Rush at White River, Auburn WA - 7/20/07
When my wife, brother, and 7-year-old son Cameron arrived at White River Amphitheater for the 8:00 p.m. Rush concert, we only had 30 minutes until the show started. We'd left the house at 5:15--which is plenty of time. But the Friday rush hour traffic, occasional torrential rain, and poorly designed roads leading to the amphitheater all helped in almost making us late.
White River Amphitheater sits on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation, about 35 miles southeast of Seattle. To get to the amphitheater you drive by the massive Muckleshoot Casino and then on a country two-lane road, lined with dilapidated fireworks stands. When you see these stands, you've entered "Boom City" -- a place where anyone can buy illegal fireworks and shoot them off on the special test range. (And the City of Seattle can't do anything about it). Because the 4th of July had already passed, the stands were now empty, surrounded by huge piles of cardboard and other garbage.
As we finally arrived at the White River parking lot, we were directed farther and farther away from the venue entrance -- and rain started coming down like in a hurricane. We contemplated a long, wet walk to the venue. But then a miracle: As we parked the car in the "mud lot," the rain stopped. We put on our coats, but they weren't really necessary.
Once inside the venue, Erik and Brenda went to get food, and I took Cameron inside the Amphitheater to our seats. We walked by the soundboard, and I showed Cameron the array of computers, mixing boards, monitors, and other technology it takes to put on a Rush show, and then we found our seats (about row 25 on Alex's side).
Cameron had already asked me a thousand questions like any curious 7-year-old, and I was doing my best to answer them. When he was only four, we'd taken him to the R30 show at the same venue and it had been a magical night. We'd had fourth-row tickets, and both Geddy and Alex waved to him during the show, which I'd never seen before. I was hoping this would be an equally magical night.
Brenda returned with pizza and chicken strips. I had just enough time to finish the pizza before the house lights dimmed, and the show began. And that's when the trouble started.
First, Cameron didn't understand why the audience was standing up. I explained it was a way of showing our appreciation of the band's performance. And then when he did try to stand, he fell off the seat and landed on his hip. I didn't see this happen, but when I looked down he was sitting in embarrassment, crying. Brenda tried to comfort him, and I tried to talk to him. But he remained seated, inconsolable. Of course this distracted me from enjoying the first set, but when you bring a kid with you to a concert you have to expect that anything can happen.
During intermission, I walked down and talked to my friends Monica, Steve, Ray, and Dave. Monica and Steve had front row tickets, and they were having a great time. Monica had been taking pictures all night, and she showed me a few (evidently, the venue had OK'd non-professional cameras!).
Ray had come all the way from Buffalo, NY, to see the Northwest Rush shows (this was his first trip to this part of the country), and Dave had driven down from British Columbia (Dave is the only fan I've ever met who saw the the "Caress of Steel" tour). I'd first met Ray at the first two Vapor Trails shows, and met Dave at trio of shows for the Counterparts Tour in the Bay Area.
After this, I sat down with Cameron and talked to him about the second half of the concert. I told him that he needed to try and stand up, because he'd enjoy the show a lot more. He agreed to try.
When the second set started, with the band launching into "Far Cry," I'll never forget seeing Cameron pop up beside me, smiling. I held onto him so he wouldn't fall, but he eventually stood by himself. He stood for most of the second set.
The band played through the second set with more fire than I'd seen in a long time. Watching them open the second set with five songs off their latest album "Snakes & Arrows" showed how confident and proud Rush was of their new material. This is what separates Rush from the reunion bands; rather than coast on their deep catalog of hits, they played their latest songs one after another. There has been some criticism of this decision--or at least the acknowledgement that this could be a dangerous move--but it was clear to me this was the heart of the concert.
And if these new songs weren't enough, there was Neil's brand-new drum solo. I've always enjoyed Neil's solos, but I'd thought they'd grown a little uninspired since the "Test for Echo" tour (the same "Drum Also Waltzes," the same horn samples, the same "Scars" section, etc.). But now Neil's solo reflected a new adventurousness. I'd read that the entire first half of the solo was improvised, which is a very different approach for Neil. As he recently wrote on his website:
"It is also interesting that after making the instructional DVD on drum soloing after the last tour, where I talked so much about how I go about composing a solo, and having written recently in other places that as a drummer I considered myself more of a composer than an improviser -- I decided to start improvising.
"It's like I had finally resigned myself to a personal limitation, then told it to **** off!
"Nothing wrong with that, obviously. So this tour the first half of my solo is improvised over a simple foundation of single bass-drum beats and alternating high-hat clicks, as I experiment widely over it every night. It's been taking me some interesting places, while still giving me the consistency of the orchestrated second half, so I know the customers will always be properly satisfied."
Before the encore, Cameron asked me, "What are they doing?" He didn't understand why the band left the stage, only to come back and keep playing. I explained about encores.
Once the show was over, we started walking out of the amphitheater. As we passed the mixing board, I saw Howard Ungerleider, Rush's veteran lighting director talking with a man and some kids. I had remembered how Neil Peart's younger brother Danny lived in Vancouver, B.C., and usually came down to the Seattle show with his family. I took a closer look at him, and he did resemble Neil. I also saw Ray Daniels, Rush's manager, standing behind the sound board. I'd only seen him at one Rush show before and was surprised he was here.
As we walked out of the amphitheater, Howard and Ray walked with Neil's brother and family. Neil's brother was talking about how his kids liked to stay up later than him. As we walked outside, they turned to go to the backstage area. I stopped Erik and told him I thought that was Neil's brother. His response: "He looks just like him!"
We made it through the mud lot to Erik's car, and then we waited for an hour to even get out of the parking lot. We spent the time eating snacks, talking about the show, and looking at the pictures I took. It was one of the best Rush shows I'd ever seen--maybe even the best. I wondered how I would have the energy for another show the next night.