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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Star Wars in Concert

A week ago, on October 13 , Cameron and I attended Star Wars in Concert at Key Arena in Seattle. If you haven't heard about this tour, it's a concert with a full symphony orchestra playing in front of a huge high-definition LED screen. For this event, Lucasfilm produced several montages from all six Star Wars films that play on the screen throughout the concert. Composer John Williams arranged new compositions for each montage. As an added bonus, there's a exhibition of movie props--from the original Darth Vader costume to Chewbacca to view outside the concert area before the show.


My connection to the Star Wars: A New Hope soundtrack goes way back. It was one of the first records I ever bought (in fifth grade), and I played it until I wore it out. But as much as I love the Star Wars films and music, I'd never heard any of the music played live. Star Wars in Concert was the perfect opportunity to finally hear it.

Cameron and I had excellent seats, right above the left side of the stage, seven rows up. As we waited for the show to start, we heard lightsaber sounds buzzing over the PA, and the orchestra tuning up behind a white curtain. Kids waved their lightsabers around like glow sticks at a rock concert. Suddenly, the lights went out, and the symphony started playing the Fox Fanfare, like you hear before every Star Wars film. The white curtain dropped to the ground, and the symphony blasted into the Main Title, with hi-def images playing behind them.


After each track, actor Anthony Daniels, who played C3PO in all six Star Wars film, came out and told the story of Star Wars, setting up each sequence -- like "Droids," "Narrow Escapes," "Princess Leia," etc. After he spoke, he'd either sit on a seat at the side of the stage or he'd go backstage.

The stage itself was designed to look like it belonged in the Star Wars universe. The massive orchestra filled the stage, and a choir stood in the back for the first half of the show. There were times that the hi-def screen just projected images of the orchestra, provided by two jib cameras swinging around on stage right and left and one stationary camera at the sound board.


The new arrangements of the music were good, but I think they could have gotten away with playing the soundtrack to certain sequences in the original movies. For example, they played the track for the TIE Fighter attack on the Millennium Falcon from Episode IV, but it was to a montage of all six movies. I'd even be willing to pay to go see a live orchestra play behind the entire original Star Wars film, like they did for E.T. - The Extraterrestrial.

Tracks that sounded especially good live were Anakin's Theme and Across the Stars (Love Theme from Star Wars: Episode II). These themes usually get overpowered by more exciting ones, like Dual of the Fates or the Main Theme; but in a live setting, sequenced at the right time, these themes take on a life of their own. I always like how Williams alluded to Darth Vader's theme in Anakin's Theme.

All in all, seeing this show was well worth it. I recommend this for anyone who's a fan of these movies or likes symphonic music.


There are a couple of historical notes about the Star Wars soundtrack that show how important the music was to the film

First, during the 1970s most films didn't include symphonic soundtracks. If you go back and listen to many of those movies, you'll hear bands or minimal compositions. George Lucas knew that Star Wars needed the majesty of a full symphony orchestra to help propel the film.

Second, I read a story that Lucas showed Star Wars to an audience of friends, including Francis Ford Coppola, without the soundtrack (it wasn't done yet). Evidently, everyone who watched the film thought that it was a disaster. But Lucas must have known that the soundtrack that John Williams was writing was his secret weapon. 


Here are some photos of the exhibit and the characters wandering around the exhibit:

 StarWars 022 StarWars 023 StarWars 024 StarWars 025 StarWars 026  StarWars 028 StarWars 029 StarWars 030 StarWars 031 StarWars 032 StarWars 033  StarWars 035 StarWars 036 StarWars 037 StarWars 038 StarWars 039 StarWars 040 StarWars 041 StarWars 042  StarWars 044 StarWars 045

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posted by AndyO @ 11:01 AM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, May 01, 2009

When equipment fails the drummer

As Chris Mess blasted through the four-song opener at the High Dive, I thought things were going pretty well. My playing felt good. The large crowd was responding positively. Time, which usually runs by quickly on stage, seemed to slow down.

highdive042909 When we reached the part of the set when we play a cover -- Bowie's Suffragette City on this night -- Chris invited his girlfriend Mary on stage to sing ("Hey, Man!").

The crowd responded enthusiastically.

Then we moved to the quiet part of the set, starting with a song called Oleada by Julieta Venegas (lyrics in Spanish). When I stepped on my right bass drum pedal, it went down  to the floor and didn't bounce back. I tried a few more times. No dice. So I played the entire song using my left bass drum pedal (it's a double-bass pedal).

Once the song was over, I told Chris I needed to fix my pedal. He tried to entertain the crowd. After a few seconds I realized I couldn't fix the pedal. The chain that connected to the foot plate was broken.

Normally, this would be a drummer's worst nightmare. But I came prepared.

I ran offstage and grabbed my single chain-drive Camco pedal from my gear bag. As I tried to attach the pedal to the bass drum, I realized it was missing the wing nut that would make this possible. I slid the pedal under the bass drum, hoping it would stay there. Then, when I tried to play the pedal, there was hardly any response.

