Rush - Las Vegas, Aug 14, 2010
Every Rush tour, I try to see a show with my friend Dan Martin in Phoenix. For this tour, the closest the band would get to Phoenix was Las Vegas. So we bought VIP tickets (I figured if we were traveling all that way, we might as well have great tickets).
This show came only a week after my first "Time Machine" show in Auburn, WA, which was one of the best Rush shows I'd ever seen. But I was curious if that had been a magic show -- or if the band was playing like this every night.
Seeing them in Las Vegas would help answer this question.
Flying to Phoenix
On Thursday, I flew down to Phoenix and Dan picked me up at the airport. Since the show was on Saturday, this gave us time to catch up. I got to visit with his wife Kim, his kids, and even do a little swimming. (I also had my face melted by the 110-115-degree heat.)
One funny anecdote: Alaska Airlines sent my luggage to Alaska instead of Phoenix. So we had to wait around at Dan and Kim's house on Friday for my luggage to be delivered. When it arrived, it had the following tag attached:
The road to Vegas
On Saturday, Dan woke me up at 5:00 a.m. and we headed out under a pastel dawn sky. (Dan wanted to wake me up at 4:30, but I told him that I didn't function very well before 5:00.)
Having been friends since third grade, Dan and I had taken many trips together (including my first Rush concert in Tacoma, WA, in 1984). In addition to sharing a love of Rush and many other rock bands, we enjoyed talking about movies, technology, books, computer games, and many other subjects. This trip was no exception, except we ended up talking about our kids as much as the other subjects.
As we drove closer to the Nevada border, the scenery changed from flat desert to dramatic mountains and rock formations.
We stopped at Hoover Dam, which I'd never seen before. Hoover dam is part of Highway 93 between Phoenix and Las Vegas. There were traffic jams before 9/11, but now with the security checks, the jams extended for miles on bad days. But we were crossing early in the morning (one of the reasons Dan wanted to leave early).
To the south, we saw the new bypass bridge that will be diverting cars around the dam in early November, 2010.
Checking into New York, New York
Dan and I arrived in Vegas around 12:30 p.m. and went directly to the hotel. We used the time before our room was available to eat lunch, gamble, and people watch. (Dan said, referring to our gambling luck, "It would be better to just give the hotel our money upon arrival to save time.")
This was the third Rush concert I'd seen in Las Vegas -- the last two being the Test for Echo tour in 1996 (at Thomas and Mack Center) and R30 in 2004 (at the MGM Grand). Once again, we'd be seeing Rush at the MGM Grand.
Once our room was available, we enjoyed spectacular views of the New York, New York, rollercoaster from our window. After that, we just relaxed -- because we knew it would be a long night of standing -- and we had gotten up damn early. (Once Dan tuned into golf on TV, I started to feel sleepy.)
Dan and I walked across the sky bridge between New York, New York, and the MGM Grand. Like the previous show, there was a current of people flowing to the arena -- and most of them wore Rush t-shirts. This current would sweep us past thousands of slot machines, the MGM lion habitat (about a month before a lion attacked a trainer), stores, restaurants, and finally the Box Office.
For some reason, we had to pick up our VIP tickets at the Box Office (as opposed to getting them in the mail). As we waited there with the other Rush fans, a parade of bikini-wearing young women walked by us (coming from the pool, I guess) -- as if it was normal to be walking in a "mall" with a bikini. It was entertaining to say the least.
Once we were inside the arena, we were met by the tuxedo-wearing MGM ushers. These are professional ushers -- not the temp worker security people you see at other venues. At the last show, I watched them take out concertgoers who would have gotten away with murder at any other venue.
After we ate some food, we peered into the arena. A fog hung over the dimly-lit space that made everything look blurry from a distance. Dan and I walked down to our seats.
As many fans know, these seats were not cheap. Fortunately, I wasn't disappointed. Talk about a perfect sightline:
While we still had an hour before the show, time passed quickly. I pointed out Rush crew members to Dan, including manager Ray Daniels, keyboard tech Jack Secret (he seemed to have quite a few friends in the crowd), and lightning director Howard Ungerleider. We talked to the usher in our section, who told us Lady Gaga had performed at the MGM the night before (it was a mad house).
The lights went out, the crowd exploded with energy, and the intro film started up. Unlike the show I'd seen a week before, this was indoors -- so there was almost total darkness, unlike the pre-twilight of an amphitheater show. Dan loved the opening film. But what he loved more was that the owner of the seat to his left (which was on the aisle) hadn't shown up. This left us with a lot more room to spread out.
The band ripped through their set with the same intensity I'd seen in Auburn. Neil, in particular, was playing with the same controlled fire, and, if anything, seemed even more intense. The other thing I noticed was the sound was much better than it had been at my previous show. I could hear everything perfectly and didn't need earplugs.
There were a few downsides to being on an aisle. First, we watched the battle between the crowd and the ushers. Obviously many of these people didn't know they were dealing with professionals who weren't letting them pass without a ticket for the front section.
Second, there was the constant distraction of people making beer runs (funny how no one from our VIP section was making beer runs). We saw the same thing over and over (like a bad joke): A guy walks down the stairs with two beers; has to put his beer down to get his ticket; can't find his ticket; has to go find his girlfriend who happens to be rocking out near the front row.
Then there was the woman who wanted backstage. She got so violent, the police had to be called in.
There was one guy in the seats above us that Dan pointed out who practically made my night: As he was dancing around, he seemed to be miming the lyrical meaning of each song with hand gestures and body movement. It reminded me of something I'd seen at my only Grateful Dead concert. While I thought it was mostly entertaining to see someone displaying this type of musical interpretation, there was also something kind of pure about it.
Finally, the guy who owned the seat next to Dan showed up on the last song of the set. Dan and I were both wondering how someone who paid that much to see a show could arrive that late. I'm sure he had a good reason.
Through it all, the band played as well or better than the first set I'd seen in Auburn.
As I watched Rush play all of Moving Pictures again, I realized that much of the magic from this tour was coming from the power of those songs. I think listening to those songs in order brings back strong memories for hardcore fans -- as well as people who just love that album. There's a feedback loop between band and crowd that grew in intensity with each song.
After it was all over, Dan turned to me and said, "That was incredible!"
Once Neil started his solo, I noticed a more improvisational flair than at the other show. It didn't hurt that we had a perfect view. I did see him throw in the double-hand crossover, which I hadn't seen in Auburn, which made me smile.
When Alex played his guitar solo, I took the opportunity to sit down for a moment (as many of the people did around us), and prepare for the final few songs and the encore. I was starting to feel my 5:00 a.m. wake-up time in my legs.
When the band got to their last song, "Working Man," I was more blown away than usual with Alex Lifeson's guitar solo. Alex isn't usually flashy, so when he starts shredding on an old song like this it becomes clear how underrated this guy really is. (And, hearing the Reggae version of "Working Man" again, I have to say it was growing on me even more.)
When the band was done, and the "I Still Love You, Man," outro completed, Dan said that he still hadn't seen that movie. I knew that we'd need to rent it before I flew back to Seattle (which we did).
As we walked out of the arena, I heard the polka version of "Closer to Heart," on the PA, which was starting to grow on me, too. I now had my answer about whether I had seen a magic show in Auburn or if the band was playing like this every night.
Dan agreed it was probably the best Rush show he'd ever seen.