The late, great Neil Peart from Rush is one of rock music’s most beloved drummers. He was the driving force in the prog-rock powerhouses and helped establish them as one of the most talented groups that the world has ever seen. Their last concert, in 2015, was a night to remember and captured the band on effervescent form, bowing out whilst they were still at the peak of their powers.
The string of dates that would make up for their final tour was known as the ‘R40 tour’ and saw the band celebrate 40 years of Rush. For a band that had been selling out stadiums for decades, their last outing was no different, with Rush leaving while still as popular as ever. However, that night in Los Angeles on August 15th, 2015, would be their last dance.
Each member of the trio brought a different slice of mastery to the group, and While Peart was cast as the mercurial creative drive behind much of Rush’s prog-rock glory, Geddy Lee chipped in with ample wizardry on the bass, and Alex Lifeson killed it on the six-string.
Peart’s contribution to music is undeniable; he wasn’t just the drummer in Rush, but their chief lyricist and the band’s beating heart. His precision when drumming showed off to a whole generation why you didn’t need to rely purely on power and technical nouse was equally a magnificent tool. Peart’s brain operated on a level-up from most drummers, and he elevated his bandmates to think on his wavelength.
The Guardian later asked Geddy Lee if he knew that show in Los Angeles would be the last time they would play live together: “Not 100%,” he said. “Neil was pretty adamant it was, and he played it like it was going to be the final show. And that’s why he actually left the drum throne and came out and gave us a hug on stage, which he swore he would never do.
“I guess I was a bit of an optimist. But nope,” reflected Lee. “I think Alex accepted it more as the end. I thought we really killed it that night, but it was hard to tell because it got really emotional in the last 20 minutes. That’s the first time I ever got choked up at a microphone. So I guess a part of me knew.”
Lee and Lifeson had hoped to convince Peart to join them in a reunion, but he insisted that touring was too hard on his body, and he was keen to concentrate on being a father. “We always said that if the three of us aren’t on board, we don’t do a thing,” Lee said. “There have been other decisions in our career where the three of us weren’t on board, and we didn’t do it. Nothing as profound as ending our touring life, but fair enough. So one guy doesn’t want to do that thing anymore that I love to do. That hurts. But there’s nothing I can do about it, and that’s part of the agreement.”
Sadly, in January 2020, Peart lost his battle with cancer aged 67 and the drumming community, along with the wider musical world, found themselves collectively mourning one of the ultimate greats. His final performance in 2015 had all the energy and vigour plus pure artistry that we grew accustomed to expecting from the drummer over the years.
If somebody ever asked you to explain why Neil Peart is one of rock’s greatest drummers and minds, then look no further than this performance of ‘Cygnus X1’ from the LA Forum and his illuminating solo for the ages.