Thursday, August 4, 2016

So... Rush??

I thought I'd take a minute and write a little about the original artists of our fall show.  Rush is a Canadian "prog rock" band that has been around for several decades now, and it seems that people have either never heard of them or they totally love them; no middle ground here!  So for those of you who are on the "never heard of them" end of the spectrum, I give you the following...

First of all - "prog (progressive) rock"?  Well, a simple explanation is that it's rock music taken to a more high-brow level - more intricate melodies, time signatures (Rush uses 7/4, 7/8, 5/8, 3/4, 3/8, etc., compared to most pop, rock, country, and CCM, which is mostly an easy 4/4 or 3/4), "deeper" lyrics, and more epic song lengths (check out Rush's 1976 album "2112," in which the entire first side of the record is a seven-movement story of the future and a young man who finds a guitar).  So the progressive rock movement was an effort to elevate the rock genre to appeal to a more poetic, artistic (snooty??) audience.

Rush is a trio of musicians all hailing from the great white north (if you remember the parody song of that name by Bob and Doug Mackenzie around 1980 or so, you will remember that Geddy Lee sang backup on it).  Geddy Lee (lead vocals, bass, bass pedals, synth, general awesomeness), Alex Lifeson (possibly rock's greatest guitarist of all time), and Neil Peart (if you can still see the drummer there aren't enough cymbals) are the second official iteration of the band, though really the only one everyone knows.  Peart and Lee were added to the group after two members left for various reasons quite early on.  

Starting with the self-titled "Rush" in 1974, which achieved gold record status in the US and Canada, they followed quickly with "Fly By Night" and "Caress of Steel" in 1975 and "2112" in 1976.  Several things happened between "2112" and 1981's "Moving Pictures," which is without a doubt their finest album (and also the first major rock concert I attended - Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo my junior year of HS...).  "Permanent Waves" is also pretty good, as is "Hemispheres," but in my opinion they had some pretty average output after that, though Sarah V may disagree with me.  And she is known to do that.

Speaking of Sarah, she is largely responsible for this year's show idea.  She is a great musician and a lover of great rock music (a tribute to her upbringing!), and she and I talked well over a year ago about the idea of bringing a Rush show to the football field.  Even had one almost ready to go last year, but I held off for no particular reason.  Audiences will remember Sarah from her role as bassist from the 2014 funk show as well as being one of the members of our snare line.

So the final pieces we decided on for the show:
 - The Spirit of Radio (from "Permanent Waves," 1980)
"Begin the day with a friendly voice,
companion unobtrusive;
plays the song that's so elusive
and the magic music makes your morning mood"

So begins the first verse of a song that lyricist Neil Peart wrote originally "as a tribute to all that was good about radio."  It turned into a parody-type anthem of all of the commercialism, programming, and other problems of the industry; ironically, it became popular on the radio.  The final chorus - "the words of the profits {not "prophets," as from Simon and Garfunkel's Sound of Silence, but "profits"} are written on the subway walls and echo with the sound of salesmen" - was written as a jab at the music industry.

 - Lakeside Park/YYZ ("Caress of Steel," 1976, and "Moving Pictures," 1981)
The only difficulty with a show like this is finding something easier on the ears and more down-tempo and relaxed.  Rush is not exactly known for their power ballads!  Lakeside is a celebration of a park on Lake Ontario, and May 24, referenced in the lyrics, is Victoria Day.  
I wanted to try some of YYZ in the show, but it's truly one of the most difficult ones to pin down.  It starts in a fast 5/4 time with what was originally Peart on a triangle solo, banging out the Morse Code for "YYZ," the call letters of Toronto's Pearson Int'l Airport.  From there it breaks into hard-driving instrumental, broken by solos on bass, guitar, and drums.  We've decided that the drumline will be featured in the solo sections instead; they are working hard!

 - Fly By Night ("Fly By Night," 1975)
Written by Neil Peart at age 18 about his desire to travel and explore the world.  One of their more mainstream tunes stylistically, it's a pretty good rocker and makes a great closing number for the marching band.

I put together a YouTube playlist as I was preparing and thinking about this show.  Here's a link for you to give a listen.  I included all the songs we talked about putting in the show, so there are a couple extras here that we aren't playing.  (I really love Freewill, but just didn't relish the idea of teaching the band to march in 7/4 time for most of the tune...)

Hope you enjoy the show this year!