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15 September 2004: Rush - NEC Arena, Birmingham, England, UK

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"And you may ask did I get here?"

1989 was the last time I was at the NEC (to see Marillion) and I swore that I would never go back. The venue is too big, you can see hardly anything, the sound isn't all that good, you have to sit down, and I've been put off by various horror stories from other people that have been.

So what am I doing, 15 years later, at the NEC at a Rush concert? Well, it's their 30th anniversary tour and, although it's hard to admit, I've always quite liked Rush. So, when a spare ticket became available out of the blue to go and see them, I thought "Why not? You'll never, ever, see them anywhere smaller and It'll be good". And it was.

I arrived at the car park at 7:30 (tickets said doors open at six. How are you supposed to get there for that? There were rumours that Marillion were supporting, but nobody seated near me knew anything about it and I doubt they would have finished by 7:30, so we shall assume they didn't. Shame). As I got off the bus (short journey from the car park) I could hear some music coming from the venue. The ticket was checked at the door and I was told that Rush had just taken to the stage.

After being shown to my seat (there'd be no hope of finding it otherwise) the view of the stage was much better than I had expected. Alex Lifeson was at the left of the stage, with Neil Peart seated at his (massive) drum kit in the middle, towards the back (next to the vending machine and two washing machines, which someone came on stage and reloaded every now and then) and Geddy Lee on the right of the stage, closest (but not very) to me.

The sound, lighting and musicianship were all superb. You could tell that this was a band that had been doing their thing, very professionally, for a long time.

The first half of the concert seemed to fly by and at about 8:45 the band left the stage with Geddy saying "We're off for a quick break, go and get yourselves something". I didn't. I sat in my chair and looked around. The majority of the audience seemed to be of the 40ish age group, with a few younger kids thrown in. I was pleasantly surprised to see how full the venue was. If it hadn't sold out, then it very nearly had. And this was the second NEC date, "by popular demand".

After about a quarter of an hour, in which I found that I was actually sat in row "N" instead of row "M" as it said on my ticket (I was told to sit there by the usher), the screen came up and we were shown a short video. I think this was the one with the dragon and the backstage pass (there were a few throughout the show as a backdrop), which he burnt and then proceeded to try and destroy the band by firing firebombs at the stage. It looked very effective with fire swooping out of the screens to explode on the stage near the drum riser. You don't get that sort of stuff in Leicester Students' Union and it made quite a change.

Somewhere in the middle of the video, the band returned to the stage.

I should probably mention some of the songs they played at this point. Obviously, the ones I enjoyed the most were the ones that I knew. This was hampered slightly by the fact that my Rush collection seems to have been lent to one of those nice people that fails to give anything back and therefore I had had no chance to refresh myself with any of the material. Here's a brief list of some of the tracks played in the second half, "Between The Wheels" from the "Grace Under Pressure" album, "By Tor & The Snow Dog" from "Fly by Night" and "Secret Touch" from "Vapour Trails" and a cover of the Who's "The Seeker" from the new "Feedback" album. "By Tor & The Snow Dog" seemed to have a bit missing at the end.

In my opinion, despite the first half flying by, the second half of the performance was the better of the two (with the exception of Neil Peart's drum solo. I will not start ranting about drum solos, but while this was on I remembered why I stooped going to Rock gigs. Lets just say if you like Drum solos you'd have loved this one. To be honest this one was partially saved by the fact that it was different as there was a bit of a brass section there as well and it was more than just drums). Geddy spent more time talking to the audience between tracks and he and Alex exuded more of a presence on the stage, chasing each other round the stage and generally seeming to have more fun. Alex pretended to cry when it was getting towards the end, as this was the last UK date, and the light show got even better.

After leaving the stage and receiving a standing ovation for about 5 minutes, the band returned and Alex and Geddy emptied the two washing machines and chucked the clothes into the audience (I don't know why). Then we got "Summertime Blues" and another track before Rush left the stage again, saying "thankyou, see you again soon and goodnight", and the lights went up.

I left the venue at exactly 23:00 with the video showing a shot of Alex (I think) saying "what are you lot still hanging around for? Go home, I'm tired and I need my bed" from his armchair.

Three and a quarter hours of solid entertainment, including (I think) 31 tracks. A very good performance. "They gave their moneys worth" was a quote I heard later.

Last mention to the venue. That was the most uncomfortable chair I've ever had the misfortune to sit in. The NEC? Never again!

Until the next time…"Same as it ever was...same as it ever was..."


The views expressed in these reviews do not necessarily reflect those of the team.

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