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Sean Kitching , June 7th, 2013 12:30

Sean Kitching finds braving the vertiginous terrors of The O2 is more than worth it to witness an on-form Rush

I’ve been a Rush fan since the release of Permanent Waves on January 1 1980. I was 11 and still at primary school when ‘The Spirit Of Radio’ sealed the deal and prompted the purchase of a Rush patch that I proudly sewed onto the back of my denim jacket.

The only other bands that stretch that far back into my life are Led Zeppelin and The Kinks - which is why, despite harbouring some serious reservations about The O2, I head back there tonight for the London leg of their Clockwork Angels tour. It is, to borrow a phrase from the Sun City Girls, like Dante’s Disneyland Inferno. The beer is astronomically expensive, its alcoholic content inversely proportional to its price and even a bottle of Coke costs almost as much as a beer in a more reasonable establishment. With up to 20,000 people in attendance, lengthy queues are unavoidable and although the crowd is varied and includes a number of sons and daughters aged ten to adulthood accompanying aging classic rock fan fathers, the gig-going etiquette of some of the fans leaves much to be desired. The group in front of me periodically leap from their seats to scream incomprehensibly over some of the better bits of the show, obscuring my line of sight during Neil Peart’s drum solos and threatening to spill piss-weak lukewarm beer into my lap. One of them notices that I’m writing in a notebook and tells me off. "Writing in your journal?" he slurs, adding: "weirdo". I try to tell him that I’m writing a review for a website but, unbelievably, he doesn’t seem to know what one is. Thankfully he passes out soon after, his head nestled cosily against his similarly slumbering companion’s shoulder. At least, I think, I’m not up in the rafters like last time, when I spent the whole of the 2011 Time Machine tour holding on to my seat for dear life (I’m terrified of heights) and watching the band through the vertiginous abyss that is the inside of The O2.

As the show begins, roadies assemble the band from individual pieces on the screen overlooking the stage. Alex Lifeson is inflated, balloon-like, via an air pump. Neil Peart’s head trundles past atop a wheeled flight case, saying: "make sure you put my head on this time". The opening keyboard notes of the excellent ‘Subdivisions’ ring out across the arena. Rush were only last month inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, in a highly entertaining ceremony that saw the Foo Fighters covering ‘2112’ and Primus’ Les Claypool delivering an eccentric interpretation of ‘The Spirit Of Radio.’ Despite the band maintaining that the accolade was something the fans wanted more than they did, the event was clearly an emotional one for all involved. Watching them tonight, it occurs to me that this is a band at the height of their powers. Despite the cavernous nature of the venue, the sound is immense. The rumbling bass impacts against my eyeballs and threatens interference with my heartbeat. The keyboard sound is gorgeous, warm and pulsing on a fantastically vibrant version of ‘Body Electric’ from 1984's Grace Under Pressure. The first part of the set delivers tracks from mid-80s albums that I had previously thought not entirely to my taste, but does so with such panache that I find myself re-evaluating those opinions. ‘Grand Designs’ and ‘Big Money’ sound incredible, as does ‘Far Cry’ from 2007's Snakes And Arrows, which would make a fantastic theme tune to a horror movie, as its accompanying film clearly demonstrates.

It’s often said that Neil Peart is the best drummer in rock music (an inarguable fact in my opinion, although I would suggest that John Wright of Nomeansno comes pretty close) but clearly Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee are no slouches either. Alex delivers several incredible solos during the course of the night, the first on ‘The Analog Kid’ and Geddy continually throws down the deftest of bass lines, whilst simultaneously singing and playing keyboard lines via pedals with his feet.

The three band members make such a massively full sound between them that I must confess to being slightly disappointed by the prominence of the string section that accompanies them for the second set, at least on the first two tracks from their current album Clockwork Angels. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it doesn’t sound good, just that I’m not sure it sounds as good as the unadorned trio. Something seems to shift, however, when the band launch into ‘The Anarchist’, with Alex’s massively crunching guitar lurching to the forefront once more, the strings find their rightful place.

For a band as long in the tooth as Rush to come out with an album as inspired as Clockwork Angels at such a late stage of the game shows just how special they really are and live, the tracks reveal themselves to be far more powerful than I had previously considered. 'Carnies', 'The Wreckers' and 'The Garden' are especially magnificent. There are fireworks, both musically and literally, erupting off the stage. I dodge another sluice of warm beer from the guy in front of me and peer around him as Neil Peart tears into his final solo, the drum kit revolving around him, moving skins drawing drumstick stings as they pass.

Then begins the strongest part of the set: ‘YYZ’ followed by ‘The Spirit of Radio’, ‘Tom Sawyer’ and finally '2112'. I realise then, that although I had been earlier telling myself that this was the last time I would have to attend a gig at The O2, I was still hopelessly hooked on this band and when they played next, I’d be right back here, braving it all to see them. Sneaking out before '2112' concludes to avoid the departing crowds, I catch a taxi back home and think soothing thoughts of returning to the kind of gigs I’m used to - between 100 and 500 people, the stage right in front of me, the bar easily accessible and no one to tell me off for the crime of stringing words together. Mmm, back to my comfort zone...