Now this was becoming a drummer's worst nightmare.

We started playing Bossa Nova, and the first few measures were punctuated with mistakes caused by me trying to adjust to the poor feel of the replacement pedal. (It was at this point I realized I would have been better off leaving the double pedal on and trying to play with my left foot.)

I struggled through the song and realized that there was no way I could play No Joke, an up-tempo punk song, with this pedal. When I got Chris's attention to tell him this, he said we couldn't play it anyway due to time constraints. So we launch into our final song -- a Cheap Trick cover, Southern Girls.

We finished our set. I was angry.

I guess I thought I was prepared, and I was angry that it hadn't been good enough. I mean, at every gig I bring two snare drums, two bass drum pedals, extra drum heads in the car -- even a small drill with a drum key bit to help me fix a broken head more quickly.

But now, as they say, it became very clear:  When it comes down to it, you really only need a few drums and hardware to play a show:

  • One drum throne
  • One bass drum (with pedal)
  • One snare
  • One ride or ride/crash cymbal
  • One optional crash cymbal

Everything else is non-essential. It's nice to be able to play drum fills on two or three tom-toms, and use an open or closed hi-hat or different crash cymbals to color the song. But it's not essential.

As an example of this principle, William Cremin, the drummer in the headlining band, Tim & the Time Machines, had only a hi-hat, snare drum, bass drum, and floor tom. I was impressed with the sounds he got out of his kit -- though it's worth noting that this band had six members (as opposed to Chris Mess's three), including acoustic guitar, bass, glockenspiel, keyboard, and cello (yes, cello at a rock show).

This meditation on being prepared doesn't mean I'll bring fewer drums or cymbals to gigs; it just means I'm going to be better prepared and not worry about the non-essential drums breaking anymore.


Show details:

High Dive, Wed., April 29
9 p.m. Chris Mess http://www.myspace.com/chrismessrocks
10 p.m. Mighty Shiny http://www.myspace.com/mightyshiny
11 p.m. Doctor Doctor http://www.myspace.com/doctordoctorlovesface
12 a.m. Tim & the Time Machines http://www.myspace.com/theuniverse

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posted by AndyO @ 9:13 PM   0 comments links to this post

Monday, June 02, 2008

Rush at Clark County Amphitheater - 6/1/08

For my final Rush show on the Snakes & Arrows tour, I went with my brother and his girlfriend Helen. They picked me up around 2:00, and we drove straight to the amphitheater (only stopping off at Wendy's and a rest stop). As usual, Erik and I talked (Helen wanted to sleep in the back).

When we got to Clark County, three or so hours later, I stepped out into surprisingly cold air. I'd worn shorts, and I was trying to decide whether to put on my sweats. Instead, I just put on a North Face jacket, and then we walked to the venue.

Even though we had an hour or so before the show started, I ended up passing the time quickly by talking to friends. Monica told me that Ray had talked to Howard, Rush's lighting director, about the Gorge show the night before. Howard said that it had been a very difficult concert for the crew, and that he'd lost a bunch of lights and lasers due to the wind. He said that instead of going to the after-show party with the crew, he ended up going right to bed. He was looking forward to playing the show at Clark County.

Set 1

When the show started, Geddy came out wearing a long coat. He also had a scarf wrapped around his neck. Seeing this made me feel even colder than I already was. The band sounded great, and at close range they looked like they were having fun.

Geddy and Neil at Clark County - photo by Monica Z

Almost right away, Alex acknowledged a group of guys standing in front of me, many of whom were wearing golf gear. (I'm guessing that he'd gone golfing with them during the day -- or at least seen them on the course.)

I spent some time pointing things out to Helen, as this was her first Rush concert. She seemed genuinely amazed at all the stuff going on, and recognized a bunch of the songs

As with every show at Clark County, the shortest man in the venue ended up standing behind Erik, who stands at 6 feet 7. The problem was, he really couldn't stand behind Helen or me, as we both stand at or over 6 feet. Somehow, he ended up moving down his row where he could see better. In general, people seemed to be moving around quite a bit.

During the intermission, I walked up to the restroom with my friend Keith, and we talked about what we'd been doing since we'd last seen each other. As we were standing in the mile-long line at the restroom, we saw a bunch of security people and finally Sheriff's deputies run into the bathroom. I never did see them pull someone out, but it sure looked exciting.

Monica told me that Steve had been shut down from taking pictures by Michael Mossbach, Rush's security director. He found it odd that he was the only one Michael targeted, as everyone around them was either taking pictures or video (or holding signs that blocked the view).

Set 2

During the second set, I wasn't getting any warmer. In fact, I think the temperature dropped into the low 50s (F). Geddy continued to wear the long coat and the scarf across his neck.

I noticed a lot of activity off the stage, with Rush security people scanning the audience. They seemed to be pointing right at me, although I wasn't taking any pictures or doing anything other than air drumming (when appropriate, of course). Sure enough, Michael inched by me and then waited behind a guy who was taking pictures. Then he tapped him on the shoulder, and, from what I could tell, erased every picture the guy had taken. What was odd was this guy was with the golf guys that Alex had acknowledged, and was wearing a backstage pass on his shirt.

