Rush at the MGM Grand Garden; Primus at The Joint

It’s rock ‘n’ roll for people who like to do algebra for fun.

That, and play air drums.

This is the duality of a Rush gig: They’re simultaneously brainy and goofy, self-assured and self-effacing, a bunch of smart kids reveling in the joys of dumb fun.

Rush’s music is like a secret handshake between friends: Not everyone gets it, but those that do share a bond.

And so there’s a kind of fraternal camaraderie that hangs in the air at their shows, where it’s OK for grown men to smile like they just lost their virginity while swinging their fists in precise unison with Rush’s rhythmic core Neil Peart, a drum demigod whose kit might as well be a throne.

At the MGM Grand Garden arena on Saturday night, the band celebrated 30 years of expanding rock’s vocabulary with their "Time Machine Tour," a curveball-strewn night of older songs that Rush has never played live before ("Presto," "Faithless), a pair of dense, disconsolate new tunes ("Caravan," "BU2B") and plenty of classic rock cornerstones ("The Spirit of Radio," "Working Man").

Rush has long served as a bridge between the populist and the progressive, a band whose songs can be as intricate as needlework and as bombastic as a high school pep rally at the same time.

Their tunes are like mathematical proofs: No matter how complex they can sometimes get, there’s always an order to them, a symmetry, and once you wrap your head around them, it’s akin to becoming fluent in a new language. What once seemed foreign begins to feel like second nature.

On this trek, Rush is playing its biggest selling album, 1981’s "Moving Pictures," in its entirety, and it’s an apt encapsulation of the group’s talent for making some fairly complex song structures palatable to a mass audience.

Beginning their second set with the first song from the record, "Tom Sawyer," a live staple that singer/bassist Geddy Lee howled through like a banshee getting her hair pulled out by the roots, Rush swung back and forth between catchy, concise hard rock hits ("Limelight") and more unbounded excursions into the kind of expert-level musicianship that manifests itself in a tricky, tempestuous instrumental like "YYZ."

The highlight of the suite — and perhaps the entire show — was a hard-nosed, wide-eyed take on "The Camera Eye," an epic 11-minute jam that somehow how managed to be simultaneously funky, dissonant and melodic.

This is perhaps Rush’s greatest skill: to be several things all at once, immediate and textured, overblown and nuanced, unorthodox and mainstream.

"Everybody got to deviate from the norm," Lee sang on "Vital Signs," the final song on "Moving Pictures," and not only was that on apt summation of this band’s reason for being, but it could have doubled as the operating principle for one of the many groups that have followed in Rush’s wake, Primus, who played a midnight show at The Joint at the Hard Rock on Saturday night.

Like Rush, Primus is a square peg power trio adept at grounding a high musical IQ in hokey, consistently quirky songs.

Singer/bassist Les Claypool, who donned an Abe Lincoln-worthy stove pipe hat at The Joint, whispers and hollers, yammers and yodels through his band’s repertoire like a method actor inhabiting the roles of the various characters who populate Primus’ songs, salt-of-the-earth types, from race car drivers to fishermen.

He’s an eccentric dude and was in full character at The Joint, where he donned a monkey mask and played a mean solo on the Whamola, a kind of variation of a washtub bass, and navigated his bottom-heavy band through an eclectic slew of covers (Tom Waits’ "Big in Japan," Pink Floyd’s "In The Flesh," The Police’s "Behind My Camel," with Police drummer Stewart Copeland in the house.)

Primus is best at creating a rhythmic rumble so dense and seismic, you can feel it rattle through your chest cavity.

When the band played one of its signature hits, "My Name Is Mud," it was like standing atop a suddenly active fault line, a welcome dollop of dirt in the eye of convention.

Contact Jason Bracelin at 702-383-0476 or e-mail him at

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