It’s no secret Pittsburgh loves Canadian rock legends Rush. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famers legacy in the Steel City runs much deeper than the deep rotation of classics played on WDVE, and all of us Yinzers holding a special place in our heart for the prog-rockers. However, few know that Pittsburgh holds a special place in the band’s heart as well. The man known as “The Professor”, Neal Peart, made his on-stage debut right here in the Steel City on August 14th, 1974! Rush, the Canadian trio, ranks only behind the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for most gold and platinum records, and in most circles, Peart is recognized as the greatest drummer of all time.
Contrary to popular belief, this wasn’t Rush’s first show in America. The band was part of a poorly attended Spring 1974 festival at the North Side Drive-In theater in East Lansing, Mich., and also opened for ZZ Top in Cleveland in June 1974. But this concert did take place in front of a huge crowd: 12,000 people at the Civic Arena, according to contemporary reviews.
“It was really kind of a scary thing, opening up with a new person in the band in front of so many people,” vocalist Geddy Lee recalled during a rare October 1974 interview recorded in Dallas. He also noted the show was “kind of a freakout.”
This Pittsburgh concert was a short, low-key opening slot for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Uriah Heep. (The trio isn’t even listed on an ad promoting the show.) The band reportedly opened with “Finding My Way.” Poor-quality audio of the song doesn’t seem to betray the band’s nerves, although it does give a nice snapshot of Lee’s astonishing vocal range and Peart’s already-ferocious style.
Reviews were mixed, according to scans hosted on the Rush fan site Power Windows. A Pittsburgh Press writer stressed that the city prefers “heavy, slam-bang rock,” and so seemed to approve of the set: “Somebody must have wised up the opening acts, too, because that’s all Rush, a promising Canadian trio, offered,” before specifically praising “Working Man.” The Valley News Dispatch was less enthused, and simply noted that Rush “rocked in the preliminary.”
The Pittsburgh show served as the kickoff for a months-long North American tour that also found Rush opening for Kiss, Blue Oyster Cult and Hawkwind. Effectively, it also started the band on a transformative, 40+ year journey.
“Among the many memories of that life-changing experience, I would never forget standing on the floor beside stage left while Uriah Heep played ‘Stealin’,’” Peart recalled in Roadshow: Landscape with Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle. “The big dark building, colored lights on the heroic figures up on the stage, the roaring audience, the sheet electricity in that place. Halfway through their show, the retractable dome of the Civic Arena had peeled back, open to the summer night.”
Forced to retire due to chronic tendinitis and shoulder issues, Peart was a one of a kind talent, in a one of a kind band…that debuted in a one of a kind city! Thanks for the memories, Professor!
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