When Rush toured in 2010 and 2011, the band billed it as the “Time Machine” tour.
In addition to playing the band’s 1981 hit album, “Moving Pictures,” in its entirety, Rush played other songs from its 38-year back catalog, and also debuted two songs that were earmarked for its next album — in a sense taking fans back in time, while giving them a look into the future.
As a band, guitarist Alex Lifeson feels, in a sense, Rush is living in a time machine every day, one that takes the band back to its youthful days when he, singer-bassis-keyboardist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart were eager to explore their sound and hungry to make a mark in music.
“I never expected it to be like this,” says Lifeson, who, along with Lee, is 59; Peart turns 60 next week. “And yeah, it feels in a lot of ways like it did in 1976. We’re just so excited to make the records, so excited to play, and always trying to play better than the last time, or than the last rehearsal. It doesn’t matter. We always want to move forward.”
That enthusiasm has to feel sweet considering that, for a time, it was uncertain whether Rush (which in June released its new CD, “Clockwork Angels”) would continue into the new century.
The band, which has had the same lineup since 1974, had its future thrown into question when Peart’s 19-year-old daughter, Selena, was killed in a one-car accident in 1997. About a year later, his wife, Jackie, succumbed to cancer.
The band put everything on hold, and Peart (who remarried in 2000), didn’t even pick up his drum sticks for almost four years.
But the band made its 2002 album, “Vapor Trails,” and has been gaining steam ever since.
For its fine 2007 CD, “Snakes & Arrows,” the band found producer Nick Raskulinecz, who brought considerable enthusiasm to recording — an energy that carried into the “Clockwork Angels” project.
Working again with Raskulinecz, Rush took a far more in-the-moment approach than in the past to recording.
The approach worked. “Clockwork Angels” has justifiably gotten rave reviews for a potent collection of songs (standouts include “Caravan,” “BU2B” and “Carnie”) that combine sharp melodies, tight and complex playing and adventurous arrangements.
Lifeson agrees with those who view “Clockwork Angels” as a high point in Rush’s career.
“I’m still kind of close to it, but I would definitely say it’s one of our better efforts,” Lifeson says. “It’s cohesive throughout. I always feel there are one or two weak moments on a record once I’ve had a chance to get away from it. So far, I don’t feel that with this record.”
On tour, Rush is continuing to push forward and take its show to new places. For starters, Lifeson says, there’s a new light show and new video over a three-hour set that includes most of “Clockwork Angels” and a number of older songs that haven’t been played live in years.
Then, there’s something completely new to a Rush tour — a string section.
“ ‘Clockwork Angels’ has five or six songs with strings on them, and we thought that rather than triggering samples, why don’t we think about taking strings out for a change?” Lifeson says. “We can pull out some of the older material from the past that we did string arrangements for and include that. And, we sort of dove into it.
“It’s so nice to go out and do something that’s unusual and different and keeps you on your toes,” he said. “And, hopefully, you don’t wreck anything for them and they don’t wreck anything for you.”
Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.