Rush built their career on a dynamic live show. The band never failed to leave everybody in attendance with an experience that they’d hold on to for the rest of their life. The Canadian prog-rock heroes were a band who left everything they had on stage and, for many, there is no more significant live act that they’ve witnessed than Rush in their pomp. Even with that said, their frontman Geddy Lee had a formative experience of his own that would change his life as a teenager.
Lee is one of the finest bassists of rock music history. He has become synonymous with his instrument in the same way that Jimi Hendrix was with his guitar – that is the level of iconography we are dealing with here. He has achieved a status mainly through the consistency of his playing rather than an abundance of wild performances such as the aforementioned counter-culture poster boy had done. Rush’s ability to successfully manage to replicate the immense recording from their albums directly into the live-arena. One gig as a 19-year-old in 1973 that Lee attended taught him how to stage a perfect live-show, a lesson which has left him with a memory that he holds close almost half-a-century after.
“Jethro Tull at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto,” Lee told Classic Rock when probed upon the best concert he’d ever attended. “I think it was on the Thick As A Brick tour. The show began with the house lights on and a bunch of people in overalls sweeping the stage. Gradually there were less people sweeping, and then, all of a sudden, one of them would pick up an instrument, and next thing you know it’s the guys from Tull launching into the show.”
Lee continued: “For me that was the first band that combined incredible musicianship with complex songwriting, and they were funny. That influenced me a lot in the later years of Rush. That attitude of taking your music seriously but not taking yourself seriously.”
Speaking with The Quietus back in 2012, Lee explained more about his infatuation with Tull, especially the album, Thick As A Brick. “My favourite Jethro Tull album,” he revealed/I know it is partly a send up of the idea of ‘concept’, but it is delivered to perfection. I was a massive Tull fan from very young and they are one of the bands that I saw live in Toronto…yes, we were lucky to see so many incredible concerts when we were very young and, I hope, that too reflects in Rush. I was mesmerised by Ian Anderson. His presentation was simply magical and he delivered it with such a sense of humour and great style.
“There really wasn’t anyone else who looked or sounded quite like them and that holds true to this day. We saw it as a huge challenge to try and create something that can seem so dynamic onstage. They are probably best regarded as a live band although their series of albums around that period were exceptional. This still sounds fresh and it is great to see that interest in Tull is still growing,” he added.
This album played a pivotal role in Lee’s musical awakening, and the chance to hear it live was something that remains precious to the Rush vocalist. His obsession with music and knowing the importance of delivering a stunning live-show helped him become such an exceptional talent who felt at home on stage. Lee treated every gig with the knowledge that there were people in the audience who felt the way he did with Jethro Tull in 1973 and made sure never to let the fans down.