When the band played Witch Hunt, I saw Geddy warming his hands on the fire, which I thought was funny. But I have to admit the heat felt pretty good. As the band got closer to the end of the show, some other interesting things happened.

Neil Peart at Clark County - Photo by Monica Z

During One Little Victory, Neil seemed to miss the hi-hat downbeat he plays along with the double-bass. He ended up switching the beat around until he found the downbeat. What was strange was at the end of the song, he did the same thing. It almost sounded like he was bored and trying to find a new way to play the beat.

During YYZ, Alex made some big boo-boos. During the chorus, he started on a wrong note. He looked back at Neil, who was laughing at him. He kept making self-deprecating gestures to the audience -- like holding his nose as if to acknowledge his poor playing.

Making Memories

This show marks the end of my Snakes & Arrows tour. The band is going on to play many more shows, but between the 2007 and 2008 tours I've seen Rush nine times -- including my first ever Toronto shows and Ottawa. I remember when I used to see these guys once every two years.

People always ask me why I attend so many shows, and I guess the simplest answer is that Rush's music makes me happy. It reminds me of why I picked up the drum sticks. It inspires me. It gives me an excuse to travel to places I've never been, and see friends I haven't seen in a while. There aren't too many things that can do that for me.

So, for those who want to know, here were my favorite shows on the tour:

  1. Toronto 2 (2007)
  2. Phoenix (2008)
  3. Clark County (2008)
  4. White River (2007)
  5. The Gorge (2008)
  6. Toronto 1 (2007)
  7. Vancouver B.C. (2008)
  8. Clark County (2007)
  9. Ottawa (2007)

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posted by AndyO @ 11:30 PM   23 comments links to this post

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Rush at the Gorge - 5/31/08

I wasn't originally going to take Cameron to the Gorge show, but then I ended up buying some box seat tickets that someone advertised at work. This would allow Cameron to be able to see over the crowd, as the box seats were elevated behind the floor seats.

On the day of the concert, Cameron and I met Monica and Ray (who had flown in from New York) at Monica's house. A light rain was falling, so I brought my rain jacket. We piled in Monica's car and drove off to Eastern Washington.

Ray had never been to the eastern side of the state. We drove over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 through a dramatic mountain landscape. Seeing that familiar road through Ray's eyes made me appreciate it more than usual.

Descending from the mountains, we passed from the sea of green trees into the pale desert of Eastern Washington -- finally turning off at Ellensburg. This city, home to Central Washington University, was usually a place where I stopped off for food, gas, or a bathroom break, but this time Monica wanted to drive the back roads to Ginkgo Petrified Forest. In all my trips from Seattle to the Tri-Cities (where I grew up), I'd never traveled this back road of rolling hills, sagebrush, volcanic rocks, and wind farms.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest

I had stopped at Ginkgo Petrified Forest only one other time, when I was a kid. From what I found out at the interpretive center, it was formed about 15 million years ago when ancient forests were covered with volcanic ash, which gradually replaced the tree trunks with minerals in the groundwater. The petrified trunks were protected by basalt, until the Missoula floods eroded the basalt at the end of the last ice age. These petrified trees weren't discovered until 1927, and when they were done excavating them in 1938 they had discovered 50 species of trees on the site -- including (you guessed it) a ginkgo tree.

We watched a movie about the discovery of these petrified trees, and enjoyed the stunning view of the Columbia River from the visitor's center.

Welcome to the Gorge

After Ginkgo, we drove on the last leg of our journey to the Gorge, near George, Washington. Now, I'll be the first to say that the Gorge is not my favorite place to watch a concert. Except for the backdrop of the Columbia River Gorge, it's out in the middle of nowhere, and the facilities (parking, bathrooms) are sub-par. But the other thing I'd forgotten about -- until we pulled up around 6:00 p.m. -- was that Eastern Washington wind. This is the kind of wind that can blow you over, as my son tried to illustrate several times. It's also the kind of wind that can blow speaker cabinets and lights all over the place.

Cameron and I found our box seats, and we talked with the other people sitting there (a father and his daughter). We soon found out that we had some special VIP amenities that came with our box seats, like a private restaurant called the Cliffhouse that had (gasp!) real bathrooms! We also had our own waiters. I ordered a $15 dinner (sandwich, chips, drink). Cameron didn't want a sandwich -- he wanted popcorn and a pretzel, which we got from the good old concession stand.

Then we waited for the show to start, while the wind continued to howl.

Set 1: Swinging speaker cabinets

The band started pretty close to their 8:00 p.m. start time, and from the first note you could tell that this would be a very different Rush show.

Those swinging speaker cabinets caused the sound to fade in and out and lose clarity and power (at least from our seats). When they turned on the fog machine, the fog dissipated across the stage in a thin, violent stream -- losing any kind of effect that the band had intended.

