Rush had a unique idea for their R40 Live Tour, the 2015 jaunt that celebrated the 40th anniversary of Neil Peart’s hiring. The plan? Go backwards in time. With the material from 2012’s Clockworks Angels still being touted in the band’s live shows and with four decades of back catalogue to comb through, the goal was to present Rush’s history in reverse chronological order.
Never a group to step away from a challenge, the members of Rush decided to fully commit to the concept by busting out some of their own vintage equipment in order to replicate their previous tones as accurately as possible. Despite the physical challenges that might have come with playing on instruments they hadn’t used in decades, Rush were eager to give fans one last blowout since it was to be their final series of shows.
“Neil [Peart] insisted that [the 2015 R40 tour] was his last gig,” Geddy Lee explained to the Toronto Sun in 2019. “And you know, Alex [Lifeson] and I would look at each other and go, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s just saying that.’ So I think we kind of knew, we should have known, it was the last show. But I think being eternal optimists we hoped that after a break we would be back out there. That never materialised.”
Lee was also collecting bass guitars at the time, most of which would later appear in his book Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass. Some of those classic models made brief appearances throughout the tour, but when he needed to stick to the program, it was up to his trusty Fender Jazz Bass and his classic Rickenbacker 4001.
Alex Lifeson often stayed true to whatever era the given song was, including bringing out his signature 1976 Gibson ES-355 for ‘Cygnus X-1 Books I & II’. But it was the appearance of his 1968 Gibson ES-335 Tobacco Sunburst, frequently the only guitar Lifeson would use in concert throughout the early and mid-1970s, that made the biggest impact.
The desire to stay true to a certain era’s equipment probably had the most dramatic effect on Neil Peart. Peart had designed his modern DW drums with ergonomics in mind, having long replaced aspects like double bass drums and acoustic percussion. In between sets, however, Peart’s modern kit was fully replaced with a DW recreation of the Slingerland kit Peart used during the A Farewell to Kings era. That came complete with a cowbell tree and orchestra chimes, the likes of which had long been replaced with electronic MIDI samples.
As Rush wove through their past, the final encore featured the first era of the band, one that predates even Peart’s own involvement with the group. With amps proper up on chairs, the group reset all the way to their days as a school dance band in Toronto, back when original drummer John Rutsey was behind the throne. After two cuts from Peart’s first LP with Rush, Fly By Night, the band ended their shows with two cuts from their self-titled 1974 debut.
In a somewhat strange twist of fate, the final song that Neil Peart ever played live was a Rush song that he didn’t even play on – ‘Working Man’, the one song that managed to stay in the band’s setlists for their entire career. During the final stop on the R40 Tour, Peart did something that he had never done previously: he stepped out from behind the drum kit and stood at the front of the stage with his bandmates, waving goodbye to the audience who had cheered him on for the past four decades. It was a lovely, if somewhat bittersweet, end to one of the most legendary careers in rock.
Check out the final performance of ‘Working Man’ down below.