The first of a two-night DVD shoot in Rush’s home town was beset by equipment gremlins and the occasional bum note. Thankfully their 40th anniversary tour schedule gave them a day off before the second show, with the promise of a few changes to the set-list and a second chance for the trio to nail that elusive magical performance for the cameras.
Rumoured to be their final tour, or at least the last one covering several months of gruelling daily travel, the ACC was understandably sold out, with a considerable Brit contingent among fans from all over the world. On basically the same street, a Blue Jays game and System Of A Down at the Molson Amphitheatre add to the chaos in the basement bars and the backs of cars.
Following the usual pattern of two sets with an intermission, the opening animated film shows cartoons of Lee, Lifeson and Peart moving through time from 1974 to the present day, in direct contrast to the show itself, which runs backwards through time. The huge, falling curtain is certainly a dramatic opening, alongside the familiar riff of The Anarchist, the band seemingly keeping a similar steampunk stage set-up to the Clockwork Angels show, with Alex Lifeson’s circular screens and Geddy Lee’s popcorn machine and brain-in-a-jar replacing the traditional amps. However, that soon starts to change after the breathless Headlong Flight, as crew in Moving Pictures overalls begin to transform Lee’s props into the washer/driers from the Snakes & Arrows tour during the fiery pyro of Far Cry.
It’s immediately obvious that the mix is better than the previous show and the band seem more relaxed, dispatching The Main Monkey Business with an ease that belies the complex instrumentation and busy foot-pedal use by Lee and Lifeson to trigger keys and other sound effects.
The band have been switching three different set patterns on this tour, this one giving the Toronto crowd their first ever chance to hear How It Is, the tuneful but lesser-known Vapor Trails song, giving Lee’s voice a rare chance to come down from its high register.
There are more stage changes during Animate - a song that seems to come alive onstage – while the entertaining Roll The Bones has a video rap from I Love You Man stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, Tom Morello, The Trailer Park Boys and Game Of Thrones icon Peter Dinklage, whose brother Jonathan actually played violin in the Clockwork Angels string section.
The strain of his arthritis can be seen on Alex Lifeson’s face on the big screens, even if most people can’t hear it in his guitar playing, but the solo in Between The Wheels is definitely not as fluid as it should be. However, as Lee introduces former FM violinist Ben Mink, any slight disappointments are dispelled. Reprising his album role on the beautiful Losing It, Mink’s virtuosity, Lee’s plaintive vocal and Peart’s subtle percussion make the very first live performance of the song a highlight of the set. There’s only one way to follow that, a spellbinding Subdivisions bringing the first set to a stirring end.
Having already taken us back to 1982, a video of amusing outtakes ends with the South Park intro to Tom Sawyer, this time joined by YYZ from the same album. By now their early-80s stage set has been recreated, complete with ‘normal’ guitar and bass rigs, constant vintage instrument changes and a replica of Peart’s old double bass drum set.
With Lee in great voice and the trio firing on all cylinders, the rest of the set progs out, starting with a rapturously received The Spirit Of Radio. Lasers come into the equation and the band really push themselves through complex epics Natural Science and Jacob’s Ladder, and sections of both Hemispheres and Cygnus X-1, the latter including Peart’s musical drum solo. There’s a brief respite from the technicalities with a crowd-accompanied Closer To The Heart, the set ending with the brilliant double-necked guitars of Xanadu and Lee’s unmistakable Rickenbacker on most of 2112.
Lee’s voice just about stretches to Lakeside Park and Anthem on the encore, the stripped- down sound mirrored by the bar-band stage set-up of just two small combo amps on stools and white light cascading off a mirrorball. A riotous finale of What You’re Doing and Working Man brings the show to a close, complete with a snippet of the pre-first album Garden Road to take things back even further.
If this is indeed the last full tour, let’s just hope Europe is included at the end of it. On this form, Rush will be going out at the top.