Yet, the band soldiered on. Alex continued to look up nervously at the speaker cabinets and lights through the entire show, while Geddy and Neil seemed energized by the elements. When Geddy first talked to the audience, he said something about possibly "being blown off the stage."

I watched the lighting operators riding the rigs like bullriders, and saw the lights and other equipment crashing together high above the band. Whenever the camera showed Neil from above, the image moved back and forth like he was being filmed by drunk cameramen. The lights that usually come down to the stage in "Between the Wheels" and "Limelight," didn't really move on this night.

Set 2

By the time the second set started, the wind kept howling. Cameron, who had been dreading the explosion in "Far Cry," was a little disappointed when there were no sparks to go along with the explosion. God knows what would have happened if those sparklers had gone off with the wind.

When Geddy introduced "The Way the Wind Blows," he said it was apropos given how hard the wind was blowing on this particular night.

When it came time for Neil's solo, I have to say it was one of the finest I've seen him play on this tour -- or ever. I don't know if he was inspired or what, but he played some amazing beats in the improvised section on the high tom-toms. He also seemed to add some new fills in his "Drum Also Waltzes" African section.

As for the crowd at this show, they were enthusiastic. But there were a few problems. First, there were the guys in last row on the floor standing on their chairs (and security only telling them once to get down). Then there was the father and his son in the box seats directly below us, standing and rocking out.

Finally, there was the asshole who threw a glow stick from the grass area from about 200 feet above us. It happened during "Spindrift," when I was looking through my binoculars. I saw a green flash out of the corner of my left eye. When I looked up at the light, I knew it was a glow stick -- and it was moving at Mach 2! I moved my head slightly and the stick just missed me. Cameron nudged me and said, "Did you know that glow stick almost hit you? It almost hit me, too!" I started thinking about what I would have done had that glow stick hit Cameron or me. I think one of us would have been hurt pretty bad, as it had been thrown from at least 200 feet above us. Now I had another reason to hate the Gorge.

In the end, it was quite a concert. Despite the sound problems caused by the wind, I thought the band played exceptionally well -- and there was that drum solo.

On the way back to Seattle, first Cameron conked out, and then Ray. And then it was up to me to keep Monica awake as we drove through the mountains and finally into the Seattle area.

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posted by AndyO @ 11:38 PM   3 comments links to this post

Friday, May 30, 2008

Rush at GM Place - Vancouver, B.C. - 5/29/08

This was my second show on the 2008 leg of the Snakes & Arrows tour. The first was in Phoenix, AZ, at the outdoor Cricket Pavilion. This time, it was at the indoor GM Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, with my wife and eight-year-old son, Cameron. We drove to Vancouver from Seattle, which is about a 3-1/2 hour drive. Unfortunately, it took much longer, due to traffic leading into the George Massey tunnel as well as the construction on Cambie street.

Vancouver culture

After we parked, we walked to GM Place to pick up my tickets from Will Call (yes, I lost them so I had to get replacements). Then we walked around the venue so I could show Cameron Neil's bus. Cameron felt a little nervous, as if Neil was going to pop out and tell us to leave.

After that, we went to dinner at a mall on Abbot street. The only thing that looked good was Chinese food. Cameron was more interested in going up the gigantic escalators. He dragged his mom up, and then he wanted me to go. I have to admit that with a chronic fear of heights, these escalators made my hands sweat. Of course, Cameron thought that was hilarious.

A different view

The main reason for going to this particular show was so Cameron could sit on the side and see the band (he was upset at White River last year when his view was blocked by people standing in front of him). The seats, twenty or so rows up in section 119, were OK -- but with the new binoculars I purchased on the way up to the show (in Bellingham), I could see a lot of stuff that you don't usually see when you're in front of the band. For instance:

  • Lorne, Neil's drum tech, sits on a drum throne and watches Neil the entire show -- waiting for a problem to happen.
  • Neil goes through a pair of sticks about every 2-3 songs. After each song, he checks the stick for problems. When he's done with a stick, he throws it to Lorne, who places them in a drawer. Neil grabs a new pair of sticks right before Malignant Narcissism and the drum solo.
  • Neil often rests his left foot on his double bass pedal -- even when he's not playing it.
  • Neil's setlist is on his bass drum. (You can see a photo of it here.)
  • Alex's setlist is on his pedal box.
  • The TelePrompTer that Geddy uses for the lyrics scrolls a few lines at a time and then stops. At the end of the lyrics is the next song title.
  • On the last song, all the techs start packing everything up.
  • One of the computers used for mixing (on Alex's side of the stage) is a Windows Vista box. Tony Geranios, Geddy's keyboard tech, has a Mac. The slideshow that plays when he's not using it has personal pictures of the band and other places.
What's that smell?

During this show, the band played at the high level I've seen for most of this tour -- with very few, if any, mistakes. Geddy and Neil seemed particularly fired up. The arena was at about three-quarters capacity. Unfortunately, the place where we sat is where many of the party concert-goers like to sit.

