Two words best summarize the career-spanning performance the three Canadian dudes collectively known as Rush delivered Thursday evening at a sold-out Wells Fargo Center: extraordinary production.
From the complex music (presented in reverse chronological order over two sets, plus an encore) to the lasers to the hilarious interstitial video elements, the band marked its 40 years (41, really) with a show that felt like a heartfelt thank-you to its fans.
Those fans are even receptive to new stuff, a tricky area most classic rock bands fear to tread. But not Rush, who began the evening mining recent albums Clockwork Angels and Snakes and Arrows, which served notice that Peart, bassist/keyboardist/singer Geddy Lee, and guitarist Alex Lifeson are on top of their game.
As Rush worked its way backward during the first set, it played like a highlight reel of the creative guises into which the band has slipped over the years.
When it came to the lowlight among those highlights, the rap section in 1991's "Roll the Bones," Rush's self-effacing sense of humor saved the day. Actors Paul Rudd, Peter Dinklage, and Jason Segal, plus Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello appeared via video montage to mime dated lines from said rap, such as "Gonna kick some gluteus max" and "Get busy!"
A compilation of past concert videos played before the second set, featuring a scene-stealing Jerry Stiller and the South Park gang, who counted the band into a menacing "Tom Sawyer." Peart brilliantly worked every inch of his double bass drum kit during the signature tune as Lifeson peeled off a wailing solo and Lee multitasked like a fiend, working his bass, bass pedals, and synthesizer, and singing in a voice that still sounds, in its upper registers, like an air-raid siren.
After "Tom Sawyer," another highlight reel in reverse began to spin, this one showcasing Rush at the peak of their creative powers. The slashing instrumental "YYZ" spilled into the majestic "The Spirit of Radio."
Most bands save the big guns for the encore, but Rush played songs such as "What You're Doing" and "Working Man" from the days when they were trying to forge an identity beyond Cream and Led Zeppelin-influenced rock.