Band of the Week: Rush

Resident sound-nerd thumbs through reams of musty vinyl so you don’t have to. Here are his weekly recommendations…

#23: Rush

Who: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart.

When: 1970s-Present.

Where: Canada.

Why: You could spend an entire lifetime counting the endless instances in which a long-haired teenage male has coughed away a bong hit and argued ‘but dude, Geddy Lee is the best bass player ever’ or ‘yeah bro, but Neil Peart is the best drummer in the history of the frickin’ universe’. But you don’t have to be stoned to enjoy Rush, the Canadian boys who defined the concept of the ‘power trio’. Inauspiciously starting their career with gigs at high schools and a cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’, no one really cared about the three Led Zeppelin-obsessed nerds early on. Soon after they self-released their debut LP in 1974, they jettisoned original percussionist John Rutsey in favour of whirling dervish and preposterously over-equipped God of hitting things, Neil Peart. Peart leant more than simply his consummate musicianship to the band; his fantasy and sci-fi rooted lyrics would come to be a defining characteristic of the fledgling Rush.

After a pair of medievally rambunctious hard-prog efforts, Fly By Night and Caress of Steel, the trio had finally begun to gather steam. With the beefy basswork of Lee welded to Peart’s outlandish flourishes, one of rock’s most legendary rhythm sections was evolving. Combine that with Geddy’s distinctive high-pitched wail, like Robert Plant with his balls in a vice, not to forget the often-overshadowed Alex Lifeson’s unorthodox chord progressions on a ridiculous armoury of stringed instruments, including mandolins and bouzoukis. Their next record, 2112, solidified the Rush myth, ignoring calls for more listenable material by exercising a twenty-minute, seven part title track. Despite this, it reached Platinum status in Canada. It’s generally claimed by sad revisionist pub rocking Dads that punk destroyed prog in 1977. But those motherfuckers are in denial. Yes, grown men clad in velvet capes playing neo-classical solos meant to channel the myths of King Arthur to disinterested crowds was out of fashion. But then again, it always was.

Rush’s LP A Farewell To Kings was altogether sexier than the Wakeman school of progression. Housing 11-minute career highlight ‘Xanadu’, which has the most ostentatious intro in the history of rock music and reconciles Samuel Taylor Coleridge with King Crimson, it’s the product of recording sessions in the band’s spiritual home of Britain. And Rush were the band who formed the last stand for that particularly British form of rock & roll. Channelling the spirit of bands from their beloved Led Zep to more outré fare like Van Der Graaf Generator, the Canadian trio honourably battled to the end of the Seventies, dicking on three-chord punk with virtuosic playing and Peart’s drumkit, now bolstered with glockenspiels, timpanis, gongs, chimes, triangles, and even, by the sounds of ‘Xanadu’, a church bell. The 80s brought radio rock and a synth-focus to Rush, which alienated some fans but won new ones. The band still play today in the same line-up, influencing bands like Coheed and Cambria and getting referenced in bromance films like I Love You, Man. Why? Because Rush are the last refuge of the white teenage male in all of us. Sure, they’ve never been cool, and it might be the weed talking, but I’m pretty sure Geddy Lee is the best bass player ever.

Influences: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Cream, The Yardbirds.

Influenced: Iron Maiden, Metallica, Primus, Coheed and Cambria, Voivod.

Sample Lyric: ‘Nevermore shall I return, escape these caves of ice / For I have dined on honey dew and drunk the milk of Paradise’.

Which Record: A Farewell to Kings (Mercury, 1977)

4 comments

  1. What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?

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  2. Tom, you are my fact checkin’ cuz

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  3. 18 Apr ’11 at 9:11 pm

    Cheryl Arndts

    HELL YEAH! Geddy Lee is the best bass player and singer in the free (and not so free) world!

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  4. Nice overview! It’s great to see these guys getting some love after being the butt of jokes for most of their careers

    Oh, and Joe? Geddy really does sound like an ordinary guy when he’s just talking :) No idea where the bansidhe wail comes from (and it took me a while to get used to it) but somehow it fits the band so well, you know?

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