Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush performed at the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert in London, delivering a tight three-song set that felt equal parts like an homage to the fallen drummer as well as their own, the late Neil Peart, who died in January 2020.
“Now if there’s one band that I always associated Taylor Hawkins with, it’s these next two guys,” Dave Grohl told the Wembley Stadium audience. “Taylor got up and played with these two guys once in their hometown of Toronto, Canada. And I have to say, it was not only one of the greatest nights of my life, watching him do that, but perhaps one of the greatest nights of his. So would you please welcome to the stage, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson from Rush!”
With Grohl behind the kit, the trio — augmented by multi-instrumentalist and producer Greg Kurstin — launched into a blistering take on the opening overture from the 2112 album. The moment quickly demonstrated that the days of rehearsal they had engaged in leading up to the event had primed them well for the performance.
Following that with “Working Man,” the AOR staple plucked from Rush’s 1974 self-titled debut, a couple of things became clear. First, Lee and Lifeson delivered an astounding full-length version of the track (despite the evening running long), nearly 50 years after the pair first played it together, with the vocalist and bassist proving that he was in good form on all fronts. The guitarist matched Lee at every turn, playing a dizzying solo as Grohl bashed away in perfect synchronization. Not many drummers can step into Peart’s shoes — or would dare to — but the shaggy-haired Foo Fighter pulled it off admirably.
“So, for Alex and I, it’s a privilege to be up here to play with Super Dave, and Greg,” Lee shared with the crowd. “In 2008, as Dave told you, we got a call from Foos’ management, asking if we’d come to the Toronto show and show up so that Taylor could play one of his favorite Rush songs with us. We obliged and that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“So tonight, in honor of that — and in honor of our own lost brother,” Lee added with a reverential pause, acknowledging the formidable absence of Peart, “we’d like to play that song.”
With that, they offered a reprise of the moment Hawkins joined them for “YYZ,” with former David Bowie drummer Omar Hakim stepping in this time for what became a spirited run through the legendary instrumental classic from the Canadian group. Kurstin handled the signature keyboard parts for the song — a satisfying way to wrap up the emotional tribute.
“Bless you all, bless Taylor,” Lee told fans at the conclusion of the song as they exited the stage.
There’s long been mutual admiration between Rush and Foo Fighters, which culminated when Hawkins and Dave Grohl inducted the Canadian prog legends into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. In typical Foos fashion, they injected some extra flair into the evening. Grohl dressed up as Lifeson, Hawkins took on the persona of Neil Peart and producer Nick Raskulinecz donned a costume to look like Lee.
Along with the real Rush, the fake band performed the band’s epic “2112 Overture.” (Grohl, Hawkins and Raskulinecz revisited the moment by contributing a studio recording of the song to Rush’s 2112 reissue in 2016.)
Grohl and Hawkins shared inducting duties, with the drummer highlighting Lee’s “ripping bass and his incredible, unmistakable voice,” Lifeson’s “soulful, imaginative, melodic, chaotic guitar solos” and “of course … fuckin’ Neil Peart,” who “spawned a generation of air drummers for decades to come.” As Hawkins pointed out, Peart “wrote the fuckin’ lyrics. Who let the fuckin’ drummer write the lyrics?”
Hawkins shared just how much the band’s music meant to him. “I got into prog when I started drumming. I must have been 10 or 11,” he remembered. “And the first band I heard were Rush. It was the live album Exit … Stage Left. I picked up so much from listening to Neil Peart.”
The members of Rush were equally enthralled. Lee wrote that Hawkins was a “sweetheart of a man that radiated good vibes, a love of music and a total monster on the drums” following the drummer’s death. “He was so, so happy the night Alex and I came up onstage to play ‘YYZ’ with him during the Foos show at the Air Canada Centre on March 23rd, 2008. … His excitement was almost impossible for him to contain. And of course, he nailed it!”
“You can imagine how nervous I was, but I got through ‘YYZ’ with them,” Hawkins said. “Even though they told me I was playing too fast! The nerves I was going through. Here I was replacing Neil Peart in Rush – well, almost!”
Hawkins will be honored at a second tribute concert in Los Angeles on Sept. 27.
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