Rush: Two Years After Their Last Show
On Aug. 1, 2015, Rush made their 25th appearance at Los Angeles' Forum and performed the R40 set, in which they went back in time through their catalog, starting with recent material and ending with early tracks, complete with set and gear changes.
One of the band’s traditional video sketches ended the show and featured a scene where the trio was barred access to its dressing room. “What now?” guitarist Alex Lifeson asked his bandmates. It was a the good question – because everyone suspected, but no one knew for sure, that Rush had just played their final concert.
Two years later, that remains the likelihood, but it also remains unconfirmed. And “What now?” is still a question fans want answered.
It was well-known even before the R40 tour was announced that the Canadian trio had struggled with the question of whether to hit the road at all. Drummer Neal Peart was the main voice of dissent. He’d quit the band in 1997 after his 19-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident, and that decision seemed reinforced when his wife died of cancer 10 months later. He’d returned, but by 2015 he had a new wife and a 5-year-old daughter, and he wanted to keep them at the center of his life. “It’s a true dilemma,” the drummer told Prog: “Should I be excited about leaving my family? No, and no one should. I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I know how to compartmentalize. I can stand missing her, but I can’t stand her missing me. I’m causing pain.”
Everything must come to and end, but it seemed like a frustrating time for Rush to take their final bow, since, after years of being hailed in prog circles and followed by a classically male audience, the acclaimed 2010 documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage had portrayed them as more human and three-dimensional than they’d even been seen before. That led to a remarkable upsurge in general interest – and even a huge increase in their female following. At last, it seemed, after three decades of getting on with business, Rush were being recognized for the giants and geniuses they'd always been.
But when Rush detailed the 34-date North American R40 road trip, the press release noted that the tour was “most likely their last major tour of this magnitude.” Manager Ray Danniels said “no one wants to call it a farewell,” but it didn’t seem like the word was too far from people’s minds.
It wasn’t just Peart – frontman Geddy Lee told VH1 that “it’s clear we are at a point in our career that we have to slow down, and slow down dramatically. I’m not a guy who’s in love with the farewell tour idea – but it’s clear this is going to be the last big tour we’re going to do, for a while anyway.”
“After the last tour, we were exhausted and we decided to take a year off," Lifeson told Q107 Toronto. "I think over this past period we’ve got to really like being home and enjoying our family time.” But he added time had been moving slow and he was getting excited again.
On top of those matters, Lifeson revealed that Peart was suffering from tendinitis, exacerbated by his physically intense playing style, and that he himself was beginning to feel the strain from having dealt with arthritis for a decade. “It’s just getting to the point, no matter how much we love doing it, that it’s much more demanding and much more difficult,” he admitted to Global News.
That the tour was well-attended was no surprise. They took solace from continuing discussions about Rush-related material, with Peart talking up the possibility of a movie based on the themes of their 2011 album, Clockwork Angels, and the R40 Live DVD that was announced just weeks after the tour ended.
While Peart faded comfortably into the shadows – where he’d always liked to be once he was beyond Rush’s lighted stage – Lee and Lifeson continued to be the public face of the band. They appeared in an episode of Chicago Fire in November 2015 and a year later guested on Family Guy.
But the questions would not go away. Lifeson admitted that he’d have preferred the tour to continue for at least another 20 shows, telling Prog, “There was so much about it that was so positive and I think going into it there was the thought that this is the last one – a nice way to go out on top. But once we were in the middle of it or even towards the end of it, it seemed like it was just too short.”
Lee described his attitude to the future as “hopeful” and “patient,” and told SiriusXM that the subject was “always emotional.” “At this point, we’re not able to agree on doing more tours," he said. "It doesn’t look possible. But, being an optimist, I hope that will change. We’ve talked about more music as Rush. There are other ways of presenting our music to the public. But we haven’t discussed it since the end of the tour.”
