Beyond the lighted stage

Amphitheatre, Tampa
Friday, Oct. 1

Friday, Oct. 1

Friday, Oct. 1

Like many suburban dudes of a certain age, I listened to Rush throughout much of my early adolescence. My difficult years coincided with the band's — in the mid-'80s, the only person on the planet with a more painfully self-aware haircut than me was Geddy Lee. I turned to metal, hardcore and alternative rock; Rush turned to keyboards and Aimee Mann. After that, I never gave the band a second thought, except as a punchline for jokes about Canadians, fat guys with ponytails or nerds who couldn't get laid.

That is, until I saw Beyond the Lighted Stage, the 2010 documentary about the band by the same filmmakers who made the incredible Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. Not only did the movie do a fantastic job of putting Rush into context as a singular and enduring rock act, but also as three endearing personalities committed as much to one another as they were to making exactly the kind of music they wanted to make, with (mostly) no regard for fashion, trends or critical/commercial acceptance. Their 1976 album 2112 was a middle finger to their label, and they've kept that finger raised — in a politely Canadian way, of course — for a quarter-century.

I came away madly in love with Rush — as a concept at least — if only for their integrity, deep-rooted connection to their work and the intense devotion of their fans. Also: Geddy, Neil and Alex are a totally adorable trio. So, after a crash course revisiting the band's classic albums (everything up through Moving Pictures), I figured seeing the "Time Machine Tour" stop in Tampa would be a logical continuation of my studies in Rush revisionism.

Some observations:

There are, in fact, women at Rush shows … lots of them. Indeed, the one next to me was rocking out 100 times harder than her male companion.

If Beyond the Lighted Stage made you think that Rush had a sense of humor, the Real History of Rush film shown before the set proved they're not only funny, but incredibly self-effacing. Very few bands actually get what they're about like Rush does.

Overheard frequently: "How many shows have you seen?" The answer was frequently more than five, and that number was often given regarding this current tour. Rush fans are like Deadheads, just smarter and less concerned with being surprised.

Unlike most big-venue tours, Rush concerts are not for the casual fan. While I certainly dug the fact that the band played all of Moving Pictures — including "The Camera Eye" — from front to back in the second set, the majority of the crowd was equally thrilled by numbers from Snakes and Arrows and other more recent albums, which actually outnumbered the classic tracks at the concert.

I wanted a "Rash" t-shirt, but they weren't for sale.

While I certainly have not been converted — nor likely ever will be — into the kind of guy who knows the drum fills on some mid-'90s Rush album, this concert filled me with nothing but admiration for the band and their fans. Those fans are just as peculiar and singular as the band's music, so it's something of a perfect match, but the respect and joy that Rush and its fans give to one another in concert was absolutely inspiring, and something that more bands should aspire to. That it continues on a nightly basis in sold-out venues all over the world is not about "nerds" or "outcasts" or "guys who can't get laid"; it's a testament to a talented band that has forged a strong and unique bond with its fans simply by being honest about who they are and what they do. If that's not punk rock, I don't know what is.

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