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Rush concert film gets Chicago-area screenings ahead of DVD release

Rush guitarist Alex Lifesperforms First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre Tinley Park earlier this year. | PHOTO BY JEFF ELBEL

Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson performs at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park earlier this year. | PHOTO BY JEFF ELBEL

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‘Rush: Clockwork Angels Tour’ screenings

7 p.m. Nov. 18. For a list of Chicago area locations and tickets:

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:49PM

Apparently, good word travels among professional stagehands. “We hear that when the Rush tour is coming up, people jump from other tours to join ours,” says guitarist Alex Lifeson. “There’s a sense of family and mutual respect with our crew.”

The veteran Canadian progressive rock trio’s new concert film confirms those values. “Rush: Clockwork Angels Tour” screens at area theaters on Monday, preceding Tuesday’s official DVD release. Opening footage shows band and crew chatting and checking on each other before an evening’s performance, establishing a sense of everyday teamwork among trusted allies.

“That’s the way it should be,” says Lifeson. “You’re there working for a common cause. When you set a high standard and everybody lives up to it, you feel great.”

Concert footage captures the band’s collective ambition, burning strong after 39 years together. There’s no mistaking the demand for youthful stamina and focus during the complex, thundering “The Anarchist” from Rush’s recent “Clockwork Angels” album.

“Some songs require a great deal of concentration,” says Lifeson. “That’s one. It’s so relentless.”

Despite the intensity, Lifeson is often caught putting his bandmates in stitches. Charging into “The Analog Kid,” Lifeson flamboyantly mimes the vocal at one microphone while bassist Geddy Lee sings at another. Virtuoso drummer Neil Peart, once nicknamed The Professor, beams at the antics of his personal class clown. “Neil has mentioned a couple of times where he was laughing so hard, he almost stopped playing,” says Lifeson. “It’s sort of my job to try and make him laugh and miss a beat.”

Lifeson’s humor will be no surprise to those who saw the silly but heartfelt “blah blah blah” speech he pantomimed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. “I thought, ‘this is an opportunity to first of all be an idiot, have some fun, and be a little more rock and roll,’” says Lifeson.

Rather than take a victory tour following the Hall of Fame induction leaning on radio hits like “Closer to the Heart,” Rush resumed the task of supporting fresh work. The group thrilled adventurous fans with seventy minutes of “Clockwork Angels” material, alongside deeper cuts like “The Body Electric.”

“It’s difficult at this stage to dedicate that much time not playing hits,” says Lifeson. “It was very satisfying to be able to keep everybody’s rapt attention.”

With visually compelling steampunk trappings, the new music anchoring the film is among the most powerful Rush has produced. Riffs from “Carnies” and “Headlong Flight” find Lifeson leading the muscular fray, recapturing the primal rock of “Working Man.” “When you strip it down, it becomes heavier,” says Lifeson.

Documenting a first for the prodigious trio, the film includes outside musicians. Rush enlisted eight string players for sparkle and emotional punch during new material and catalog pieces like “YYZ.” “There’s a fine line between strings sounding corny or twee, and sounding integral to some pretty aggressive rock songs,” says Lifeson, who praises the players’ excellence. “They worked so hard every night. I think it came across as something really special.”

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