MANSFIELD -- Rush had promised to trot out tunes it hadn't played for decades, and the Canadian trio kept its word Wednesday night at the Tweeter Center. The band is touring behind a new album, "Snakes & Arrows," but spent the bulk of its three-hour show digging through its voluminous catalog.
In fact, apart from several songs off the new record, the newest tunes they played were the driving "Dreamline" (from 1991's "Roll the Bones") and the obscure "Mission" (1987's "Hold Your Fire"). They served up their biggest hits -- "Tom Sawyer," "Subdivisions," and "Limelight," which opened the show -- but they also dusted off gems no one would expect them to play anymore, such as the plodding "Between the Wheels" and the ominous "Witch Hunt," a song from 1981 that has new resonance today with its lyrics about prejudiced people condemning "immigrants and infidels." Heck, they played nearly all of the 1980 album "Permanent Waves."
It was exactly what the crowd wanted. Clearly, few people in the audience were familiar with the new album, except maybe its thunderous single "Far Cry," so the trio didn't dwell on the new stuff. Geddy Lee, the singer-bassist-keyboardist, didn't banter much, either, though he did joke about his band's longevity. "Thank you for coming out and celebrating, I think, our 400th album," said Lee, whose nasally falsetto was in fine form despite its 39 years of employment as the voice of Rush.
Though the chatter was limited, there was wry humor. Last time they toured, Rush had clothes dryers running onstage. Wednesday it was rotisseries, full of chicken; a guy in a chef's hat came out to baste the birds during "The Spirit of Radio." There were video spoofs, featuring Bob & Doug McKenzie and the gang from "South Park." Other videos were less effective and disconnected, such as the computer-generated Play-Doh cinnamon buns that mutated during the instrumental "The Main Monkey Business" and the digital cube that morphed into M.C. Escher's staircase during "Circumstances." A nation of TV addicts apparently needs a screen to watch, even at a rock show.
The only drawback to this tour-through-the-archives was that every song sounded exactly as it did on the original album. Even on well-worn numbers like "Tom Sawyer," Alex Lifeson's guitar solos haven't changed a lick all these years. Strong as they were, Neil Peart's drumming and his solos were, pound for pound, precisely as they were on record. Close your eyes and you could be home in front of your stereo with your Rush CDs on high volume.
Not that anyone was complaining.
Steve Greenlee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.