Ever since the concert schedule came out for Rush's Snakes And Arrows Tour, I had always thought that I'd be going to their September 8th show in Tinley Park. Not only are they one of my favorite bands, but the concert was on a Saturday night, allowing me a chance to get home late, without having the early turn around of a 3:20am wake-up-for-work awaiting me the next morning.
As I've mentioned before, Rush is one of my two or three favorite bands. There was always a very good chance I'd be going to this show.
The problem was finding someone to go with me. My wife, even though she's gone with me to a few of their shows in the past, was a little indifferent to going this time. My brother was a "maybe", but ended up having other plans that night. The guy I saw Rush with in 2002, my co-worker Kevin Schramm, had to work that night. Our new news guy, Jay, is trying to watch his spending while in the middle of paying a mortgage on a house he's trying to sell in Iowa, and also paying rent at an apartment in Morris -- a situation that has been made much easier now that he has sold his house.
For a minute, I even thought about bringing along Megan, our 7-year old. I took her to her first concert last month, so I thought she might like going to a concert featuring one of my favorite bands. I eventually decided against it, since she didn't know more than a couple of their songs, plus I didn't feel like carrying her all night considering she'd likely not be able to see anything.
Bottom line, I came thisclose to not going, simply because I didn't want to go by myself. I went back and forth on it, until the morning of the concert. I just said "screw it", and decided to go alone. The spoiler-free reviews I allowed myself to read about the concerts were very good, I had heard they were playing songs they hadn't played on tour in many years, and of course, it was on a Saturday night.
So, about a week late, here is my diary of what transpired on concert day...
10:46: I arrive at Carson Pirie Scott in Joliet to purchase a lawn ticket. As I get out of the car, I notice a line of about 30 people standing outside the door waiting to get in. I knew they weren't there for Rush tickets, but, I certainly didn't want to have to wait behind them to grab my ticket and go. A guy told me they were in line for Springsteen tickets. The girl from the store asked what I was trying to buy. I told her Rush tickets, and she said I could go right in. She also said she was going to be at the show, too. Hey! I found someone to go with. Oops. My wife reads this. Moving on.
5:52: Driving to the show on I-80, I know I'm getting close when I see an unusual amount of cars driven by guys with ponytails getting in the right lane approaching the Tinley Park exit.
5:59: I pull up to a stoplight next to a truck full of twenty-something kids talking and laughing while "Tom Sawyer" is blaring from their speakers. The odds on seeing this on any other day of the year are pretty slim, so at least I know I'm driving in the right direction.
6:03: Getting into the First Midwest Bank Ampitheatre, or, The Amp, as we'll call it from here on out, is a bit of an adventure. There are no direct entrances off Harlem avenue. So, after turning onto the connecting street, you have two choices as far as where to enter, neither one is all that clear.
Then once you turn to get into the parking lot, you have two more choices -- right lane for drop off or VIP parking, or a handful of left lanes for general parking. It took me a few seconds to realize I needed to be in the left lanes, and I had to pull off a couple of Greg Brady pylon moves to get into the right spot. I was just hoping I wasn't heading into oncoming traffic. Considering most people attending concerts are either drunk, stoned, or both, shouldn't getting to the place be a little easier?
6:04: I've driven over 47 different softball sized rocks, each one making me cross my fingers and toes hoping that I haven't just gotten a flat tire. Is it too much to ask to pave the lot? Or, at least crush down the rocks a bit. I want my rock experience at a concert to be limited to the music coming from the stage.
6:06: I get out of the car and grab all of my gear...blanket, hat, jacket, bug spray, bottle of water, and two magazines to kill the time before the show. Am I going to a Rush concert, or an afternoon of bird watching in the woods?
6:09: A Dunkin Donuts truck is sitting near the entrance, and while in line to get into The Amp, a man comes by with a tray full of sample vanilla lattes for everyone to try. Where are we, at a Rush concert, or Ravinia? Naturally, I take one.
6:11: As I enter The Amp, I'm asked to open my blanket so they know I'm not packing any heat. Then, a lady asks for my cap. Bewildered, I hand her my hat, thinking they want to make sure I'm not carrying a hand grenade in there, or whatever. She laughs and says, "no, the cap on your water bottle." Huh? Great. Now I have to walk around with a bottle of water with no cap on it. This isn't going to end well.
6:13: I'm handed a promotional card that says it's good for a free concert shirt, plus a chance at front row tickets to tonight's show. All I have to do is stop by whatever booth it was. Can't do it now, too busy trying to hold my blanket, magazines, and jacket while not spilling my capless water bottle.
