A Rush Fan Commits Heresy – Clockwork Angels Tour Review

‘Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten through the lapse of Time.’ – Aristotle

It must be hard to be an aging lead singer. I remember first noticing how the toils of time can wear on a singer’s voice when watching The Who perform ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ from their 1989 Tommy reunion tour. Daltrey was forced to cut short his money shot at the very last refrain (“Loooooooooooooooove!”) as well as drop it an octave – there was just no way 45 year old Daltrey could hit the notes that his 28 year old self could.

It’s also hard in face of technical prowess – even aging rockstars can keep their chops in shape and stay in form. Case in point: Geddy Lee is still one goddam badass bass player. Sure, Lifeson and Peart are still great, but Lifeson was never truly flashy, and Peart is beginning to sag a bit. But Lee is still in top form, which the new Rush video Clockwork Angels Tour clearly demonstrates. If you want to see a band at the peak of its skills nearly 40 years along, there is no better place to go than Rush: pulling from their extensive back catalog (yet strangely focusing on 1985′s Power Windows, to my delight) as well as performing most of their recent Clockwork Angels album, the band is still in top form, with an extensive light and video show, a high-end stage production, and even a string section to complement the new material. All in all, the band is just running on all cylinders. Except…

When The Police and Genesis reunited for their world tours in 2007-2008, it was clear that Sting and Phil Collins were no longer the singers they used to be, and they dropped the keys on many songs to accommodate their limited vocal range. Rather than try to force the songs they couldn’t sing and have them come out strained or off-key, they opted to change the songs to fit their aging voice. Geddy Lee needs to seriously think about doing this same thing.

I would guess that no criticism of Lee’s voice would phase him at this point. Having endured a lifetime of negative feedback for his screeching voice, and yet still coming out on top as one of the most influential and lasting rock bands ever, he has earned the right to say a big “fuck you” to anyone who thought his voice wasn’t strong enough to carry the band. And I agree – his voice is one of the reasons Rush is so unique and special, and Lee has earned the right to disregard everyone who tried to make his voice into a liability.

But now here we are, with Lee just turning 60 years old, and, really, his voice just ain’t cutting it anymore. This became horribly obvious on their previous tour video, Time Machine, in which they played the entire Moving Pictures album. In what should have been the quintessential Rush performance, Lee strained to hit many of the notes, which are now well out of his range, and the results range from head-shaking to cringe-inducing. In the end, I can’t even listen to that record anymore because he misses so many of the notes so consistently.

Now, some of that is due to the specific night the band plays and the strength and power of Lee’s voice on that particular night. It also depends on the songs and where the melodies Lee sings fall into in his now-limited range. I watched the new Clockwork Angels Tour video with hesitation, hoping that Lee was having a better night and overall tour when they recorded this video in Dallas. As mentioned, everything else about the video is a near-perfect experience for a Rush fan (the perfect experience being actually attending the show). But once again, Lee’s voice is the sole liability, and, on about half the tracks, it’s just too obvious to ignore.

And it’s not like they’re playing super old stuff – 80s songs like “Force Ten” and “The Body Electric” are just in that sweet spot (or should I say sour spot) just outside of Lee’s current range, and he really has to strain to his many notes. Even some of the new material (like my personal favorite “Clockwork Angels”) has some notes that are just hard for Lee to hit. In all, about a third of the songs that would otherwise be excellent renditions are impacted by Lee’s inability to sing his parts.

At this point, Rush has earned the right to do things however they want. Ever since they kicked off the latest ten years of their career, they have solidified their reputation as the “world’s biggest cult band,” with three excellent studio records, extensive world tours, a heartwarming and honest documentary of their career, and final acceptance by the establishment (which they didn’t really need) by their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Forty years on, Rush is still delivering the goods, and we fans have very little to complain about.

