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Rush delivers 40 years of hits in thrilling ‘R40 Live’ show at First Niagara Center

Watching virtuosos in throes of impassioned performance is always electrifying; beholding power-rock trio Rush perform before a sold-out First Niagara Center crowd in Buffalo on Wednesday night was just that.

The band, on their “R40 Live Tour” tour, is celebrating four decades as this lineup. And they say that this tour is their last.

We’ve heard this before, proclamations of final tours – followed by a string of comebacks. Rush, however, seems to mean that R40 is their mega-ending: The virtuosic life has taken a toll on the bodies of two-thirds of the band.

This tour is introspective, retrospective and a deftly-packaged celebration of ardent fans, classic rock radio hits, and the long and winding road of bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart.

Before the curtain (yes, a real curtain) rose, fans were spotted playing air guitar, wearing Rush T-shirts of various vintages, and carrying snazzy black Star Man logo bags. People seemed to know one another; FNC felt like one raucous block party featuring everyone’s hometown band.

One fan amongst the throng was Chris Heffley, from “A little town called Galion” in Ohio. So far he’s been to seven shows on the R40 tour and plans on attending 17 total. To date, he’s been to 200 Rush shows, paling in comparison, he says, to some fans he’s met who’ve been to twice that number.

He tells a story about his fanboy days in the early ’90s, when he scoped out Rush’s hotel in one city, racing there after a concert to shake hands with the band. “I was so nervous I couldn’t look them in the eyes,” Heffley says.

Wednesday’s concert began with a somewhat-surreal animated film chronicling the band’s history – bad haircuts and all.

The band emerged, opening with “Anarchist,” off their 2012 release, “Clockwork Angels.” Instead of a set bouncing from decade to decade, this tour begins with the most recent work and plunges back, song by song, to the band’s beginnings.

As the band performed, stagehands in red jumpsuits (emblazoned with the R40 logo) added and removed props, subtly transforming the stage while a non-stop barrage of imagery on numerous screens sped along over the band.

The trio swerved into “The Wreckers” and then “Headlong Flight,” featuring a hearty Peart solo. Then Lee addressed the crowd for the first time. “Thank you, hello there, it’s good to be back here. Welcome! We have a hell of a birthday celebration, over 40 years, we’re going back in time.”

Impressive pyros angled upward before “Far Cry” and “The Main Monkey Business,” a delicious rendition. 1990’s “Roll The Bones” was freshened up with a rap video featuring celebs, and ’80s “Between the Wheels” and “Subdivisions” closed out the first set before intermission.

The band chose mega-hit “Tom Sawyer” to open set two, accompanied by a film showing chimps playing as Rush, and Rush trading instruments/places.

Stagehands removed more and more Marshall amps as the band edged along to their early ’80s ballads. “We’ll approach the ’70s soon,” Lee said, and it was on to a great rendition of “Jacob’s Ladder.”

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