First, I had to explain to Cameron about the pungent smell wafting by us about every 10 minutes. (Later, when I told people in Seattle about the abundance of pot smoking, most said, "What did you expect, you were in Vancouver." I guess I wasn't aware Vancouver was the pot smoking capital of North America.)

A few songs from the end of the first set, an Amazonian woman and her date sat to my right. The guy decided he was going to talk to the woman instead of watch the concert. Usually, this wouldn't matter too much -- but he ended up being louder than the music at times. Then, the woman leaned over and asked who the bass player was. If I'd told her it was Paul McCartney, she probably would have believed me.

A group of teenagers sat in front of us, drinking from whiskey bottles, smoking pot, but not bothering anyone else for the most part. They disappeared after the first set, which leads me to my next topic...

A lapse of security

Security seemed adequate for the first half of the show, stopping fights, nabbing some of those pot smokers or picture takers, and moving people out of the tunnel entrance just to our left. But something happened during the second set. I guess security decided to take a break, because the floor became a much more crowded place. My friends Monica and Steve, standing in the fifth row, said that security did nothing about people who snuck onto the floor in the second set.

During intermission, I waited in the longest food line of all time. By the time I got up to the counter, they had run out of pretzels (and Cam wanted one). I ordered a couple churros instead and got into the arena to hear half of "Far Cry." I decided to wait until after the pyro explosions to walk to my seat.

Setting records on the run

When the show was over, we got out to our car in record time and tore out of the parking lot. We were out of the GM Place neighborhood and driving up Cambie street 10 minutes after the show was over. Cambie street, currently in the middle of being torn apart for a train project, was much easier to navigate at midnight than at 6:00 p.m.

When we got to the U.S. Border, I told the border guard, "We went to the Rush concert." His response: "How was it?" Sometimes these border patrol types can be a little serious (even before 9/11). But two adults and a kid in the back probably don't fit their profile for people bringing contraband across the border.

After Brenda and Cameron fell asleep, I settled into a relaxing drive through northwestern Washington. After we picked up Drew from my brother's house, we got in the door at around 2:15. And I had to get up for work the next day. As I was falling asleep, I was thinking about the lyrics from Dreamline, "We're only at home when we're on the run..."

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posted by AndyO @ 12:35 AM   2 comments links to this post

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rush show 2 in Toronto - 9/22/07

This was the last day on my east coast Rush tour.

Here I was again, in the ACC, sitting with Monica about 15 rows up -- only this time on Geddy's side. The concert hall was filling up fast, and there was a noticeable charge in the air.

Geddy's daughter was once again walking around backstage with all her friends. The last section for the audience on Geddy's side seemed to be reserved for Kyla's schoolmates, as we saw lots of kids and their parents. Behind me, I could hear people talking about what it was like to have Geddy Lee as a parent at your kid's school ("He's just the nicest man," I heard.)

And then the lights went out, the band took to the stage, and they performed the most intense, passionate show I'd seen on the Snakes tour so far (show number five for those who are counting) -- and probably one of the best Rush shows ever for me.

A few notes:

  • When the chefs came out to baste the chickens, there was an entire group right in the front who put on chef hats. The last chef to come out was, we think, the producer of Snakes & Arrows, Nick Raskulinecz.
  • It seemed like it was "guys night out" all around Monica and me. Groups of guys were high-fiving each other every time Rush played one of their big hits.
  • Marijuana smoke seemed more noticeable -- especially during Bangkok. I guess if you're gonna do it, that's the song.
  • The band seemed genuinely pumped up and appreciative of the reception in their home town.
  • During intermission, while I was waiting around in the foyer, I talked to a couple. They happened to be from Seattle, which we all found incredible.
  • Rush played Distant Early Warning even though they'd played it the night before in Ottawa. They did this so the audience could see a different show than the first show in Toronto (yes, many Rush fans go to multiple shows).
  • Lorne Wheaton pulls a "fire blanket" over himself during the pyro in One Little Victory. I'd never noticed that before.
  • Subdivisions once again got one of the biggest ovations from the crowd.

And then it was over.

Here are a few pictures from the last show from my decent digital camera.

Rush performing at the ACC

Rush performing at the ACC

Rush performing Witch Hunt

Rush performing at the ACC

Rush performing at the ACC

Rush performing Distant Early Warning


Acknowledgments and special thanks

Thanks to my good friend Monica for planning this trip and giving me the nudge to go. Here we are enjoying the intermission at the last show:

Monica and me

Also thanks to Ray for all his hospitality in Buffalo, and great conversation in the car. Here's Ray during one of our gas stops somewhere on our trip from Buffalo to Ottawa:


Finally, thanks to the citizens of Toronto.

Toronto at dusk

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posted by AndyO @ 11:21 PM   0 comments links to this post

Ottawa to Toronto - 9/22/07

This was day six of my east coast Rush tour

This morning, while Ray slept in, Monica and I got up and ate a continental breakfast at the Country Inn Suites. Practically everyone in the room had been at the Rush show the night before, including a family with two young girls, whom I'd seen at the show. I thought about how much easier it was to attend a show without your kids.