I just wish there were some way to get Lee and the boys to change the keys of the songs. Perhaps it’s just not possible (or it’s too much work) with their intricate arrangements. Or perhaps the band is locked in a George Lucas-like box of denial where it’s the elephant in the room (like Jar Jar Binks) that no one talks about. Or maybe Lee just doesn’t give a shit about it because he doesn’t have to. Rush fans are extremely loyal lot, and we’re going to continue to show up in droves as long as Rush keeps touring. After a lifetime of proving that his voice was his voice, no one else’s, and having the band become successful despite what everyone else said, maybe Lee is content to just keep singing the way he always has, limited vocal range be damned.

Even so, I just hope it doesn’t get any worse. Not that will stop me from buying their albums or seeing them on tour…

26 thoughts on “A Rush Fan Commits Heresy – Clockwork Angels Tour Review

  1. Wow … I thought it was just me that noticed it, as nobody else ever seemed to comment on it. I even Googled to see if he had suffered some sort of throat ailment. I love Rush … Will always love them … And will continue to buy every album and see every tour but, yeah, Geddy’s voice is not what it once was.

  2. Wow Geddy Lee at 60 cannot hit the notes like when he was 30….just genius. They should replace ‘Discovery’ on 2112 with this article :-)

  3. I agree.

    I had the idea that Rush could hire a tribute band to open for them and play the songs that have gotten a bit out of Geddy Lee’s range.

    Or several tribute bands. (There are scores of them.) You could have a band that did their early stuff, while wearing flowing robes and sporting long hair with handlebar mustaches . . . that would be so cool!

    I just watched my DVD of the Clockwork Angels tour (I saw their final show in Kansas City Missouri) and was mesmerized by “The Garden.” I think that song, performed live . . . with the music and the video woven so nicely together . . . is is their acme. I could watch them play that song on a loop.

    I’ve had all their live shows on VHS tapes and DVDs, and this, by far, was the best directed and produced. And the band could not have been better.

  4. I have to agree! The song “middle town” on the clock work angles video I was troubled by the vocals on there it really sounds like he was straining on that one! I love that song! I am a huge fan of their newer stuff and power windows is on my iPod In heavy rotation along with CWA,But yeah I have noticed problems with his voice on the last video time machine. I just hope these 3 hour shows are not the culprit! Just think of playing 3hr shows like 3to 5 days a week it would have to be rough. I sure hope they take some time off before touring again! I love their new music and hope they continue to write and tour!! I speak only as a concerned fan and a musician who has been inspired by their music in life and play!

  5. I didn’t have a problem with Mr Lee s voice. Yes they are older but ability wise can you show me a current band outside of Prog Metal that can play like that for 3 hours? My only issue is that the first set is too 80s. As much as that was the Rush I grew up with a lot of the stuff on Power Widows and Hold Your Fire is weak compared to other albums. I’d have preferred a more conservative first set to be honest with you.

  6. I have to totally agree with the author of the article. As a lifelong RUSH fan, the vocal on the latest album were nowhere near what we expected,

    And as you say, it was clear that some songs are no longer within his range.

    Will still buy the albums, as always.. but something has definitely changed… perhaps the band should re-consider certain songs….

  7. All I would say to this review is “so”???

    That people age?

    I’m more in awe of the fact that at 60 he and his mates have the will , desire and creative energy to still give enough of a damn to put out such a work. I mean have you heard Jagger or Sting and even Bono lately?
    Father Time gets us all my friend and as fan who appreciates the passion by which Rush continues to exude. I feel being a critic of someone or thing I could never come close to being able to do in my life is not my inclination. We are all passing through this existence and I dwell on the positive experiences as maybe we all should.
    I would in good spirit highly recommend that you relisten to the last 2 songs of CA. Wish Them Well and a The Garden and rethink the energy you expended penning your critique. Seriously,what was your point? That people age ?