6:19: I find my spot on the lawn, fairly close to the concourse, with a clear view of the stage. You gotta love outdoor concerts for at least this reason: I can wait around for months without buying a ticket, then nine hours before Rush takes the stage, I can round up a lawn ticket and get a very nice view of the stage and video screens for about $30. On the other hand, it's starting to get a little too cold for the shorts I'm wearing, and it's supposed to rain.
6:25: I spot a guy that is a dead ringer for Jerry Springer, only this guy has blonder and bigger hair. Anyone who was on the lawn that night is nodding and smiling right now. Nobody on the lawn didn't notice this guy. It's impossible.
6:33: Oh yay, someone brought a beach ball for everyone to try to volley around the lawn. Didn't this fad go out of style about a week after "the wave"?
6:36: Scratch the complaining. Some dude just got walloped in the face by the beach ball when he wasn't looking. Too bad I didn't have some kind of tape rolling so I could send it to Tom Bergeron. I love this beach ball thingy.
6:42: After all this time, is "Check...1,2,1,2" still the best we can come up with when testing microphones? Isn't there anything more original or entertaining to say? Tell a joke, sing a song, insult everyone in the first three rows -- something.
6:52: "Jerry Springer" is returning from his third beer run.
6:59: Still about 45 minutes from the show starting -- don't you love this diary of the concert that's already over 1,000 words long, and we haven't even gotten to the show yet? -- so I decide to check out this whole "free concert shirt" thing. Too good to be true, right? Right. I get to the booth, and the shirt only becomes mine if I open a First Midwest Bank checking account. Thanks, but no thanks.
7:21: There's nothing like sitting on the lawn at a concert, glancing in front of me to my left, and seeing the plumber's crack of some overweight dude in sweatpants. Although, considering it's a Rush concert, maybe the term "Working Man's" smile is better suited. I couldn't luck out and glance at a similar view of a young, fit, beautiful girl that either went au natural, or at least was showing off a sweet thong. Of course, this is a Rush concert. The odds of seeing any good looking girls, in any kind of attire, is rather slim.
7:24: I decide to lay down on my back, close my eyes and rest for a few minutes before the show. Then I get paranoid someone will purposely step on my head, so I sit back up. I'm getting too old.
7:32: The ineveitable has happened. Someone walking by my spot has inadvertently kicked my water bottle, spilling it in front of my seat. The water has run down the slope to the guy in front of me. I apologize, claiming my innocence. He nods, and I just thank my lucky stars that I'm not sitting directly behind Mr. Hiney Crack.
7:44: There's nothing better than that moment right before a concert begins when the lights are dimmed. It's a thrilling feeling knowing the show is about to begin. The crowd starts to cheer, everyone gets on their feet. It's, well, it's a rush is what it is.
7:46: Love the intro video with Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart as bedmates. Anything that gives Neil some personality is fine by me.
7:48: Alex comes out on stage playing the opening riff from "Limelight". Geddy doesn't join him, yet. Alex retreats to his side of the stage and plays the riff again, this time joined by Geddy, and the song starts in full. I assume it was a mistake, but I found out later, it was planned. One of the drawbacks from being on the lawn...being too far away to detect the little things.
7:49: Ahhh, I catch the first of many whiffs of weed. Maybe it was a good idea not to bring my 7-year old, Megan.
8:08: Wow, Geddy is hitting just about all of the high notes. Are his vocal chords on H.G.H.?
8:12: I love the mounted acoustic guitar that Alex is using for certain songs. He wears the elctric around his neck, then when he needs to go acoustic, there is one perched atop of stand at the perfect angle for him to walk up to it and play as if it were slung around his neck, too. A high five for the designer of that little time saver.
8:16: Between songs, I glance around at the crowd. The place is packed! How many other bands that have been around for over 30 years, with the same lineup, that continues to produce new music, would pack a top-tier stadium like this? Correct. One.
8:20: Springer just went on another beer run.
8:24: During this first part of the concert, I've heard two of the songs that I really like -- "Entre Nous" and "Circumstances" -- that I've never heard them play before. The show could end right now, and I'd be happy. Wait, what am I talking about? That would only be a 40-minute show! Keep playing, boys.
8:27: Another whiff of weed.
8:40: As the first set is coming to a close, my cell phone rings. It's my wife. After a dozen "What?" "I can't hear you?" "Huh?" "Say what?" exchanges, I'm finally able to decipher from her that the radar shows we are about to get hit with a steady rain. All that stuff I said earlier about the positives of an outdoor concert, forget it.
8:43: Intermission. Any second now...wait for it...and bingo! Springer on the run for another brewski. This guy would be a good subject on an episode of Springer.
8:50: Trying to remember where I parked.
8:54: It's been nice sitting down for the last 10 minutes since part one of the concert ended. I don't understand why we need to stand during the whole concert. Once they come out, fine. After a couple of songs, why not sit back down on the lawn, or in your seat. And, of course, once the person in front of you gets up, you, and everyone else has to get up as well. I guess one reason for getting up is it makes it easier to dance, but there aren't many danceable Rush songs. Air drumming is the thing, and that's much easier to do when sitting.
