Rush at the Gorge - 5/31/08
I wasn't originally going to take Cameron to the Gorge show, but then I ended up buying some box seat tickets that someone advertised at work. This would allow Cameron to be able to see over the crowd, as the box seats were elevated behind the floor seats.
On the day of the concert, Cameron and I met Monica and Ray (who had flown in from New York) at Monica's house. A light rain was falling, so I brought my rain jacket. We piled in Monica's car and drove off to Eastern Washington.
Ray had never been to the eastern side of the state. We drove over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 through a dramatic mountain landscape. Seeing that familiar road through Ray's eyes made me appreciate it more than usual.
Descending from the mountains, we passed from the sea of green trees into the pale desert of Eastern Washington -- finally turning off at Ellensburg. This city, home to Central Washington University, was usually a place where I stopped off for food, gas, or a bathroom break, but this time Monica wanted to drive the back roads to Ginkgo Petrified Forest. In all my trips from Seattle to the Tri-Cities (where I grew up), I'd never traveled this back road of rolling hills, sagebrush, volcanic rocks, and wind farms.
Ginkgo Petrified Forest
I had stopped at Ginkgo Petrified Forest only one other time, when I was a kid. From what I found out at the interpretive center, it was formed about 15 million years ago when ancient forests were covered with volcanic ash, which gradually replaced the tree trunks with minerals in the groundwater. The petrified trunks were protected by basalt, until the Missoula floods eroded the basalt at the end of the last ice age. These petrified trees weren't discovered until 1927, and when they were done excavating them in 1938 they had discovered 50 species of trees on the site -- including (you guessed it) a ginkgo tree.
We watched a movie about the discovery of these petrified trees, and enjoyed the stunning view of the Columbia River from the visitor's center.
Welcome to the Gorge
After Ginkgo, we drove on the last leg of our journey to the Gorge, near George, Washington. Now, I'll be the first to say that the Gorge is not my favorite place to watch a concert. Except for the backdrop of the Columbia River Gorge, it's out in the middle of nowhere, and the facilities (parking, bathrooms) are sub-par. But the other thing I'd forgotten about -- until we pulled up around 6:00 p.m. -- was that Eastern Washington wind. This is the kind of wind that can blow you over, as my son tried to illustrate several times. It's also the kind of wind that can blow speaker cabinets and lights all over the place.
Cameron and I found our box seats, and we talked with the other people sitting there (a father and his daughter). We soon found out that we had some special VIP amenities that came with our box seats, like a private restaurant called the Cliffhouse that had (gasp!) real bathrooms! We also had our own waiters. I ordered a $15 dinner (sandwich, chips, drink). Cameron didn't want a sandwich -- he wanted popcorn and a pretzel, which we got from the good old concession stand.
Then we waited for the show to start, while the wind continued to howl.
Set 1: Swinging speaker cabinets
The band started pretty close to their 8:00 p.m. start time, and from the first note you could tell that this would be a very different Rush show.
Those swinging speaker cabinets caused the sound to fade in and out and lose clarity and power (at least from our seats). When they turned on the fog machine, the fog dissipated across the stage in a thin, violent stream -- losing any kind of effect that the band had intended.
Yet, the band soldiered on. Alex continued to look up nervously at the speaker cabinets and lights through the entire show, while Geddy and Neil seemed energized by the elements. When Geddy first talked to the audience, he said something about possibly "being blown off the stage."
I watched the lighting operators riding the rigs like bullriders, and saw the lights and other equipment crashing together high above the band. Whenever the camera showed Neil from above, the image moved back and forth like he was being filmed by drunk cameramen. The lights that usually come down to the stage in "Between the Wheels" and "Limelight," didn't really move on this night.
By the time the second set started, the wind kept howling. Cameron, who had been dreading the explosion in "Far Cry," was a little disappointed when there were no sparks to go along with the explosion. God knows what would have happened if those sparklers had gone off with the wind.
When Geddy introduced "The Way the Wind Blows," he said it was apropos given how hard the wind was blowing on this particular night.
When it came time for Neil's solo, I have to say it was one of the finest I've seen him play on this tour -- or ever. I don't know if he was inspired or what, but he played some amazing beats in the improvised section on the high tom-toms. He also seemed to add some new fills in his "Drum Also Waltzes" African section.
As for the crowd at this show, they were enthusiastic. But there were a few problems. First, there were the guys in last row on the floor standing on their chairs (and security only telling them once to get down). Then there was the father and his son in the box seats directly below us, standing and rocking out.
Finally, there was the asshole who threw a glow stick from the grass area from about 200 feet above us. It happened during "Spindrift," when I was looking through my binoculars. I saw a green flash out of the corner of my left eye. When I looked up at the light, I knew it was a glow stick -- and it was moving at Mach 2! I moved my head slightly and the stick just missed me. Cameron nudged me and said, "Did you know that glow stick almost hit you? It almost hit me, too!" I started thinking about what I would have done had that glow stick hit Cameron or me. I think one of us would have been hurt pretty bad, as it had been thrown from at least 200 feet above us. Now I had another reason to hate the Gorge.
In the end, it was quite a concert. Despite the sound problems caused by the wind, I thought the band played exceptionally well -- and there was that drum solo.
On the way back to Seattle, first Cameron conked out, and then Ray. And then it was up to me to keep Monica awake as we drove through the mountains and finally into the Seattle area.