show for months. With our anticipation peaking, we headed out early, and arrived downtown around 6:30 for the 7:30 curtain. The garage I had intended to park in (attached to The Q) was already full and only accepting pre-purchased passes, but I had a backup plan and hit the garage directly across from the main entrance and box office of the arena. Leaving our jackets in the car, we dashed across the street and between the raindrops to get to the show. After a bite at Clevelander Michael Symon’s signature restaurant in The Q, we decided to scope out our seats.

On the way, we heard a voice call out Jack’s name. It was his drum instructor there with his son! We chatted with them for a bit (including his instructor telling him they’d break down drummer Neil Peart’s bells performance in their next lesson!) before heading off to check out the concert swag. The vendors only had adult small sized shirts in two designs, but thankfully one of them was one Jack really wanted. Decked out in his new shirt and clutching a newly purchased pin set, we headed to our seats to settle in for the show.

Walking into our row, a first-generation fan jokingly quizzed Jack as he passed, asking “When did Rush release their first album?” In a moment of introversion, the kiddo didn’t answer, but after we got into our seats, Jack turned to me and said, “It was 1974, wasn’t it, Dad?”

I’ve heard complaints about this tour’s setlist choices, but as far as Jack and I were concerned, it was pretty damn perfect. Focusing almost exclusively on their ‘80s output and the new album, this felt tailor made for both of us. The three-hour show was divided into two acts: The first leaning heavily on Power Windows; The second consisting of three-fourths of the Clockwork Angels album, along with a string of classics to close out the main set and encore.

Thematically, the song selection just works. The philosophies behind the Kevin J. Anderson/Neil Peart Clockwork Angels novel mesh with the ideas in “Grand Designs” and “Middletown Dreams” and “Territories” off of 1985’s Power Windows. Cuts like Snakes & Arrows’ “Far Cry” (the lone song from the early 2000s in the set) and Roll the Bones’ “Dreamline” also fit perfectly in the setlist by bookending the new material.

The first set highlights included the show-opening “Subdivisions” and “Territories”, along with the Roll the Bones’ instrumental, “Where’s My Thing?” – providing the kiddo his first exposure to a Peart solo! Jack was truly transfixed by The Professor. He was completely in tune with what the rhythmist was doing, clearly studying his every move when projected on the big screen. Jack thrilled with every rotation of the drum riser and every flip of the stick. On the drive home, Jack asked if I noticed how Peart wasn’t tossing his sticks in the air or twirling them just for show, but that he was using that as an opportunity to change up his grip on the sticks. (I hadn’t noticed that.) Two additional, shorter drum solos followed in the second set, but that first one cemented Jack’s appreciation of the master.

The band’s use of moving pictures (pun intended) – projecting both live images from the stage and canned videos – was great. I don’t know if the footage accompanying “Territories” was a holdover from an ’80s tour or something new for this one, but we both enjoyed it and the footage for “Far Cry”. And I had to laugh in surprise when the kiddo nudged me and exclaimed “The Three Stooges!” during “Big Money”. I had no idea he even knew who they were. But it was the videos for the Clockwork Angels material in the second set that really stood out.

When the band took the stage after a short intermission, the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble joined them. It was this set of songs that has endeared the band to Jack, and reignited my love of Rush. “Caravan” is Jack’s favorite Rush song, and it delivered live – bombast, pyrotechnics, everything an 11-year-old could ask for! While I dig that song, I was thrilled when the band ripped into “Wish Them Well” (one of the few Clockwork Angels songs they’ve been rotating in and out of the setlist), my favorite of the new stuff. The surprise for us, though, was “The Wreckers”. A powerful song with an accompanying video that ended up a live favorite of Jack’s and mine among the second set.

Jack commented a couple of times that the strings seemed a little lost in the mix on certain songs, but they shone during a number of Clockwork Angels cuts and “YYZ”.

I was surprised to see the entire upper bowl curtained off, but I don’t know that it was necessarily a bad thing. The band can still say they’re playing arenas, the fans get a more intimate show and better seating options, and everyone’s happy.

The myth that Rush doesn’t have any female fans is just that, a myth. The arena was easily split 50/50 between the sexes. And the new material and amount of kids there with their families dispel the idea that Rush is nothing more than a dinosaur band with an aging catalog and matching fan base. We saw everyone from preteens to pensioners. The air drumming cliché, however, holds true. I think if you’re a Rush fan of a certain age (myself included), it’s simply impossible to not air drum to the likes of “YYZ”, “The Spirit of Radio”, or “Tom Sawyer”. And from the vantage point of our seats, it was actually very cool to see the entire floor section air drumming along with Peart during those classic songs.

Clearly a Rush concert amateur, Jack informed me at the intermission that his legs were going to be bruised for days because of the hand drumming he was doing on his thighs as he drummed along.

My musical tastes and my dad’s have never really intersected – certainly not while I was growing up! It’s been such a cool experience over the last few years to be doing things like this with my kid. And when I hear Jack explaining to Tracy the day after the show how “we got them to do an encore!” I realize that even though I’m working without a blueprint, I might be doing something right. I have seen Rush twice previously: once in the ’80s, and again in the ’90s. But this time will always be special because it was Jack’s first Rush concert. A perfect storm of music, youthful enthusiasm, bonding, air drumming, and joy: Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength.

(All photos by Adam Besenyodi.)

1 comment:

Dallan said...

Love it, Adam. Great photos and a great write up, but I'm just especially thrilled that the two of you had such a great time together.

I'm taking my (almost) 3 year old to her first "real concert" the day after Thanksgiving (she's seen her Dad play several times). It's The Fresh Beat Band, a pop band from a show of the same name on Nickelodeon. It's a good start for her. She likes a lot of different music, but these guys and girls are on TV. Nothing more powerful than a television presence. Sort of like what The Jackson Five was to me when I was her age. (That was before I discovered KISS, of course.) She doesn't know anything about it yet and I'm pretty sure it's going to blow her little mind.

Too early to tell if she'll ever have the urge to learn an instrument. Plus, I'm kind of an "old Dad." Not sure how many of my favorite bands will still be playing when she's nearing her teens. But, I plan on making sure my musical tastes grow with hers as best I can, and I'm hoping we can enjoy more than a few concerts together as she gets nearer and nearer to that age where Mom & Dad suddenly aren't very cool for several years at a stretch.

Thanks for the heartwarming recount. I've still not seen Rush live, so kiddo is one up on me. Plus, there's the extra points for knowing who The Three Stooges are. :)

- Dallan