Throughout four decades of touring with Rush, Neil Peart had never crossed the "back-line meridian" to greet the crowd onstage. "I stay behind my drums and cymbals for 40 years and never go out front, never," he recalled in the 2016 band documentary Time Stand Still. "It’s not my territory."

But the drummer and lyricist changed his policy just once: to close out the prog-rock power trio's final concert on Aug. 1, 2015. "Eventually, I talked myself into it," he said. "It was totally the right thing to do."

That gig, staged at Los Angeles venue the Forum during the 35-date R40 tour, effectively ended the Rush story. The career-spanning set worked backward, opening with songs from 2012's Clockwork Angels and wrapping with a medley of tunes that pre-dated Peart's era with the band: "What You're Doing" and "Working Man" from 1974's Rush, along with the unreleased wah-wah rocker "Garden Road." (You can see the set list for the show below.)

After the final chords rang out, singer and bassist Geddy Lee shouted to the crowd, "Thank you so much, Los Angeles! On behalf of the greatest crew and organization in the world ... " At that point, a beaming Peart emerged from his kit, wedging between Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, to his bandmates' surprise. "On behalf of our whole organization, thank you, United States of America, for 40 awesome years," Lee continued. "And I do hope we'll meet again some time. Bye-bye."

After their emotional exit, the crew cued up one of the band's reliably quirky tour videos, which showed Rush trying to barge into their own dressing room, which is populated by characters from their album artwork. Denied access, Lifeson asks, "Now what?"

Good question. And for several years, Rush didn't appear certain of the answer. They hadn't promoted R40 as their final tour — partly because their future remained unclear, partly because they objected to the cash-grab branding. ("It just didn't sit right for me to do a farewell tour and try to capitalize on that word. It just didn't work for me," Lee told SiriusXM's Trunk Nation in 2018. "It wasn't the easiest thing to pull off, but I feel good about our body of work, and I feel good about the way it ended.")

Peart quietly announced his retirement from drumming only a few months after their final show. "He was struggling throughout that tour to play at his peak, because of physical ailments and other things that were going on with him," Lee added. "He’s a perfectionist, and he didn’t want to go out and do anything less than what people expected of him. That's what drove him his whole career, and that's the way he wanted to go out, and I totally respect that."

The trio had always formally agreed that Rush couldn't exist without all three members. "There have been other decisions in our career where the three of us weren’t on board and we didn’t do it," Lee recalled in Time Stand Still. "Nothing as profound as ending our touring life, but fair enough. So one guy doesn’t want to do that thing anymore that I love to do. That hurts. But there’s nothing I can do about it, and that’s part of the agreement."

But Rush die-hards, the kind of fans who enjoy 20-minute songs, are nothing if not patient. Maybe, after some rest, Peart would change his mind and pick up the sticks? Sadly, his retirement became permanent: The beloved drummer died on Jan. 7, 2020, from brain cancer after a three-and-a-half-year battle with the illness.

Somehow, in an era where celebrity secrets rarely remain private, Peart managed to keep the diagnosis among his closest friends and family. The worldwide mourning after his death was only amplified by the stabbing surprise of the reveal. But as the wordsmith once wrote in Rush's 1981 anthem "Limelight," "One must put up barriers / To keep oneself intact."

Rush continue to exist as a catalog act: In May, they reissued their 1980 LP, Permanent Waves, in a deluxe format — the latest in an ongoing series of 40th-anniversary projects. And it's not like the surviving members have retired: In 2018, Lee released his Big Beautiful Book of Bass; and Lifeson contributed forewords to both that tome and Greg Prato's 2017 book, Shredders!: The Oral History of Speed Guitar (And More). But it's unclear when they might record new music — or in what format. (Lee issued his lone solo LP, My Favourite Headache, in 2000; Lifeson released his only offering, Victor, in 1996.)

In June, Lifeson admitted that he's played little guitar — and doesn't "feel inspired and motivated" — since Peart's death. "Every time I pick up a guitar, I just aimlessly kind of mess around with it and put it down after 10 minutes," he told WFAN. "Normally, I would pick up a guitar and I would play for a couple of hours without even being aware that I'm spending that much time. So, I know it'll come back.” But four years earlier, he told Guitar Connoisseur that he has "hours of material" ready for a record.

Lee has repeatedly expressed interest in another solo album, utilizing the numerous bass guitars he's accumulated in his home studio. "I have bits and bobs, but I don’t have any finished material in the can, so to speak," he told Rolling Stone in 2018. "If I pick up a bass, I just start playing something, and sooner or later I start writing a riff or this or that. So for my own peace of mind, I stash it somewhere. Chances are I’ll come back to it, and it’s crap, so I just trash it. But at least it makes me feel good for the moment."

Looking back at Rush's final gig is painful but powerful: the full-circle feeling of the set list, the ridiculously high skill level of the players, the look of satisfaction on Peart's face. He only crossed the back-line once, but he made it count.

Rush, The Forum, Inglewood, California, August 1, 2015
Set 1
The Anarchist
Headlong Flight
Far Cry
The Main Monkey Business
One Little Victory
Animate
Roll the Bones
Distant Early Warning
Losing It
Subdivisions

Set 2
Tom Sawyer
Red Barchetta
The Spirit of Radio
Jacob's Ladder
Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part I: Prelude
Cygnus X-1
Closer to the Heart
Xanadu
2112 Part I: Overture
2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
2112 Part IV: Presentation
2112 Part VII: Grand Finale

Encore
Lakeside Park
Anthem
What You're Doing
Working Man

 

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