October 13, 2002
Philips Arena, Atlanta


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"Tom Sawyer" heralded the return of the legendary Canadian prog-rock power trio Rush to Atlanta. Opening with its most well known song is risky at best, but Rush has never been a band to rest on past glory. The keyboard-laced anthem had the die-hards and passive fans in the audience wrapped up from the start. After this, the rest of the three-hour, two-set show was just gravy. None of the band's skills have diminished during its recently ended hiatus. If anything, it seems to have become even more focused and tight. Neal Peart is still the baddest badass drummer out there. There he sat, tearing through such scarily complicated numbers as "La Villa Strangiato" and "2112 Overture" without even looking like he was thinking of breaking a sweat. Guitarist Alex Lifeson smiled and seemed relaxed as he alternately layered thick chords and stabbed at the crowd's ears with tasteful, but forceful leads. Of course, most eyes were on helium voiced bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee as he fronted the band recently voted "the best Canadian musicians of all time." Strangely, Lee's bass rig consisted of three clothes dryers that were miked up. Twice during the show, a roadie came out to put quarters into the machines to keep 'em spinning. Early on, the group tossed out the tasty morsels "Distant Early Warning" and "New World Man" before sliding into the more obscure corners of its catalog. Counterparts' "Between The Sun And Moon" and the epic "Natural Science" may not have been familiar to everyone, but the enthusiasm of the musicians brought the tunes to life for even those that had never heard them before that moment. "The Big Money" found the percussionists and wannabes air drumming along with reckless abandon. Particularly surprising was how well the new Vapor Trails songs fared in the live environment. A feverish "Ceiling Unlimited" found Geddy Lee nearly shredding his vocal chords. Luckily, he saved some for "Secret Touch." This one seemed to be the favorite of the band this evening. They bashed it out and jumped around far more than they did on older numbers like "Red Sector A."


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One of the highlights of the show was "Vital Signs." The bubbly keyboard part was either pre-recorded or the stone-faced Neil Peart was playing it with his brain. He certainly looked intense enough for that to be happening. After a predictably stunning drum solo on a rotating riser that culminated in the skin master triggering an entire big band to accompany him, Neil left the stage to his bandmates who performed "Resist" acoustically. The song was much improved over the less subtle Test For Echo version. This certainly proved that there are sharp songwriting skills under all of those frightening chops. The band decided to ignore classic rock hits like "Fly By Night," "Closer To The Heart," "Time Stand Still" and "Show Don't Tell," but I bet no one even noticed it. Even without those tried and true numbers, the band had several more aces up their collective sleeve. Sure, "Limelight" was (as always) cool to hear, but "Spirit Of Radio" is where everything coalesced into one of those perfect rock and roll moments. Every pair of hands on the floor was up and clapping, creating an oceanic looking wave across the top of the crowd. Everyone sang along. The crowd took turns playing each air instrument that the musicians played before the band took its bows and left the stage. After playing the "we might not be coming back" routine with the Atlanta fans, Rush returned to encore with "By-Tor And The Snow Dog." Before this one, Alex and Geddy removed the clothes that had been flipping in the dryers all night and tossed them into the still ravenous masses. As the clock was approaching three hours since the start of "Tom Sawyer," the band pulled out the monolithic "Working Man." Knowing that the end was near, the audience worked it for all it was worth. Throughout the closing number and the entire night, the band ventured through melody and dissonance with the deft precision that has sustained them for three decades. Fittingly, the words to "One Little Victory" could sum up this evening, "Celebrate the moment as it turns into one more. Another chance at victory, another chance to score." In Atlanta, Rush took its own advice and did just that.

(Chris McKay/

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