In the music spotlight: Rush

BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

During 41 years together, the members of the adventurous Canadian rock band Rush have earned recognition as meticulous practitioners of progressive rock. Despite unparalleled devotion from fans and respect from peers, the trio has avoided the pitfalls of massive acclaim. Rush has gone about its challenging musical work with brotherly love and good humor.

Appearances in films including the 2009 comedy “I Love You, Man” and the 2010 documentary “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” boosted approachability to an audience outside Rush’s established fan base. Guitarist Alex Lifeson’s goofy but heartfelt “blah blah blah” speech at Rush’s 2013 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was also endearing.

2012’s “Clockwork Angels” album was an emotional and physical tour de force, with a heady song cycle inspired by Voltaire’s satirical classic “Candide.” At the accompanying tour visit to First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, however, the stage was festooned with comical props, including a giant popcorn machine. Film clips featured bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart dressed as frumpy characters resembling Oompa Loompas.

Rush’s R40 tour promises a rare, deep dive into a 20-album catalog. This isn’t a band that rests on its laurels, the status of vintage albums, including “2112” and “Moving Pictures,” notwithstanding. 2013’s Tinley Park appearance featured an hour of fresh material, to fans’ delight. It certainly didn’t seem that listeners had only come for “Tom Sawyer,” “The Spirit of Radio” and “Subdivisions.” Relentless new songs including “The Anarchist” pushed the band’s considerable limits, while “The Garden” displayed maturity with an evolved sense of elegance and melody.

Rush has been a hard-working traveling band since the ‘70s, but devotees are advised to not expect the juggernaut to continue indefinitely. Although the band has not announced plans to quit, it’s tapping the brakes. R40 will reportedly be Rush’s last major outing.

Family is one reason the band is slowing. Peart, 62, has a young daughter and has voiced reluctance to continue extended travel following this tour.

* Rush, 7:30 p.m. June 12, United Center, 1901 W Madison, (312) 455-4500. Tickets $45-$175; unitedcenter.com. SPOTIFY playlist: http://bit.ly/RushSPOT

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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