Running late, I hustle toward the venue's main entrance, from which emanates the strains of Rush's "Limelight": "All the world's indeed a stage, and we are merely players, performers and portrayers." I feel a sense of déjà vu: This is exactly the song I heard last summer when I lingered too long in the Post-Gazette Pavilion parking lot. But this time, I'm at the Altar Bar to see Caress of Steel City, a Rush tribute band from -- you guessed it -- Pittsburgh.
On a night when heavy snowfall has canceled many events, about 50 people have gathered to hear four local musicians recreate the Canadian prog rockers' catalog: songs like "Lakeside Park," "The Trees" and "Xanadu." Some in the audience play air drums; one group requests songs and bellows along with the singer. Two women high-five and dance to "Tom Sawyer."
Caress of Steel City does a good job performing the technically challenging material. They don't, however, exactly recreate Rush's lineup. Instead of a power trio where the bassist/keyboardist sings, they're a quartet: guitarist, bassist, drummer and a singer/keyboardist.
It's a geeky scene, both onstage and off. The singer wears a Rush tour T-shirt and plays air guitar when there's no keyboard part. In the audience, I overhear a guy accepting a beer from his friend, saying, "Thank you, sire."
But the funniest thing about a Rush tribute band in Pittsburgh -- and I did a double-take when I discovered this -- is that there's more than one group of local portrayers.
Distant Signals, also from Pittsburgh and also with a four-member lineup, has been together for about a year and played a handful of shows. Keyboardist Don Tomlinson put the tribute band together through Craigslist ads. Although the band doesn't dress like Rush or have the same lineup, "in my eyes, we're paying tribute to them," he says.
Distant Signals started about the same time as Caress of Steel City, Tomlinson says, and "we have a friendship with them." But he isn't hoping for more Rush tributes in town. "That would make it a really difficult market." Just why we suddenly have two such bands here is anyone's guess -- perhaps it's that Rush's "Working Man" still resonates with the region's blue-collar roots, or that the band's debut with drummer Neil Peart was at the Civic Arena in 1974.
In any case, a Rush tribute is a fun reason to get out of the house, er, "gilded cage." Distant Signals (www.myspace.com/distantsignalspgh) plays Hard Rock Café on March 20; Caress of Steel City (www.myspace.com/caressofsteelcity) plays Bloomfield Bridge Tavern on March 23.