“A modern day warrior/ Mean, mean stride/ Today’s That Metal Show/ Is back on primetime!” Throw up the devil horns and rejoice metal fans, we waited nearly a year for brand new episodes of our favorite talk show and this fourteenth season premiere certainly surpassed my expectations.
Catch my Rush reference before? That’s because my eyes were glued to the screen after I found out legendary Rush frontman Geddy Lee would return to the show. Harkening back to That Metal Show’s first season in 2008, the presence of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson certainly helped establish a musical credibility in the eyes of a growing audience. Since it’s been nearly seven years since Rush received the “Limelight” on VH1 Classic, tonight’s premiere felt like the perfect opportunity to examine Geddy Lee’s mindset as Rush gets ready to embark on their 40th anniversary tour.
Before we recap Geddy’s conversation, let me just reference Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and announce, “Finally John Petrucci has played guitar on That Metal Show!” Considering the vast amount of incredible guitarists who graced this show beforehand, seeing one of New York’s greatest virtuosos on a New York City based show cemented one of my biggest requests. In fact, viewers heard snippets of Petrucci’s solo album Suspended Animation as he played “Jaws of Life,” “Damage Control,” and “Glasgow Kiss” before each commercial break.
Right from the start, Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson, and Jim Florentine brought viewers up to speed by discussing big storylines from the previous year including AC/DC’s triumphant comeback album Rock Or Bust. It’s been quite a transitional year for our favorite Aussie rockers as founding member Malcolm Young was forced to relinquish his position as rhythm guitarist due to his battle with dementia. On the other side of the spectrum, original drummer Phil Rudd is facing serious legal trouble in New Zealand for hefty drug charges. To each host’s credit, they made some important mentions of how the band recruited former drummer Chris Slade and the Malcolm brother’s nephew Stevie to replace their fallen bandmates. If anyone missed their performance at the Grammy Awards, there is zero reason for AC/DC to retire when there’s still so much passion and energy left within this band.
Once our favorite metal vixen Jennifer made her way towards the set, it was time for TMS’ “Top 5,” which featured Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliot as a special guest to rank the top five British hard rock or metal bands from the 1970s. Of course, Eddie made a case for his all-time favorite band UFO while Joe Elliot accidentally voted for Irish bands like Thin Lizzy. To my surprise, Jim left off groups like Judas Priest and made some different choices like David Bowie. There was actually a debate on whether or not The Who should’ve been ranked in the Top 5. No offense, this was a no-brainer. Ultimately, the top five picks were ranked 5) Judas Priest 4) UFO 3) Mott the Hoople 2) Black Sabbath 1) Led Zeppelin.
Let’s take a second to acknowledge the brilliance of Rush’s catalog – 20 studio albums over a period of 40 years. Till this day, no trinity surpasses the mind-blowing technicality and songwriting vividness of Rush. If anyone has seen their recent live DVDs like Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland or Clockwork Angels Tour, this band hasn’t lost a step in delivering a three-hour scholarly seminar of progressive rock.
To a rapacious applause, Eddie introduced Geddy and the whole crowd went bonkers including John Petrucci who mentioned how badly he wanted to play some Rush songs. Much credit to Eddie, he brought up how anyone who knows Rush’s sense of humor will laugh at how they chose to celebrate their 40th anniversary during their 41st year together as a band. Once Don asked Geddy about the difficulty of writing a setlist nowadays, Geddy revealed how Rush currently has five hours worth of material to choose from. There’s no egos attached to the members of Rush – they are diplomatic about the song selection. In fact, each member is sorting through the catalog and relearning their parts before they rehearse together in April.
The most hard-hitting moment of the show occurred as the host’s started discussing Rush’s potential retirement. Believe it or not, this rumor has been floating around the web since they were completely inactive last year. Let’s not forget – the members of Rush are in their early 60s. Geddy acknowledged how this upcoming tour will probably be their last full-fledged 45-50-date world tour. All three members have a different mindset regarding the band’s current status. If anyone knows Neil Peart’s heartbreaking story, it feels good to know that he started another family and dearly holds the responsibility of raising his young daughter. It’s hard for Neil to leave his family for an extended period of time. In Geddy’s own words, “We’re clearly at a point in our lives where we have to slow down and slow down dramatically.”
On behalf of all Rush fans, this previous statement was somewhat heart breaking and even difficult to process. Not for selfish reasons either – I want each band member to enjoy their family lives and they certainly deserve to relax after all these years. I’m just saying – there was a sense of disappointment in Geddy’s voice that struck my heart like a Caress of Steel. If I were to guess, it sounds like Geddy is the member most itching to tour and write some new material. Geddy also acknowledged the physical excursion of performing to their standards, especially for a drummer of Neil’s caliber. Don’t fret for too long though – this wasn’t a retirement announcement. Rush will most likely continue to play gigs and write new material in smaller intervals, which was the best news possible. Honestly, I’d much rather see Rush still passionate about their performance 20 times year instead of an exhausted group 50 times a year.
Rather than wallow in disappointment, the host’s made things fun again by brainstorming potential stage props for Rush’s next tour like a chiropractor or massage therapist. For all Rush fans, the most interesting segment occurred when Eddie asked Geddy to rank his favorite and least favorite Rush records from the 70s and early 80s. Both the crowd and the hosts went crazy as Geddy made his selection. From favorite to least favorite, Geddy ranked: Moving Pictures, Permanent Waves, 2112, Hemispheres, Farewell to the Kings, Rush, Signals, Caress of Steel, and Fly By Night. When Eddie asked for further clarification, Geddy spoke about his catalog from a songwriter’s perspective and based his decision off the strength of the material. In his own words, “When I listen to all of these records before a tour, they hit me in a different way historically.”
Once “Stump The Trunk” arrived, the first contestant asked Eddie who the sang lyrics, “What about the voice of Geddy Lee?/ How did it get so high?/ I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?” Eddie asked Geddy for assistance to no avail (The song was called “Stereo” by Pavement). Jennifer came out with the “Box of Junk” and the contestant won a snapback hat. Not to leave him with a lame prize – Petrucci gave him his custom seven-string guitar – the JPX X-7. Cue in my ‘DAMN DUDE!’ Not to sound like a product endorser but that’s easily one of the best seven strings I ever played! I love the moments in this show where someone walks away with the guitar, especially when the contestant plays.
To conclude this episode on a high note, the “Throwdown” saw the guests and hosts make their argument for the Rush live album – 1976’s All The World’s A Stage or 1981’s Exit…Stage Left? Geddy, Eddie, and Jim voted for the former and Don and John Petrucci voted for the latter. The coolest moment occurred when Geddy spoke about the live essence of All The World’s A Stage and how certain elements like Neil Peart’s drum microphone falling to the ground are audible. It was also great to see a musician of Petrucci’s caliber show his fondness for one of his biggest influences by choosing Exit…Stage Left. When John Petrucci says, “I’m sorry Geddy but you’re wrong,” this is where the heart of the show is perfectly displayed.
In the classic words of Thin Lizzy, “The boys are back town!” I couldn’t think of a better guest for a season premiere – Geddy Lee is standup guy with a great sense of humor. I’m beyond pumped to see some new episodes and I look forward to Eddie, Don, and Jim’s future conversations with Anthrax, Slayer, and Exodus. Till the next episode, “Stay Metal!”
Rating: 9 out of 10
That Metal Show airs Saturday nights on VH1 Classic.