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Exit Stage Left: Inside Rush's 'Farewell' Show

The Canadian legends have hinted that they've reached the end of the road. Join them as they bring the curtain down

It’s a balmy Saturday night in Los Angeles, and Row 9 on the floor of the LA Forum is drummer heaven – or maybe drummer hell, depending on your viewpoint. Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers stands next to the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins. A few seats along, Tool’s Danny Carey is engaged in conversation with current Queens Of The Stone Age man Jon Theodore.

Like the 17,000 other people in attendance, they’re here to see Rush bring their sold-out R40 ‘anniversary’ tour to a close (in typically perverse Rush style, it’s actually 41 years since they released their debut album). But there’s one particular thing onstage that has them rapt, eyes front and centre: Neil Peart. As Peart thunders into Overture from the Canadian trio’s breakthrough album 2112, the gaze of all four drummers instantly snaps stagewards, like dogs who have spotted a biscuit. The object of their attention rattles across his seemingly endless parade of tom-toms as the band segue into Temples Of Syrinx, and 17,000 pairs of air-drumming arms shoot ceiling-ward. None are more animated or as on the beat as Smith, Hawkins, Carey and Theodore.

A couple of hours later, Smith is enjoying the hospitality at the post-show end-of-tour party and recalling his indoctrination into the Cult Of Rush as a teenager. “I spent my sophomore year of high school in the parking lot, smoking weed and listening to 2112,” he says. “That’s when my Rush education began. I do believe it's a prerequisite for all rock drummers to go through a Neil Peart phase.”

It’s not just a drummer thing. Matt Stone, the co creator of South Park and a close friend of Peart, is equally effusive. “Totally amazing show!” he says, waving his drink around for emphasis. “I invited a couple of friends of mine that I grew up with in Denver. We saw Rush in 1985 at McNichols Arena, and it was really cool to bring it full circle here in 2015.”

There’s a lot of talk about things coming full circle tonight. If recent proclamations by certain band members are anything to go by, then this tour – and specifically this show – represents the end of Rush as a touring entity, if not the end of Rush full-stop. Peart has made it clear that he's tired of the physical and mental toll that playing live night after night takes. There are no more shows scheduled following the LA gig, either in the US or Europe. Asked recently whether this would be Rush’s swansong tour, guitarist Alex Lifeson replied: “I don’t think we’d have much difficulty thinking about it as possibly the last.”

Remind Geddy Lee of this today and he laughs. “That’s not true,” says the bassist and singer. “I’m having great difficulty thinking like that. Alex is not speaking for me, and I don’t think he’s really speaking for himself either. I think he has mixed feelings. I don’t want to speak for him. You can ask him. He can tell you his own lies.”  

It’s three days before what may or may not be Rush’s final show, and Lee, Lifeson and Peart are moving in slightly more rarefied circles. The three of them have convened at the Canadian consulate in LA, where a reception is being thrown in their honour. The Consulate is bestowing its very first Honoree For Canadian Excellence award on the band, thanks in part to the fact that they have played Los Angeles 36 times over the years (it also happens to be Lee’s 62nd birthday).

In the landscaped gardens at the rear of the well-appointed house, half a dozen tables have been set up for a dinner. The band members all sport the Order Of Canada pins they were awarded in 1997. Their families are here, as is their long time manager, Ray Danniels, South Park’s Matt Stone and actor Jack Black, the latter of whom spends the evening glad-handing other guests and demanding to know, technically speaking, whether we’re in Los Angeles or Canada. As the band are introduced by genial Consul General James Villeneuve (“Ray Danniels tells me the R40 cake I made contravenes some kind of copyright”), the assorted guests laugh good-naturedly. Glasses are raised and toasts are made, before Lifeson steps up to speak. “I’d just like to say, ‘Blah, blah, blah…’” he begins, a knowing nod back to his infamous Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame speech.

There’s some irony to this, at least when it comes to Neil Peart. The drummer, who has lived in California with his second wife, Carrie, for the better part of 15 years, was recently granted American citizenship. “Why did I take it?” he says, as we top up our glasses at the makeshift bar. “I found out that if you’re an American citizen, they can’t deport you.” He does an exaggerated double take at his lapel. “Though at any moment now, I’m expecting to be thrown to the floor and have my Order Of Canada ripped from me.”


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