Rush

Courtesy of the Rock Hall Library and Archive
2013
Category:
Performers
Members:
  • Geddy Lee
  • Alex Lifeson
  • Neil Peart

Rush are one of the most popular, innovative prog bands of all time.

Between jaw-dropping musicianship, imaginative lyrics and complex arrangements, the Toronto trio are the patron saints of brainy, technical, ambitious rock & roll.

Biography

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In 2015, Rush embarked on an extensive 40th anniversary trek, the R40 Live Tour. The setlists of each concert went in backward chronological order, meaning the night started with songs from the Canadian trio's latest LP, 2012's Clockwork Angels, and ended with an encore performance of their first single, "Working Man." Not only were these shows a fine survey of the band's extensive catalog—they unpeeled how Rush grew into the patron saints of brainy, technical, ambitious music.

Reason one is the talents of each individual member. Vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee's helium yelps and economical bass lines add urgency and anxiety (to say nothing of uniqueness) to Rush's sound. Guitarist Alex Lifeson's snarling riffs and melodic intricacies are also in a world of their own; he resembles a mad scientist conjuring up new sounds and progressions. And stoic Neil Peart's tangled-wires drumming and ultra-physical, precise performances—including virtuosic drum solos—are on another planet they're so intense.

Still, Rush's dynamic interplay is perhaps more impressive: The band is most powerful when the three members are performing together, feeding off one another's energy and ideas. That's been the case since almost day one. Guitarist Alex Lifeson, drummer John Rutsey and bassist Jeff Jones formed Rush in 1968 in Toronto's Willowdale neighborhood. Bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee quickly replaced Jones, and the group toiled away as a straightforward rock & roll power trio fond of trad, bluesy hard rock.

Their 1974 self-titled effort made little impact until it reached the ears of a Cleveland, Ohio, DJ named Donna Halper, who worked at rock radio powerhouse WMMS. She started spinning "Working Man," and received an overwhelmingly positive response from listeners, who related to the song's frustration with the 9-5 drudgery. Mercury Records reissued the LP in the U.S., and Rush was on their way.

Drummer Neil Peart had replaced John Rutsey soon after Rush's release, as the latter was battling health problems. His presence was immediately felt on Rush's next two LPs, 1975's Fly By Night and Caress Of Steel, which featured more adventurous material such as "By-Tor & the Snow Dog," an eight-minute epic augmented with Peart's mythology-referencing, fantasy lyrics.

This was nothing compared to what Peart had in store next on 1976's 2112: This album's centerpiece was his "2112" suite, a dystopian sci-fi epic which read like a short story about what happens when a monolithic governing body suppresses art and creativity. Accordingly, the album side came complete with complicated arrangements full of gnarled instrumental entanglements.

2112 kicked off Rush's most experimental era. 1977's A Farewell To Kings and 1978's Hemispheres established them as a futuristic band enamored with prog rock's scope and imagination. Inspired by groups such as Yes, King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator, these LPs incorporated then-modern synthesizers, space-age soundscapes and elaborate percussion—as embodied by the "Cygnus X-1" song series, a staple of the R40 tour.

Rush next set out to conquer mainstream rock & roll. Starting with 1980's Permanent Waves—home of "The Spirit Of Radio" and damn-the-man anthem "Freewill"—the band emphasized a more compact, streamlined sound. That made Rush mainstream rock darlings, especially once they embraced keyboards. Radio hits "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight," as well as the reggae-inflected "New World Man," had prominent synthesizer accents.

Unsettled keyboards also dominated 1982's "Subdivisions," although this song's depictions of isolated (and stifling) suburbia embodied the more sophisticated thematic material Rush explored in the '80s. Introspective personal musings were common, while albums such as 1985's Power Windows (and its single, the synth-stabbed "The Big Money") contained pointed political and social commentary.

By the end of the decade, Rush had grown into a remarkably consistent studio outfit. That trend continued in the '90s, as they moved away from keyboard-driven tunes and embraced more marbled hard rock on 1993's Counterparts and 1996's Test For Echo. These albums underscored Rush's secret to endurance: The band followed and evolved with musical trends, but stayed just off-kilter enough to remain distinctive.

Rush was dormant for the late '90s and into the early '00s, owing to tragedy in Peart's personal life: In 1997, his daughter died in a car accident and then his wife passed away from cancer the year after. Peart chronicled his emotional devastation and the solo road trip he took to deal with the pain in a well-received book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road.

The band reconvened for 2002's Vapor Trails, which put Rush back on the road for the first time in six years. Rush spent the next decade-plus releasing a steady stream of studio and live albums, and embarking on tours—including the "Time Machine" 2010-2011 tour, during which the band performed 1981's Moving Pictures LP in full.

Despite their serious music, however, the members of Rush have also increasingly indulged their love of comedy. The band appeared in Paul Rudd's 2009 movie I Love You, Man and on The Colbert Report, and have expressed their love for South Park. (The feeling is mutual: The band's 2007 Snakes & Arrows tour featured a special short called "Lil' Rush" starring the show's characters.)

That sense of humor cropped up more obviously during Lifeson's 2013 Rock Hall induction speech, which contained nothing but several minutes of him uttering "blah-blah-blah" with different facial and vocal expressions. Despite their incredible catalog, Rush have always been humble and self-deprecating about their achievements—preferring to let their music speak for itself.