Fear and Loathing in Saskatoon
(With apologies to Hunter S. Thompson)
“One likes to believe in the freedom of music, but glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity.”
We were somewhere around Broad Street on the edge of the city when the ecstasy began to take hold. I remember saying something like, “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us, and the sky was full of what looked like mechanized angels and fire-breathing zeppelins, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred kilometers an hour with the windows down to Saskatoon. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
Then it was quiet again. My girlfriend was listening to her iPod to facilitate the entertainment process. “What the hell are you yelling about?” she muttered. “And why are you talking so weird? Stop it.”
“Never mind,” I said, dejectedly removing the empty cigarette holder from between my lips. No point mentioning those angels and airships, I thought. The poor girl will see them soon enough.
It was almost ten, and we still had more than a hundred kilometers to go. They would be tough kilometers. But there was no going back, and no time to rest. In nine hours, the doors to the Credit Union Centre would open, and the fabulous Saskatoon leg of Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour would begin, and we had to get there by noon to claim our hotel room. A fashionable newspaper in Regina had expressed interest in the story and…well, the reservations were all left up to me…I was, after all, a professional journalist; even though we’re notoriously cheap, I had an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill.
You see, about twenty-four hours previously, I’d been sitting in the Polo Lounge (what I call my living room) when a notification window came up from my e-mail provider. “This must be the message I was waiting for all this time,” I thought. And you know? I was right! I’d been expecting that message. It was my editor. As I recall, I said nothing, merely read. And then I shut down the computer, and drove to my girlfriend’s.
“E-mail from headquarters,” I explained to her, to avail her confusion. “They want me to go to Saskatoon at once. I’m also to take pictures.”
“What kind of a story is this?” She asked.
“The Rush concert,” I said. “It’s going to be a fantastic story full of pyrotechnics, lasers, virtuosic musicianship, steampunk contraptions, and alchemy…at least that’s what the tour press release says.”
“Well, she said, “as your girlfriend, I advise you to bring me with. How else can you cover a thing like this righteously?”
“That sounds about right for this gig,” I nodded.
When we entered the Credit Union Centre, we had the good fortune to run into tour staff—he refused to let me take a photo. “It’s for security reasons,” he said, and by that time I was pouring sweat. My blood is too thick for Saskatchewan: I have never been able to properly explain myself in this climate. Not with the soaking sweats…wild red eyeballs and trembling hands. I took the tour poster that the ticket agent offered me and left.
“This won’t make the nut,” my girlfriend sighed. “Though it is a cool poster.”
“You have no faith in the essential decency of a great concert. Jesus, two hours ago, we were sitting in Regina, completely paralyzed for the weekend, when I get an e-mail from my editor telling me to go to Saskatoon and expenses be damned—this is the dream in action!”
“We’ve had these tickets for months,” she responded. “And of course expenses be damned—they’re not paying for a thing.” I frowned, because I knew she was right. And, as it just so happens, the decency of a great concert I had defended didn’t exist. It seemed that not a soul in the god-forsaken city of Saskatoon knew about a Rush concert; however, in a few short hours, the Credit Union Centre would become the temple for the sages of Canadian prog-rock. We bought the tickets, and it was time to take the ride.
The concert started, as Rush concerts are wont to do, with a short video. If you didn’t understand Rush’s unique blend of humour and bravado, then this would not have been a good start for you. A giant chicken was directing an entire army of factory workers in working out, and, in the case of drummer Neil Peart, literally assembling the band members before the show. The brief video segued flawlessly into the first song of set one: 1982’s “Subdivisions.” From then all the way through to the encore finale, the concert was a wild eclectic blend of some of the best stuff of Rush’s career with the better songs from the Clockwork Angels album interspersed throughout. For those less unimaginative folks, I took the liberty of compiling the set list.
2. The Big Money
3. Force Ten
4. Grand Designs
5. The Body Electric
7. The Analog Kid
9. Where's My Thing?
10. Far Cry
12. Clockwork Angels
13. The Anarchist
15. The Wreckers
16. Headlong Flight
17. Halo Effect
18. Seven Cities of Gold
19. The Garden
20. Manhattan Project
21. Red Sector A
23. The Spirit of Radio
24. Tom Sawyer
25. 2112: Overture/Temples of Syrinx/Grand Finale
If you’ve never been to a Rush show, allow me to try to succinctly summarize the scene: imagine every cheesy 1980s science-fiction film you’ve ever seen, and throw it all up onto a concert stage. Lasers, explosions, stock footage of nuclear bomb tests, and horrifying graphics of animated men made entirely out of LED dots (oh my!) Eight giant TVs that were rigged to a giant scaffold that moved like a pair of angel’s wings during the second set, which turned the stage into a scene from Philip K. Dick’s personal hell.
As for the concert itself…well, what more is there to say than it was a Rush concert? Geddy Lee’s bass licks were as masterful as ever, Alex Lifeson displayed guitar shredding skills that are amongst the most underrated in the annals of rock history, and Neil Peart proved that he is the undisputed king of the drum throne. I only had two grips throughout the whole show: sound quality and the theatre of the show. Often, Geddy’s high vocals seemed to clip the speakers or just get lost in the mix. Alex’s guitar playing often drowned out Geddy’s voice, bass, and synthesizer, and yet, both men were often buried by Peart’s drumming — the only instrument that seemed to be microphoned properly.
Aside from the sound quality, the involvedness of the show seems to have declined from Rush’s last performance in Saskatchewan. This show was far less reliant on pyrotechnics and video montages than the Snakes and Arrows tour from 2007. At the end of the day, the bravado doesn’t much matter, though. A Rush show is still, after all, a Rush show.
“Hot fucking damn!” I shouted upon exiting the concert. Some people looked at me, and said nothing. By this time I was laughing crazily. But it made no difference. I was just another fucked-up concert-goer on an ecstatic high. By the time I got to the car, my heart was full of joy. I felt like a monster reincarnation of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger…a Man on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.