Neil Peart’s Rush to Excellence


Rush is coming to town this week. Which means Neil Peart—drum Jedi, demigod to millions of fawning skinsmen around the globe—is coming to town this week! That, of course, means he’s bringing along his 127-gajillion-piece kit, so state-of-the-art in its design that it can also launch communications satellites and solve even the most difficult arithmetic.

If you’ve never seen the thing, it’s worth a look. And to the layperson, it just looks ridiculous. He couldn’t need every piece.

But considering how demanding and discerning Rush fanatics are, maybe he does. I reached out to two drum lifers to ask them about the particulars of Peart’s instrument—what was necessary, what was superfluous. One is a drum salesman par excellence at a prominent national musical instrument chain (who asked that both he and his store remain anonymous, because he couldn’t get clearance from corporate HQ to talk to us)—we’ll call him “Ringo.”

The other is Steve Moore, who plays drums for the nationally touring cover band Rick K. and the Allnighters, but is most widely known as the “This Drummer Is at the Wrong Gig” guy blasting his way through ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” in that YouTube video that went viral two years ago. Like Ringo, and virtually every other serious-minded drummer in the world, Moore is well acquainted with Peart’s technique and style, and he keeps tabs on his kit.

“It’s clearly not just for show, I can assure you that,” says Moore of Peart’s fortress of drum solitude. “A lot of those ’80s guys that came out with these ridiculous sets with four bass drums and two gongs, that’s all for show. There’s really only three drummers that can truly justify a set that’s the size of a fucking warehouse: Terry Bozzio, Mike Portnoy, and Neil.”

“Oh yeah, he’s using every single bit of that,” Ringo concurs as he drools over an overhead photo of Peart’s kit—packed with Drum Workshop snares, toms, and kicks, Sabian Paragon cymbals, electronic Roland V pads, nickel hardware, and more, it would set you back around 25 grand. Ringo also points out Peart’s preference for maple over bubinga/birch drum shells for just that right warmth and crack, and the nuances of his custom-made 22-inch ride cymbal. “You know, music is not about having barriers. With all these options at his disposal, it just makes a more musical landscape for him.”

At the same time, both Ringo and Moore agree Peart might be trapped inside a gilded percussion cage of his own design—that the expectations of Rush ticketholders prevent him from ever simplifying things. “A Rush show is also like a drum clinic,” Ringo tells me. “There are just as many people going just to watch every single thing Neil does as there are people who just wanna hear the songs. He’s got to be able to pull off every little detail every single time.”

“A big thing at Rush shows is people air-drumming,” Moore adds. “A lot of Rush fans know it down to every single hit. If he was to do a different fill, people would be like, ‘Hey, that’s not what’s on the album!’ Something as simplistic as the one great big fill toward the end of ‘Tom Sawyer,’ where he goes duh-dah-duh-DAH, diggitah-diggitah-dahggita-dahggita-duggitah-duggitah on all those toms—if he only had two toms it would be duh-dah-duh-DAH, diggitah-diggitah-diggitah-duggitah-duggitah-duggitah. That would be it.”

You want that extra dahggita. You need that extra dahggita. But one can’t help wondering what it would be like if the curtains came down on a Rush show to expose Peart sitting behind a more modest kit—maybe Bonham-sized or something. “It wouldn’t be a Rush show,” Ringo says flatly.

“I think it would be very interesting and great in a lot of ways, but, of course, a lot of those parts would not be there because it’d be physically impossible,” Moore says. “It’s hard to say whether deep down Neil ever wants to scale it back. Look, there’s days you don’t want a steak dinner and you don’t want the appetizer and the baked potato and the nice dessert—you just wanna go grab a corn dog. And there’s nothin’ wrong with a corn dog!”

True. But no Rush fan is gonna pay $100 to watch Neil Peart eat a corn dog.