Snorefest 2007

When we went back upstairs, Ray was already up. Now, it must be said that before we went on this trip Monica told me that Ray was the best snorer she or her husband Steve had ever heard (enough to drive Steve to sleep in the bathtub on one trip). So, I knew I had some serious competition. But then Ray told me, "Andy, you had a gold medal performance last night." I'm not sure if that's an award that I want, but it's always nice to be recognized by one of the best ;-).

Highway 7 to Toronto

We left the hotel a little later and stopped by Tim Horton's again (for Ray), and then we drove out of town. I knew I'd only seen one small part of Ottawa and hoped to return one day to walk around the actual city.

The drive between Ottawa on Toronto on the two-lane Highway 7 was beautiful, with the Fall colors starting to ignite across the countryside. Here are some pictures of what it looked like:

On highway 7 to Toronto

On highway 7 to Toronto

On highway 7 to Toronto

Toronto traffic jam

When we got outside Toronto area, we found out that the road we wanted to take, Don Valley Parkway, was closed. My GPS couldn't seem to figure out any other way to go, so we stopped and asked for directions.

Once we started driving again, we found that we (and the rest of all Toronto drivers) were stuck in a mess of a traffic jam, trying to get into downtown. Ray asked several drivers out the window if there was any other way to get into downtown, and they all said there wasn't. Most of the time we were driving on Danforth street and even passed the famous "Danforth and Pape" crossroad (the name of a section in the Rush instrumental La Villa Strangiato).

Danforth and Pape crossroad

Earlier in the week I'd talked to Ed Stenger, who runs the amazing Rushisaband.com website, about meeting in person. Given that we both run Rush-related websites, we end up periodically talking in e-mail, and I thought it would be fun to meet. But the traffic ended up ruining our initial plans of me getting dropped off at the hotel. I called Ed and told him to meet us at The Spaghetti Factory, which he thought sounded great.

Spaghetti Factory - take two

Ray had called in reservations for a semi-large party of people. It was a good thing, because unlike the night of the first show, the place was packed. After we got our seats, I walked out into the lobby area and found Ed. I actually recognized him from the picture on his website.

Dinner was great again. Monica's friend Heidi joined us, too, whom I'd met at several other Rush shows on the west coast. Ed and I talked "webmaster" shop, and also talked about other shows on the tour -- namely the show he'd seen in Cleveland, which Heidi also attended.

In Toronto, Ed was attending RushCon, and he told us about some of the things he'd learned there. He'd met Sam Dunn, who was filming a documentary about Rush. Dunn's earlier documentary was Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, which I haven't seen yet.

After dinner we walked to the Air Canada Center. Here's a picture of Ed and me standing in front:

Ed Stenger (webmaster of rushisband.com) and me in front of the ACC

Now I was ready for my last 2007 Rush show.

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posted by AndyO @ 10:00 PM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ottawa, Ontario - 9/21/07

This was day five of my east coast Rush tour.

Today, Ray joined Monica and me for our final leg of our journey: Rush shows in Ottawa and Toronto.

Monica and Ray in the front seat As we drove from Buffalo to Syracuse, I sat in the back trying to fix my Palm 700w Smartphone. The day before I had overloaded it by asking it to do too much (GPS, mail, Internet, switching between cell networks in the US and Canada). After talking to Verizon tech support, they told me I probably needed to do a hard reset, which would basically erase all my settings and data. I did the hard reset and got my phone up and running again.

Ottawa, Ontario

By early evening, we arrived in Ottawa at our hotel, the Country Inn Suites. This hotel was definitely a step up from the Day's Inn in Tanawanda and Toronto. It was also popular with Rush fans, as just about everyone walking around wore a Rush shirt or was talking about the show. One guy in the elevator had a "This is my 50th Rush Show" shirt.

After a brief break in the hotel room, we headed out for dinner at a Wendy's and Tim Horton's combo restaurant. I opted for a sandwich at Tim Horton's, as I'd already had a hamburger at McDonald's earlier. After that, it was back to the motel to park our car.

Walking to the show

Instead of driving to the venue, the hotel recommended that we walk, as it was only about a mile away. They said it would be better because it would take us less time to walk back after the show. I was all for getting a little exercise after sitting in the car all day.

Scotiabank Place

At the entrance of Scotiabank Place, we met Monica and Ray's friend B-man. Many Rush fans will know B-man as Bill Banasiewicz, the author of Visions, the first official biography of Rush. (I had met him once before on the Vapor Trails tour at the Scranton, PA, show.) We spent time talking about the first Toronto show. B-man told us about sightseeing around Ottawa, as well as what it was like to take his mom to the Toronto show earlier that week to celebrate show number 300 (she liked it, but he didn't think she'd be going again any time soon). We also talked about the rumors of Rush adding shows in 2008. B-man told Ray that he "needed to talk to Howard Ungerleider" to get the scoop. Ray agreed.

