Making a new album is what inspired Rush to hit the road in 2010 and continue into this year.
“We’ve never come off tour and then gone straight into the studio when we’re in top playing form,” explains guitarist Alex Lifeson. The Canadian trio had already started working on the forthcoming “Clockwork Angels” with producer Nick Raskulinecz before adding the live dates to the mix.
“We usually finish a tour and then we take some time off and we slowly get back into writing and then into the studio, recording. So rather than being attached to this whole big project at once, to do it piecemeal is actually a lot of fun.”
But while Rush has a couple of new songs, “Caravan” and “BU2B,” to play for its fans, the real lure of the Time Machine Tour is that the group is playing its 1981 album “Moving Pictures” in its entirety, celebrating the 30th anniversary of its top-selling release and its enduring hit single, “Tom Sawyer.”
Lifeson, who co-founded Rush 43 years ago in Toronto with singer-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee, credits Neil Peart, Rush’s drummer and lyricist since 1974, with the “Moving Pictures” idea. “He’d been hearing about some bands, specifically Steely Dan, who were doing different albums on different nights,” the guitarist notes. “He thought that was a great idea.
“And one of our songs, ‘The Camera Eye,’ has probably been the top song on our request list from fans for several years. So it really gives us an opportunity to include that in the set and present it with the whole album. Much of that material we’ve been playing for a long time, anyway, so it wasn’t that difficult to fit it all in, and it’s working really well.”
Though Rush has had various moments in the commercial rock spotlight during its career, “Moving Pictures” does represent the pinnacle. The album hit No. 1 in Rush’s homeland and No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, and it’s certified quadruple platinum in both the U.S. and Canada. “Tom Sawyer” — which was famously “covered” on the cartoon “South Park” — and “Limelight” both appeared in the Billboard Hot 100, while the instrumental track “YYZ” was nominated for a Grammy Award.
A special anniversary edition of the album, with video bonus material, was recently released.
“That (album) took us up to the next level,” says Lifeson (né Zivojinovich), 57. “After the release of that album, we were headlining everywhere we were going, and our audiences increased by a large percentage. It just gave us that much of a push forward.”
And having an enduring hit like “Tom Sawyer,” he adds, “was pretty unusual. We’re not really known for our hit singles. We’ve had a few songs through the years that have done well at radio, but nothing like ‘Tom Sawyer.’ And it certainly has had great legs; here we are 30 years later, and that’s still probably our best-known song.”
The “Moving Pictures” celebration comes on the heels of last year’s “Beyond the Lighted Stage,” an acclaimed documentary of Rush’s career by directors Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen. Lifeson says he, Lee and Peart are still surprised by the film’s success but are happy they gave the green light for the project.
“We kinda know how boring we are, or just sort of ordinary, and we weren’t sure that they’d have anything that would be particularly exciting,” he explains. “When you live it, you don’t think about it. It’s your life. It’s what you do. You don’t think it’s really that big of a deal.
“But when you see it laid out in this way, we understood more clearly the power that the film has. It’s been really illuminating.”
Amidst the trips through its past, however — which included a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and lifetime achievement awards from Billboard and Classic Rock magazines in 2010 — Rush is also focused on the future and “Clockwork Angels.”
He says “Caravan” and “BU2B” are “pretty heavy indications of where the record’s going,” but he adds that “there are a lot of different tonalities and soundscapes in the material we’ve written so far” that will be showcased on the album, Rush’s first of new material since 2007’s “Snakes & Arrows.”
The group is expected to get back into the studio again this summer, after the latest leg of the Time Machine Tour and in what Lifeson expects to be good form from being back on the road.
“We’ve just been feeling really fresh and reinvigorated,” he says. “We had almost two years ... off, and it was great to get away from it and do a lot of other things and not really think about the band and music and all this other stuff that’s been going on in the background with us.
“But playing and being on tour, we’re all really, really excited again, and I’m sure we’ll bring that back into the studio with us.”
Rush performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $50.50-126. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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