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In The Flesh

Live Review: Geddy Lee at Auditorium Theatre • Chicago

| December 5, 2023

 

Geddy Lee

My Effin’ Life in Conversation Book Tour

Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Review by Jeff Elbel.

Rush frontman Geddy Lee has performed in Chicago concert halls, including the Auditorium Theatre, many times during the last five decades, but never like he did on Sunday when appearing on his speaking tour for his memoir My Effin’ Life.

Each stop on the 19-date tour has featured a surprise guest host with a local connection to the city. Attendees were thrilled when Kim Thayil was introduced as Chicago’s host. The Soundgarden guitarist grew up in Park Forest. “America’s Second City made me the defect I am today,” said Thayil with a laugh during his introductory remarks. He added that he and his teenage friends would often clean their communal weed over the gatefold sleeve of Rush’s 1976 breakthrough album 2112.

Thayil and Lee spent most of the event’s first hour in conversation. Topics included the shared experience of growing up in North America as the children of immigrants. Lee talked about the miraculous experience of his parents’ budding romance and their survival in separate Nazi concentration camps during World War II. After losing his father when Lee was 12 years old, the Jewish traditional 11-month period of mourning, duty, and deprivation fueled Lee’s thirst for popular music. “Rock and roll, to me, was a great escape,” he said. Early favorites included Roy Orbison and the Yardbirds.

Photo by Richard Sibbald

 

Lee described meeting “a goof named Alex [Lifeson, Rush’s guitarist, and Lee’s BFF]” as a teenager at school. Lee joked that the pair became so close because he was the only person who could pronounce Lifeson’s Serbian last name, “Zivojinovich,” correctly when others, like a mutual friend and Montreal Canadiens hockey legend Steve Shutt, would refer to the budding guitarist as “Eat a Sandwich.” Lee and Lifeson began playing music together while obsessing over bands like Cream and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.

Lee and Thayil also found common ground in their mutual obsession with baseball, rattling off names and statistics, including plenty of Cubs chatter.

Thayil asked about the unusually long partnership shared by Lee, Lifeson, and late Rush drummer Neil Peart. Lee described similar tastes in literature (including Tolkien) and humor (including Monty Python) as bonding elements. “Humor became our [collective] armor,” said Lee.

That common ground and longtime devotion was extended to and from the audience. “I didn’t even bring my bass with me, but they’re still here,” said Lee of the crowd. Lee expressed thanks to the audience often and frequently returned shouts of “I love you, Geddy,” with “I love you, too!”

Lee choked up when describing the loss of Peart, particularly after admitting resentment as Lee wanted to continue the 2015 R40 tour, and Peart stuck to his guns about retiring to spend time with his young family. Lee garnered a deeper understanding in hindsight. “What kind of friend would I be to begrudge him that,” said Lee, his voice cracking with emotion. Peart lost his fight against cancer in 2020.

Thayil described Rush as a unique band with “three hearts” and asked Lee whether he and Lifeson could continue as a twosome. “My buddy Al wants to write with me again,” said Lee, drawing an ovation from the room. Lee said he had to be careful with his words but was glad that possibilities were being discussed. “If we like it, we’ll release it,” said the 70-year-old Lee of music that he and Lifeson may make someday. “Life is impossible to predict, but I’m hopeful.”

All attendees received a copy of the memoir upon entry to the theater. They also received a teaser when Lee read a pair of chapters from his podium located downstage left, the same spot he occupied during almost every Rush gig.

One chapter on touring antics recalled the mayhem Lifeson caused at a hotel one drunken night after a cognac-drinking contest. After the next night’s gig, he apologized like “a nice Canadian boy” so earnestly for his loutish behavior that the hotel staff promised to welcome the band again upon their return.

Another chapter focused on critical reaction to Lee’s singing voice, including descriptions like “a guinea pig with an amphetamine habit” and “the damned howling in Hades.” Lee took the descriptions with a sense of humor and resilience. Lee named their favorite singers, including Jon Anderson of Yes, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, Joni Mitchell, and Björk, while citing Steve Marriott of Humble Pie as probably his biggest influence.

The show’s second half was dominated by questions submitted by the audience. The first question Lee fielded was actually by Lifeson, who asked for an explanation of the word “Shreve.” Lee spoke about Rush’s extensive private lexicon and said that “Travis” was a descriptor for a situation that was ambiguous or not very together. Related to that, “shreve” was used to describe an assistant with no fixed job description. The word is known among Rush fans for its inclusion in a title to one of the movements of the instrumental Hemispheres track “La Villa Strangiato.”

As questions were read by Thayil, Lee scanned the crowd to greet each writer. He described some of his favorite movies, including the recent Oppenheimer and its thread to Rush song “The Manhattan Project” from Power Windows. He cited the 1949 screwball baseball comedy “It Happens Every Spring” as a special film because it was the first movie he played for his grandson. Fans learned that Vin Scully remains Lee’s favorite baseball announcer, with a recommendation that everyone dig up a recording of Scully calling pitcher Sandy Koufax’ perfect game.

Lee answered a question about tattoos, saying they weren’t for him out of respect for Holocaust survivors of his parents’ generation but that both of his kids had ink. He also fielded a “nerdy bass question” and mused on what he’d do as the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Lee told funny stories about life as an opening band for groups like Kiss, and the night Rush got Hawkwind incredibly stoned via one of Lifeson’s highly detailed “pot rockets.”

Lee cited “Dreamline” from Roll the Bones as a standout example of a favorite lyric by Neil Peart. The song includes the lyric “We are only immortal for a limited time” that prefaces My Effin’ Life. Other lyrics that Lee found too perfect to alter included “The Garden” from Rush’s final album, Clockwork Angels.

When asked his favorite things about Chicago, Lee said that he was an architecture buff who considered Chicago to be the most architecturally beautiful city in North America. He remembered the now-demolished International Amphitheatre as an acoustically terrible house where the road crew would set up and still hear the lingering reverberation of the prior night’s band, but he praised the Auditorium Theatre as an especially gorgeous hall.

Overall, the evening served two purposes. One was to extend the memoir’s aim of offering insight into its writer. The other was for Lee to express heartfelt thanks to fans for decades of devotion overtly. After Lee and Thayil took a selfie with the entire audience, the show concluded with a playback of the unearthed song “Gone,” which was recently finished along with “I.M.U.R.” and included on the audiobook version of My Effin’ Life. The songs were left aside from the 2000 solo album My Favorite Headache but are slated for release to radio this week.

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