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Rush - Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield (UK) - 28th May 2013

For a band who once professed to hate touring, especially in Europe, this is their fourth major tour here in less than ten years. For the 'Clockwork Angels' tour they put together a surprising setlist, bringing back older songs and playing ones they've rarely played before. This time out they're even alternating sets nightly, which is a bit of a treat for those of us who attend multiple shows on every tour. Anyway, the Motorpoint is probably my favourite big venue, mainly because it's not quite as big as the others and usually has decent sound and views from anywhere, tonight being no exception.

Following the traditional light-hearted video intro, this time of the crew 'assembling' the band backstage, it was straight into the first of two sets, and one almost entirely dominated by their 80's output. The roar that greeted the keyboard intro to 'Subdivisions' certainly created a good atmosphere, even if it IS probably the only recognised classic in the first set. Bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee is singing better than in 2010, and he and his band-mates are certainly busy creating the rich tapestries of sound with every available limb on 'The Big Money' and 'Force Ten'. The first big surprise is the keyboard dominated 'Grand Designs', which hasn't been played live since the 'Power Windows' tour in 1985/6, whilst tonight's set continues with the catchy 'The Body Electric', which is being alternated with the live debut of 1985's 'Middletown Dreams'. Another 'Power Windows' track, 'Territories', is one of many accompanied by a cool video and some superb guitar from Alex Lifeson, whilst personal favourite 'The Analog Kid' sounds as fresh and vital as it did when it came out. The poppy 'Bravado' is preferred to the rarely played 'Presto' song 'The Pass', whilst the obligatory instrumental is the under-rated 'Where's My Thing?', complete with the lion's share of Neil Peart's drum solo, which has been divided into three parts instead of one nine-minute epic. The set ends with explosions and fire accompanying the only song in this set not from the 80's, 'Snakes And Arrows' opener 'Far Cry'.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine For Melodic Rock Music

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Following the interval was a long video loosely connected to the 'Clockwork Angels' theme with some good acting from the band as two 'G'nomes' and a Troll, before almost an hour of the album is played, complete with a seven piece string section. As the show is put together primarily for US venues that are half-covered, the lights are much more effective during the second set as it would usually be taking place in darkness, so there's a noticeable hike in the quality of the new back projections, with additional screens being lowered and tilted, all with different images. Highlights of the 'Clockwork Angels' section include the breathtaking title-track, the spectacular pyro during 'Carnies' and the lengthy 'Bastille Day/By-Tor...' influenced 'Headlong Flight', complete with short explosive drum break and amazing bass runs. The only bit that doesn't work for me is Alex Lifeson's guitar intro to 'Halo Effect', but once the tune kicks in the string section really show their worth. 'Seven Cities Of Gold' is preferred to 'Wish Them Well' tonight, but everything is wonderfully played, not least 'The Garden', a beautiful mix of music and visuals that features Lifeson on piano and some of Lee's best ever vocals. It's fast becoming one of my favourite songs and is given extra depth here by the emotive strings.

The string section stick around to provide atmosphere for 'Manhattan Project' (preferred to 'Dreamline'), and after Neil Peart astounds with a third short solo built around synthesised percussive rhythms, the Clockwork Angels Ensemble add to 'Red Sector A' and a striking version of 'YYZ'. After they leave the stage, the set ends with a riotous 'The Spirit Of Radio'. Encores of 'Tom Sawyer' and the 'Overture/Temples Of Syrinx/Grand Finale' bring the die-hard's three hour set to a close and nobody moves until the closing video finishes. It was an interesting set that seems to have divided opinion. There's wasn't much at all to keep the fans of the seventies era happy, but for those of us who like their whole career it was one of the best.

Phil Ashcroft

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