The news that Neil Peart died of brain cancer on January 7th is still sending waves of shock and grief throughout the rock community. Nobody but his tightest circle of friends knew he was sick, making this one of the more unexpected rock deaths in recent memory. The outpouring of sorrow from his fans has been immense, causing Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson to release a statement thanking them.
“Our most heartfelt thanks go out to family, friends, musicians, writers, and fans from around the globe for the incredible outpouring of love and respect for Neil since his passing,” they wrote last week. “These touching tributes help to lessen the pain of this terrible loss and remind us all to celebrate his remarkable life and our connections to it.”
Rush had been completely inactive ever since the conclusion of their R40 Tour at the Forum in Los Angeles on August 1st, 2015. It was a very brief tour by Rush standards — a mere 35 shows —but it did give fans all across America to see them one last time. They didn’t advertise it as a proper farewell tour, but indicated in the press release that it would “most likely be their last major tour of this magnitude.”
They picked those exact words very carefully since countless bands before them have gone back on pledges never to tour again, but they knew that Peart was facing enormous physical discomfort from touring and didn’t want be apart from his young daughter for long periods of time again. “Everything hurts, but that’s fine,” he told Rolling Stone shortly before the tour began. “I’m just gratified that I can still do it — at not only the level I would wish to but still getting better.”
Without a new album to support, they decided to take the novel approach of presenting their catalog in reverse chronological order. They began each show with a track off their 2012 LP, Clockwork Angels, and slowly worked backward to their 1974 breakthrough hit, “Working Man.” The stage went back in time also, beginning with the backdrop from the Clockwork Angels tour and ending up in a re-creation of a high-school gym, where they played their early shows.
Many songs were dusted off for the tour, including “Anthem,” from 1975’s Fly by Night. It’s the first track on their first LP with Neil Peart, and they hadn’t touched it since October 1980. Here is fan-shot video of the group playing it on the opening night of the tour, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 8th, 2015. As you can see, the die-hard fans were overjoyed to hear it again.
As of now, nobody knows if Lee and Lifeson will ever perform together again in public. It’s impossible to imagine them going out as Rush with another drummer. They’ve ruled that out several times in the past. A project such as a Jimmy Page and Robert Plant–type duo is slightly more imaginable, but Lifeson has arthritis in his hands and that could be an impediment to such a thing. No matter what happens, the R40 Tour was the perfect way to go out. And Peart’s death is so recent that the last thing they probably want to do now is contemplate any return to the stage.