Don’t be in a hurry to judge Rush

Geddy Lee’s distinctive, high-pitched voice will fill the Centrium on Wednesday when Rush, one of Canada’s greatest, albeit most polarizing, bands performs in Red Deer.

Geddy Lee’s distinctive, high-pitched voice will fill the Centrium on Wednesday when Rush, one of Canada’s greatest, albeit most polarizing, bands performs in Red Deer.

The 45-year-old group that’s been swept our way because of Calgary’s flood-damaged Saddledome is one that music fans have always tended to either love or hate.

Those who idolize Rush are truly enraptured — Rolling Stone magazine once called them the “Trekkies” of rock.

These devotees praise the band’s experimentation and diversity. They admire Rush’s musical shape-shifting over the years, noting the band has moved through a bluesy hard rock phase in the early 1970s to an ongoing affair with progressive rock, including a fantasy-inspired lyrics — all without softening its sound.

In the ’80s, Rush piloted a controversial mix of synthesizer-powered rock and reggae, and New Wave influences, and then picked up alternative rock elements in the ’90s. More recently, the band once again has a more guitar-driven acoustic vibe.

Even detractors have to give Rush brownie points for musicianship.

While his voice has drawn the ire of some critics, Lee is an award-winning bass player, whose technique has proved influential in the heavy metal genre. According to Wikipedia, he has inspired such players as Cliff Burton of Metallica and Steve Harris of Iron Maiden.

Rush’s guitarist Alex Lifeson developed signature riffs, including unusual electronic effects and innovative chord structures, which were influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page. He’s even thrown in interesting classical and Spanish guitar flourishes.

The group’s percussionist, Neil Peart, was voted the greatest rock drummer by music fans, critics and fans on drummerworld.com. His incorporation of unlikely instruments, including glockenspiel and tubular bells, helped create Rush’s sonic breadth and diversity.

Peart’s eclectic songwriting, which has drawn on science fiction, literature and philosophy, also helped create Rush’s niche as the cerebral fan’s rock group.

Of course, some listeners aren’t won over by the social and humanitarian subject matter Peart has tackled. They deride Rush tunes as pretentious or preachy. The gap between the pro and con forces is cavernous, with Peart nabbing second place on Blender magazine’s 40 Worst Lyricists in Rock list, while Allmusic.com hails him as “one of rock’s most accomplished lyricists.”

And then there’s that voice.

Lee’s signature shriek has probably fuelled most of the criticism levelled at the band, especially in the early days. The New York Times once compared Lee to “a munchkin giving a sermon.”

But his voice has softened over the years and a lot of people obviously don’t mind the high pitch.

The band best known for the hits Tom Sawyer, Limelight, Spirit of Radio, Freewill and Working Man, has fans around the globe. Watch an indie movie from Scotland or Norway and chances are, the young hero has a Rush poster prominently displayed on his bedroom wall.

The group that started out in Toronto’s Willowdale neighbourhood in 1968 has amassed more than 40 million in album sales, multiple Juno Awards and was recently inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Whether you like ’em or hate ’em, the Rush musicians are destined to rock on, winning over new generations of rock Trekkies.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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