The show

Once inside, Monica and I found that we had amazing seats. Not only were they in the first 12 rows on the floor, but we were right behind a wheelchair row -- with an aisle in front of that row. Ray's seats were a little farther back.

Once the band started, Monica and I kept commenting to each other about how great these seats were. The band played Limelight beautifully, and in The Digital Man near the end, Alex played to a guy standing on the side who looked (I swear) like Santa Claus. It was hilarious to see "Santa" rocking out with Alex.

My view in Ottawa

Throughout the rest of the first set, it became apparent that all the members of Rush were either tired, unfocused, or on autopilot. Geddy called the album "Snakes & Ladders," and before the song Mission he said, "This is Hold Your Fire." The major musical mistake came from Neil in Dreamline, when he went into the first chorus early (the big snare fill). When Geddy called the album by the wrong name, he quickly joked, "Jeez, I'm getting so old I can't even remember the name of the album!"


Ray, B-man, Monica, and I went up to the concession stand, ate popcorn, drank water, and talked about the show. To fans like Ray and Bill, who saw many more shows than the average person, the set we had just seen was a disaster.

Monica and I listened to their complaints, but didn't add much to them. As I'll always say, I'm just happy that Rush is still out touring and sounding great. There are going to be nights when they don't sound quite as good, as that's just the nature of performing. Still, a "bad" night for Rush is still at a higher level than most bands.

Set 2

When the band came back out, they played with a vengeance, ripping through the Snakes & Arrows songs with the usual passion. One thing that Monica and I noticed: During the beginning of The Larger Bowl when Geddy is singing alone, Neil was actively scanning the audience. Neil even wrote on his blog about how much enjoys each audience -- their signs, their faces, etc. -- and this seemed like one of the few times he can just look around at everyone without playing.

By the time Rush got to Subdivisions, the audience had turned up the intensity one or two levels. During The Spirit of Radio, I turned around and watched all those thousands of hands clapping in unison during the chorus -- always an incredible sight.

One problem of being in our primo seats was that the seat moochers tried to stand with us and also break through security standing in front of the first 10 rows. Security did a good job for the most part, except one guy was able to talk his way through at the end of the show. I watched one woman yell into the security guard's ear, backed up, and then gave him a flirtatious look. I can only imagine what she had said, but by the guard's reaction I assumed it was sexual.

In our section, people would just come up and stand behind me, and then I'd back up into them, and they'd look at me like, "Hey, what's the problem, man?" We got them booted as quickly as possible. But this kind of distraction can be a real drag after the tenth or fifteen time.

By the end of the show, Rush had redeemed itself and come up to the level I'd seen at the other three shows. On the way out of the venue, we stopped at the soundboard area. As Ray waited to talk to Howard Ungerleider, as he'd promised B-man, the security guards kept trying to get us to leave. Ray stood his ground. Finally, Ray asked Howard, "What's the story with 2008?"

Howard looked at him and said, "Oh, we're going out for six months in 2008."

We had our confirmation that the band was indeed going back out on tour in 2008. We discussed this news and other aspects of the show on the walk back to the motel. The traffic jam on Palladium Drive was awful, and we were glad not to be stuck in it.

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posted by AndyO @ 11:00 PM   10 comments links to this post

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Toronto - 9/19/07

This was day three of my east coast Rush tour.

I woke up late again, but was excited to go out for a "sit-down" breakfast at Golden Griddle, just across the street from our hotel. Monica and I both got the buffet, because we wanted a little of everything.

Toronto subway and street vendors

IMG_2113After breakfast, we went on the Toronto subway for the first time. We got off at the Union stop, and then walked toward the CN tower. This part of Toronto is home to skyscrapers, hotels, banks, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation headquarters. It was also home to traveling restaurants (vans serving food), from ice cream to hotdogs to "chunky fries."

An artist was just setting up his display on the sidewalk, when I stopped and asked him if he had any Rush pictures. He immediately pulled out two or three matted, charcoal drawings (copies, not originals) of familiar Rush pictures, and said, "Twenty dollar."

I smiled and said, "Maybe later."

"Fifteen dollar," he said.

I smiled again and said, "I'll come back after I do some sightseeing. I don't want to carry it around."

"OK, you first customer today. Only ten dollar!"

I had entered a negotiation without even knowing it, and now he'd cut his price in half! Because I wanted to give Ray a special thank-you for his hospitality in Buffalo (and this picture was certainly a unique Rush artifact), I agreed to "ten dollar."

The CN Tower is Closed

While I'd heard about a power outage earlier in the morning, I didn't know it was affecting downtown Toronto until we walked into a tourist shop and the lady could only take cash (the credit card machine was down). I then noticed all the lights were off, too. It was during our transaction, when I was buying Drew a T-shirt, that the lights came back on. I told the lady, "I guess I'm your lucky charm."

The CN Tower in Toronto Because the power had been out, I realized the CN tower was probably closed, too. Sure enough, there were security guards standing in front of the ticket office, telling people they "would be open soon." I looked up the tower and saw one of the elevators stuck about two-thirds of the way down. I wondered if people had been stuck in there since the power outage began.