9:13: The between sets music has stopped, and the buzz in the crowd begins again. The second half of the show is about to start, and sure enough, here comes Springer with yet another round of beers.
9:16: The second set begins after a video featuring a rather goofy Alex Lifeson portraying several different characters. The choice of "Far Cry" to open the set is a no-brainer. I really thought they'd open the concert with that song. It's the most recognizeable release from their new album, and it's got a killer beginning that just begs to start a show.
9:25: Pretty gutsy of a classic rock band to devote so much time in their concert to the new songs. Generally, when a band that's been around for awhile says "here's one from our new album," a subtle groan can be heard throughout the venue, and Springer-types in the crowd get up to get more beer, or drain the beer already in their system. However, with Rush, and with this new album, the crowd is as enthusiastic for the new stuff as they are for the oldies as well. By the time the concert ends, nine new songs will have been played, and none of them disappoint. Reason number 83 why I like these guys so much.
9:32: Quick note on the crowd. A very diverse group. In the past at Rush shows, it would be basically a bunch of guys in their 30's, all wearing concert shirts two sizes too small. In this crowd, sure there are those guys, but also guys in ther 50's, women of all ages, teenagers, young kids, probably the most wide-ranging group I've ever seen at a Rush concert. New fans, old fans, from generation to generation. Still, the crowd could use an infusion of hot women.
9:40: Rush always brings the goods when it comes to lights, lasers, fog, smoke (or is that just extra puffs of weed), and tonight, plenty of pyro!
9:46: As much as I love the internet, and as much as I was checking out the Rush message boards ever since their album was released earlier this year, I have to say that I'm proud of myself for avoiding most of the spoilers concerning the concert. I've been pleasantly surprised by the intro video, the handful of songs that I wasn't expecting to hear, the order of the setlist, etc.
9:49: I've also been surprised at how good Geddy's voice sounds. He just ripped through the highest of high parts in one of my favorite songs, "Freewill" -- right after the instrumental break in the middle -- and the crowd went nuts. They appreciate the fact that Geddy must be playing tonight with a swarm of bees in his pants to be able to pull off some of these notes that he hasn't been able to hit this consistently since the Reagan era.
10:21: Finally, the drum solo. The only downside is that the crowd insits on cheering throughout the entire. I understand the desire to cheer on Neil Peart, a drum god with few peers, but I don't know, maybe it's just me, I'd like to actually hear the damn thing. Save your applause until it's over, and zip it with the "wooooooos", too. I'm sounding too cranky. Maybe I can get Springer to get me a beer next time around.
10:28: I'm planning my exit strategy. Two summers ago, my brother and I saw Coldplay at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. 30,000 in the crowd, and when it ended, we sat still in the parking lot for two hours. That's not an exaggeration. My plan for avoiding that kind of disaster again tonight was simple. Get from the lawn to the side of the pavillion (near the exit) as close to the end of the show as I could, then bolt for the parking lot before the majority of the crowd so I could high tail it out of there in just a few minutes.
10:39: Tom Sawyer has just concluded -- after being introduced from the boys from South Park -- and Rush has left the stage. We all know an encore is coming. The rock concert encore...the worst kept secret in music.
10:49: "Passage To Bangkok" is song two in the encore. The smell of weed is strong enough to knock a maggot off of a meat truck.
10:54: "YYZ" begins, and this seems to me to be a good song chocie for the final song. I make my way toward the concourse, and stand and watch the end of the performance near the walkway that leads to the exit.
10:58: End of show, and I am doing my "I really need to walk fast, but not fast enough that I'm going to bother running" walk. As I'm hunting for the exit, I'm thinking many things...where did I park? I remember, it was near A3; wow, the guys played a phenomenal show in front of a packed, jacked crowd; my legs are killing me from standing for about three hours; I never tried to get that last beer from Springer.
11:02: I find my car, in front of most of the crowd, and actually get out of the parking lot and back onto I-80 within five minutes. One Little Victory for me. I make it home by 11:30, and pat myself on the back for going ahead and getting a solo ticket for yet another tremendous Rush show. These guys are in their 50's, have only released three albums of new music since 1996 (although I get the sense the next album will come sooner rather than later), and who knows if and when they may tour again. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to see them again.
Cheers, Alex, Geddy, and Neil. You all deserve a toast. If you need a drink to raise, ask Springer for one.
Here are a few vids to enjoy...
"Entre Nous" from the tour (not the show I was at however)
"Spirit Of Radio" from the same concert as above
"Freewill" from The Hollywood Bowl, showing off Geddy's top notch high-pitched vocal