  8. you know, you are entirely correct. I didn’t go to the time machine tour, just because I didn’t want to hear him try to sing MP. I’d heard most of that record in the early 80s at 5 different shows, so I saw no point. That tour was about making money. I did get the bluray but I never watch it. It’s embarrassing. It’s really too bad with all the recognition they’ve received, long overdue, but I can’t listen to rush when my wife is home. She says his voice sounds like shit, on some songs I can’t disagree. I ‘ve been telling my fellow rushians for several years, I ‘d like to see a show where they only do songs in geddy’s current range. how nice would that be. I know they’ve already dropped some songs keys. they sound very bottom heavy on some songs because of that. I don’t think a key change is enough. he needs to change the octaveor the melody or something. or just not sing songs he can’t sing anymore. or get a singer in the band. I saw the recent version of Boston and they have a kid that sings better than Brad ever did , with all due respect to Brad.

  9. rich the point is there are ways to deal with it. ignoring it isn’t going to make the performances any better. this is constructive and worth reading

  10. but you’re comment about neil – you must be kidding he hasn’t lost a thing, and the dig at Alex was stupid. He’s playing better than he ever has. If it wasn’t for the effects of aging on a singers voice, rush performances today would be absolutely perfect.

  11. I have seen Rush on every tour they have done since Grace Under Pressure came out. Sure Geddy can’t hit the notes he used to, but their performances are still better than 99% of the other bands touring today. I saw Genesis on their last tour, and the songs just didn’t sound right tuned down. It still sticks out like a sore thumb for me when they play 2112 tuned down, so I would rather see them play the songs in the key that they were written in and have Geddy do his best than have them adjust them. Either way, I will see them on every tour they do (multiple shows) until they decide to stop…best band ever!

  12. You’re also taking the past two DVDs and implying that that’s what the entirety of both tours sounded like. The vocals on Time Machine weren’t great because Ged was sick as heck in Cleveland. I was at the show in Hershey, PA about a week prior to that, and it was the best-sounding RUSH show out of the eight I’ve seen.

    Same thing with the CA tour; I saw them in Bridgeport and Buffalo about a month and a half before they recorded in Dallas/Phoenix, and both were great (Bridgeport especially).

    Has Ged lost a bit in the vocal department? Absolutely. Age and wear will do that. Should they retire ‘Overture/Temples’? Most likely. But he still sounds pretty good to me, especially on songs like The Garden, Headlong Flight, Analog Kid, Grand Designs, and Far Cry.

    • That’s a fair point, and perhaps drives at my whole review; at the end of the day, the vocals are going to be the most inconsistent part of any aging rock band, and it’s going to be hit or miss how it comes out. I also agree that seeing them in person changes the perspective of the listener, and that his vocals don’t seem to bother me as much when I see the show live. And Geddy can still rock more at 60 than most people will ever do in their entire life. So there’s that.

  13. Leave Geddy”s gracefully aging voice alone. Sure he cant rip out the great early vocals as he once did, But I still love him and RUSH. And the writer of the above article either praises them or kicks them in the nuts, make up your mind.

  14. The author’s observation is spot on. The band is aware they are aging and cannot continue indefinitely. They will continue until something forces them to stop, and it is pretty clear that at the current rate, Geddy’s voice is the limiting factor. In my opinion, Geddy is not so much missing notes as he is slurring the lyrics to avoid singing in full voice. I have little doubt the band is aware of this liability. I agree with commenter Steve above – they will likely start retiring the difficult vocal songs from their live set. Also to the author, “faze” not “phase”.

    • I mostly agree. I do think there are points where he misses notes, but for the most part it’s the warbling and the slurring that makes me cringe. Rush have always been, and always will be, my favorite band. But we all knew his voice wasn’t going to last forever. One of the worst moments for me is any time they’ve played Limelight in the past ~10 years, when he sings “Those who wish to be…”. Every single time it makes me cringe.

  15. Finally got around to watching this DVD last night. Overall, I think it’s very good – a great companion / memento of the shows I attended. Alex is in great form throughout, except during Tom Sawyer where the tomfoolery undoes him…finally! Neil is metronomically perfect (as always) and Geddy is pretty awesome. The caveat is that Ged’s voice is not up to scratch on some songs. Just have to be honest enough to accept that. At this stage it is to be expected. However, as a package this concert was pretty darned fine: excellent presentation, lighting, effects, strings etc. Rush are not perfect but they are still the best and I loved this setlist to boot!

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