Instead of going up the tower, we walked around Rogers field (formally the Toronto Skydome), where the Blue Jays play ball, and looked at the interesting artwork and view toward the water. I especially liked this artwork called "The Audience: Part I":


Toronto waterfront

As we started walking toward the waterfront, I noticed how this part of Toronto reminded me more and more of San Diego, with its harbor and buildings built up against the shoreline of Lake Ontario. I guess the 80-degree F. temperature helped that perception, too. I could understand why people would want to live in this city -- at least during the summer.

Rush busses at the ACC Monica and I found our way to the Air Canada Centre (ACC) to see Rush's buses near the back. We didn't understand that we could walk through the bus area and into the front of the ACC. Instead, we walked back to the subway and rode back to our hotel for a short break.

Parliament building

Our next stop was the Parliament Building, where Rush had shot the cover of their now famous, breakthrough album "Moving Pictures." It's a beautiful building with old-world architecture and details that you don't usually see in cities on the west coast (although Vancouver, B.C. has a few of them).

'Parliment Other Rush fans were also stopping by the building to get their picture of the famed building. Monica took at a picture of two people who had come all the way from Japan to see Rush.

We went in the building and met Janet, a nice woman who worked in the gift shot. We talked for about 15 minutes about the building. She told us about being an extra in the movie Murder at 1600, and getting a speaking role opposite Wesley Snipes. I told her I'd rent the movie to see her at some point.

When I went outside, I found Monica sitting in the shade of a monument. She was talking to her husband on her cell phone. I also sat down with her and tried to call a few people, but had no luck. This was one of the most peaceful moments on the trip for me, sitting there in front of the Moving Pictures building enjoying the warm air.

Walking back from Rosedale

On the way back to our hotel, we decided to ride farther north to the Rosedale stop and then walk back. The mix of new and old architecture along Yonge street was interesting, and something I've only see on the east coast of the U.S.

Talking down Yonge street from Rosdale

Rush in Toronto

Before the show, Monica and I met Ray and another friend Paul at the Spaghetti Factory. I've been to this restaurant chain in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., and this was just as good. There's nothing like spaghetti and meatballs before a concert -- especially when you're really hungry (and I'd been walking all day).

We walked to the ACC and through the tour busses to the front of the building. When we walked in the venue, I was surprised how cold it was (although I wasn't complaining; I always get hot at concerts). We were seated about 15 rows up on Alex's side. From that vantage point, we could see Alex's tech working on all the guitars, adjusting things, etc.

Right before the house lights went down, Geddy's daughter Kyla (I'd seen a picture of her so I recognized her) and a pack of friends went up on the stage and added notes to Alex's Barbie Doll collection (I couldn't see what they were adding). We noticed how people were walking all over the arena with Snakes & Arrows laminates -- friends of the band, or a friend of a friend of the band. As Ray said later, "Laminates were everywhere!"

The lights went down, and Rush launched into their set. I saw that they'd abandoned the shtick with Geddy wiping off his face with a napkin and replaced it with Alex just starting Limelight, and then just waiting for Geddy to get onstage. It seemed to work better without the napkin wiping bit. The band played as well as they had when I'd seen them in July.

Rush in Toronto - 15 rows upThe only problem for us was that we were sitting on an aisle, and every single person sitting in our row and the rows around us was going to get beer every five minutes. There was a guy in front of us with a cane who seemed to keep falling asleep (or passing out), and people in his row would tap him on the shoulder -- sometimes multiple times -- to wake him up so they could go get their beer. A few times he almost fell down the steps as he stood up.

Rush in Toronto - 3 rows up Once intermission came along, Monica and I talked about how bad the distractions were with all the people around us. She noticed that there were rows of seats available right next to the stage, a mere twenty feet from where Alex was standing. We decided to move down. A few people with laminates walked into our row and sat down to watch the show. Nobody told us to move. The only problem was the pyrotechnics during a few songs -- extremely loud and extremely hot that close to the stage!

During one song, a guy behind me yelled into my ear, "What is the guitar player's name?" I told him. Later he asked if he could buy my earplugs (I had brought my expensive ones that weren't for sale).

Alex seemed to have friends or family in the first row next to him, as he kept looking over and smiling. Geddy came over a few times, too.

When Neil played his solo, I took out my earplugs and watched him intently, as usual. I saw him lose his stick on the underside of his ride cymbal during his snare section -- and then he grabbed it before it dropped. Having had this happen to me a few times during a performance, I could only smile with understanding (only I was never playing to 15,000 people). I'm sure hardly anyone noticed.

I've noticed that the better my seats at a concert, the faster the time passes. This was no exception. Soon, the band was playing YYZ, and then the lights came on.

Monica and I took the subway back to the hotel, got some pizza from a place right next door, and talked about the show. I had inadvertently blown out my voice from singing along with the band, but that didn't stop me from talking.

I didn't fall asleep until 2:00 a.m.

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posted by AndyO @ 8:37 PM   0 comments links to this post