Then Peart gave an interview to Drumhead magazine, describing how his daughter referred to him as a “retired drummer” and that he was at ease with the label. Asked about those comments, Lee told Prog, “I think Neil is just explaining his reasons for not wanting to tour, with the toll that it’s taking on his body. That’s all I would care to comment on it. We’ll get together eventually and chat about things. But in my view, there is certainly nothing surprising in what he said. Neil just feels that he has to explain with all the thousands of people asking, ‘Why no more tours?’ He needs to explain his side of it.”
Early in 2016 fans were given new hope when Lifeson said Peart was in a “great headspace” and enjoying his family life. While he had no more to say on the matter, he did tell Sound Opinions that "Geddy and I love writing together. I’d like to think that we’ll do it until we’re very old men, instead of just mostly old men.” And Peart did seem to remain interested in Rush, noting in his travelogue book Far and Wide: Bring That Horizon to Me! that the R40 run was “perhaps a farewell.”
The story took another turn when the tour documentary Time Stand Still arrived at the end of 2016. “We always said that if the three of us aren’t on board, we don’t do a thing," Lee said in the film. "One guy doesn’t want to do that thing anymore that I love to do. That hurts. But there’s nothing I can do about it.” The frontman later told The Strombo Show that “there’s a bit of denial that gets you through. You go, ‘Ah, this won’t be the last one – we’ll take a break, then we’ll get back together and do another one.’ You don’t want it to end. I think I’ve accepted that it’s probably the last one as a tour. We’ll see.”
“It’s okay," Lifeson added "It is what it is.”
Both again discussed the possibility of continuing to work together outside the auspices of Rush, or working on completely separate projects. Lee said he’d “had some approaches” for “records with other people,” but that he “needed a good clearing of my mind” before accepting any offers. Lifeson joked about “doing some charity gigs with other guys – old guys like me that don’t have gigs any more.” But he admitted that they hadn’t actually talked about working together on anything.
Rush have no unreleased material in a vault anywhere, having always opted to focus on recording whatever was needed to complete each album. But that hasn’t stopped them retaining a good deal of their musical profile in other ways. Lifeson guested on an EDM version of the band's classic “Closer to the Heart” with Canadian outfit DVBBS in 2016; a 40th-anniversary edition of 2112 featured cover versions by Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains and others; and Lee and Lifeson appeared at the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony to induct fellow prog giants Yes – following their own induction in 2013 (complete with Lifeson’s now-famous “Blah-blah-blah” speech, which was graphically immortalized on R40 crew shirts.) And “Tom Sawyer” snagged a prime spot in the 2017 trailer for Steven Spielberg's upcoming movie Ready Player One.
In April 2017, Lifeson reflected on the band’s position after having had nearly two years to think it over. “I would say that it’s unlikely we’ll tour again as Rush," he told SiriusXM. "We toured for 41 years, and that first year off, I felt like I was grieving for my career and the band. But truly, 41 years of touring the way we toured, I shouldn’t feel badly about that.” Remaining upbeat but noncommittal about writing with Lee or even working on a solo album, he admitted that he's "not sure what Neil’s got going these days. He’s always got something going on.”
Among recent and irregular updates on the band’s official website, you’ll find details of Lee’s interest in wildlife photography and LIfeson’s passion for painting. “More than 40 million records sold worldwide," the introduction boasts. "Countless sold-out tours. A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Officers of the Order of Canada. And that's all very nice. But for these three guys, it's all about the music, their friendship and the fans.”
So ... is it over? Who knows? Perhaps the best summary came from Lifeson in 2016. “We just enjoy playing together," he told TeamRock. "And that’s why we’ll know when we’re done. I don’t want to play when I can’t. I would hate to go on the road and just be a facsimile of what Rush once was, with people saying, ‘Oh God, they’re hobbling around on stage and he can’t even play the guitar solo in 'La Villa Strangiato!’
"I would rather people say, ‘Oh man, remember how we went to the Rush show three years ago and they were amazing?’ That’s how I want this band to be remembered.”
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