Snakes, Arrows and Tours
Summer is here, and my tour addiction continues. Not going on tour (although that would be nice), but following tours. Depending on the band, a tour can be essentially the same piece of music played five or six nights a week for two months or so, or a different piece of music each night. Even the same music becomes different as venues and seasons change. And in each case, the music grows from the nightly exercise, and the statements made say much about the nature of each band.
It says a bit about my tour addiction that this year I am paying attention to Rushs Snakes & Arrows outing. Since I started listening to music, my tastes have leaned towards bands that knew some things about playing their instruments, and so I bought a Rush album or two back in the 80s. However, they didnt hook me in, and despite giving them points for skill and perseverance, I wrote their music off as the training-wheels version of the real stuff.
However, Neil Peart hit upon the tour theme and caught my interest, not with his drumming, but with his books. Ghost Rider chronicles a tour of sorts not a Rush trip, but a lengthy solo motorcycle trek Peart took in the wake of his daughter and wife dying. More recently, there has been Roadshow, this time finding him back with Rush and making his way along back roads between shows. Both books indulge a bit much in stories of restaurant meals and hotel rooms, but capture journeys well nonetheless the new stories around each corner, the lessons learned about ones music and ones self, the magic shows and the gigs best forgotten, the pleasures of travel shadowed by the longing for home.
As a result, I have turned some attention to his bands music. Snakes & Arrows wraps crunching guitars (which Ive gathered is now Rushs stock in trade rather than the odd meter hooks of their heyday or the new wave synth experiments of the 80s) around Pearts comments on religion and world affairs. One day I feel I’m on top of the world/And the next it’s falling in on me is a sentiment with a modesty Ive missed when trying to come to terms with the more recent crop of bands who know how to play their instruments (Tool, Mars Volta). The Larger Bowl uses a simple, effective acoustic guitar line to support an equally simple point (such a lot of pain on the earth), which may be why their label is reportedly marketing the song to country stations (look out, Tim McGraw). However, the booklet mentions that this song is a pantoum, and I must acknowledge that its not every day that a band focused on its instruments also knows enough about words to make me check a dictionary.
This CD leaves me ambivalent, but intrigued. I suspect some fans might share this reaction, and Rush (scoring a point for courage in my book) is testing the CDs mettle by playing nine out of its thirteen songs this summer alongside the chestnuts. The fans may reach some conclusions by the end of this tour, as will the band, and there will probably be evidence of this in the next tour. In the meantime, the one document Ive heard of this tour so far (from its opening night in Atlanta) captures the ambience of summer tours, with the bands high-pitched, guitar-magazine-friendly take on Summertime Blues wafting through the air, standing as the most broadly crowd-pleasing moment in three hours of video intros, new songs and old hits.
Summer is nearly over, but there will still be opportunities to feed the tour addiction. As certain currently-defunct bands proved more than once in the nineties, music doesnt suffer from moving indoors.