Stephen Colbert interrupts Rush, sleeps during Tom Sawyer



Flipping to Comedy Central tonight [Wed. June 16], I was stunned to see all three members of Canadian rock trio Rush (and all their gear) doing a rendition of “Tom Sawyer” on The Colbert Report. The host rarely brings full bands onto the set — and when he does, it’s usually someone more mainstream or current.

As it turns out , this was Rush’s first U.S. television performance since playing on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1975 (during their long hair and Chinese robe days).

Colbert jumped in from of the band during the big drum break of “Tom Sawyer” to thank the band and go to a commercial, but they played on (singer/bassist Geddy Lee almost cracked up). Coming back from the break, Colbert donned a nightcap, grabbed a blanket and pillow, and went to sleep on deck as the song hit its conclusion.

I will admit it: I’ve been a dedicated Rush fan for 25 years. My dad bought me my first snare drum the same year Canadian prog-rock trio Rush released its finest album, 1981’s Moving Pictures. I was still fiddling around with paradiddles and flams, trying to figure out the best way to grip the drumsticks when the album’s three major hits — “Tom Sawyer,” nostalgic and tuneful “Red Barchetta” and elegant “Limelight” — were landing on the rock radio airwaves.

Rush caught my ear. The music sounded heavy and serious. Lee’s crackly, high-pitched voice worked in extreme registers and was frightening and earnest. Alex Lifeson’s guitar and Lee’s bass ground simultaneously. It sounded like a machine, devoid of superfluity. Most important to my impressionable ears, Neil Peart’s fiery drumming was a study in precision, dynamics and control.

I didn’t catch the band live until the summer of 2002, when they toured through the South. I caught the concert at the enormous Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte, arriving right at 8:30 p.m. Rush had already started its first set. I could hear the middle verses of “Vital Signs” off of side-two of Moving Pictures as I hustled up to the entrance. It sounded crystal clear — the cleanest, most balanced sound mix I’d ever heard at a large-scale concert.

Lee often hopped around while plucking his Fender Jazz bass (he played on three similar models throughout the set ... no Rickenbacker, though) while Lifeson sauntered around with a goofy smile or a grimace on his face.

Highlights included “Natural Science,” a complex, somewhat obscure winner from Permanent Waves; the flamboyant instrumental “YYZ” from Moving Pictures; the eerie, rumbling sounds from the intro to side one of 1976’s 2112; the grand guitar intro to “Limelight;” the lengthy instrumental tour de force “La Villa Strangiato;” and the three-song encore of “By-Tor & The Snow Dog” from Fly By Night, “Cygnus X-1” from Caress Of Steel, and the hard-rocking “Working Man” from the self-titled debut album.

Rush returns to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Charlotte on Sun, July 20 at 7:30 p.m. I hope they open with “Tom Sawyer" — and dedicate it to Colbert!

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