If you're on the West Coast of the U.S. and want to stay up into the early morning, here's your chance to see a total lunar eclipse. I've seen three or four of these, and they're worth seeing. During totality, when the moon is completely covered by the shadow of the earth, the moon turns a dark, otherworldly red.
For Rush's second and final show in the Northwest, my brother Erik, friend Ken, and my son Cameron traveled south to Ridgefield, Washington, to the Clark County Amphitheater. Ridgefield is 15 miles north of Portland, Oregon, and a 2-1/2 hour drive from Seattle.
I was still tired from the concert the night before near Seattle and from the lack of sleep. But whenever Rush is playing within driving distance of my home, I make a point to go. I like the different audiences, different seats, and changes in the band's performance. For this tour, I knew that Rush was playing an alternate set list, changing out one song for another like they did during the Vapor Trails tour, so that was an added bonus.
We'd been driving for about an hour when we pulled over for lunch. Erik suggested Hawks Prairie in Lacey, which was a favorite of my grandparents (and he figured he could get in a little gambling at the casino next door).
Hawks Prairie had "Texas-style air conditioning" (the kind that "makes your teeth hurt," as Tom Wolfe wrote in The Right Stuff), so it was a bit uncomfortable. The menu was typical American lunch faire, but Cameron was able to order a pancake. My friends Monica, Steve, and Ray, who were also driving to the concert, joined us at the restaurant to use the restroom and then to chat. They left around the time we got our food.
When Erik and Ken finished their lunch, they went to the casino while Cameron and I finished our lunch and paid the bill. When I left the restaurant, it started to sprinkle -- and I was hoping the weather wouldn't be a repeat of Friday night's torrential rain. Erik and Ken soon returned to the car with their winnings, and we drove off.
After another hour and a half, we arrived in Ridgefield, and were directed to park in a grass field. I hoped we would park closer to the venue than we did the night before -- but we ended up about a mile away. I also noticed the air was incredibly humid, at least for the Northwest.
We walked inside the venue and found our seats. Since we had some time, I took Cameron to the front of the stage and showed him Geddy's keyboards, the lighting rigs, and all the people working on the stage. He was a little overwhelmed to be that close.
As soon as the show started, we discovered that my brother Erik -- who is six-feet-seven -- was standing in front of the shortest people in the amphitheater. I'd put Cameron between us for that very reason -- so people would have a nice opening between two guys over six-feet. Erik felt self-conscious and tried to lean over to help people see -- but there wasn't much he could do. The flat angle of the amphitheater floor didn't help.
During the show, the first person to walk out and baste Geddy's chickens in the rotisserie was John Wesley of Porcupine Tree. I know he's a friend of Neil's, and I'd recently seen him in Seattle with Porcupine Tree. He even basted the little chicken hanging on Neil's hardware, as if to say hello to his friend. Then he went and sat on the side of the stage and watched the rest of the show.
About halfway through the set, Cameron seemed a little tired and overwhelmed. It was also much louder where we were sitting, and that's a lot for a seven-year-old to take. I asked him if he wanted to go to the lawn, and he said, "Do you?" Translation: "Yes, I want to but I'm afraid to say so." This is where you understand the meaning of being a parent: You have 15th row Rush tickets, your favorite band, and your kid wants to move to the back.
Sitting on the lawn was a totally different experience. People were lying around on blankets, sitting in chairs, and there was a a more casual air. If someone stood in front of people who were sitting down, they immediately received a, "Sit down!"
I sat down and let Cameron lean against me. I noticed that the video monitors that were delayed from row 15 were synched perfectly from the lawn. (I'm guessing that this was on purpose.) The light show also looked different. During "Between the Wheels," I noticed that the lights were animated, moving patterns, which I couldn't see down below. After the first set was over, we returned to our seats.
During intermission, I ended up talking to a couple sitting in front of us who were recently married. It was the wife's first Rush concert, and I could tell she was trying to enjoy it. They told me about going to the meet-and-greet before the show (a wedding gift from the husband's uncle!) and how quiet Geddy was. (Having met Geddy twice, I knew what they were talking about. He tends to be shy and quiet -- not the singer you see on stage hitting those incredible notes.)
The second set started with "Far Cry," and Cameron stepped up on his chair again. He loved it. And then he sat down and promptly fell asleep. Don't ask me how he was able to do this with all that racket, but he was snoring away. (Note to self: don't bring a seven-year-old to back-to-back Rush concerts!)
The band played with as much fire as the night before, but the crowd was definitely more responsive -- at least from where I was sitting. And once darkness settled around the amphitheater, the intensity of the concert increased. There's something about your sense of sight being reduced to just the band on stage, rather than seeing the entire amphitheater. It always seems louder, too.
At one point, the camera police came by and told my brother, "Put it away, or I'll take it away!" The camera police seemed much more interested in catching every single person trying to take photos at this show.
This brings up an interesting discussion: should bands really be worried about people taking photos of them? I can understand that they might not want flashes in their eyes, and that they definitely don't want people selling pictures of them -- but it just seems like part of modern concerts. Here's my two cents: Let people take pictures and then upload them to the Rush.com website. You could document your entire tour for free! (I believe the term is called crowdsourcing but for these purposes it could be called fansourcing) And you could add fresh content to your website every day. But I digress.
A lot of fans were waving signs at the band from the first 15 or 20 rows. One of them said, "Neil Peart: This is your life." I'm not sure what they were trying to communicate to Neil.
There was a father and daughter who held up a sign I couldn't read. During the encore, Michael (Neil's riding partner) came over to our row and shone his flashlight. I thought, "Uh-oh, he's coming to tell us to erase our pictures!" But he stepped by us (stopping briefly to gawk at Cameron snoring away) and then handed the girl a pair of Snakes & Arrows drumsticks. The father was elated, shaking Michael's hand. I'd read in Neil's books about how he sometimes tells Michael to do this, but I'd never seen this practice in action. Here's a picture of the happy 11-year-old drummer at Rushisaband.com.
The band launched into "YYZ," and then when it was all over, Geddy gave us one of his, "You guys have been awesome!" I'd heard this the night before, too, and I knew it used to be rare for him to say this (I'd only heard it one other time). But I'd just watched two of the best Rush concerts I'd ever seen. Perhaps more shows are becoming "magical" on this tour, and Geddy is just commenting on that. Either way, I'm glad I saw both these shows.
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.