This year’s “United We Rock” summer tour had special significance to Styx. It’s not only the 40th Anniversary of their iconic album “The Grand Illusion,” but in June, the band released their first new studio album in over a decade, “The Mission.”
There are few bands with a live performance pedigree as long as the one Styx has created over the past forty years. When the music industry imploded, the members of Styx were savvy enough to create a new business model and sidestep any potential career and financial fallout. Realizing that their fans would be more inclined to hear the band’s greatest hits than to take a chance on new music, Styx began a seemingly never-ending world tour. In truth, the band is just enjoying the sweet life that most rock and roll musicians could only dream of. Styx spends over 2/3 of their year traveling the world and playing their hits live to thousands of audiences made up of eager fans of all ages.
On Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014 Styx brought their “Evening with Styx” show to Macon, Georgia for the first time. Their performance at the Macon Centreplex kicked off with the crunching guitars and pounding rhythm of their opening music, “Drastic Measures” and it’s accompanying light show. As band members Tommy, JY, Todd, Ricky and Lawrence took the stage in the shadows, the audience members leapt to their feet and began cheering the band on. When the intro finished, the stage lights turned on and the band started the night off with “The Grand Illusion.”
The next two hours were filled with most of Styx’s greatest hits from as far back as the song that first launched them into the limelight in 1974, “Lady.” As Lawrence Gowan promised in his interview with Target Audience Magazine, the band made sure to hit all the right notes with their fans. Their stream of hits included “Blue Collar Man,” “Fooling Yourself,” “Too Much Time on my Hands,” and “Crystal Ball.” Almost every album in their history was represented in some fashion, including a verse of “Mr. Roboto,” jokingly played by Lawrence Gowan during his classic rock homage.
Original bassist, Chuck Panozzo, joined the rest of the band for a handful of songs as well. Half way through the night, Styx paid their respects to The Allman Brothers and their connection to Macon, by performing their cover of “One Way Out” off of Big Bang Theory.
Styx even surprised the fans with a few songs not normally played in their live show, including “Lights” from Cornerstone and “Suite Madame Blue” from Equinox. As usual, the main set was closed with the song that Cartman from “South Park” made famous again, “Come Sail Away,” followed by their encore performances of “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Renegade.”
If you have never seen Styx live, then you are depriving yourself of a truly great rock and roll experience. The next time you see them show up on your local amphitheater’s schedule, do yourself a favor and go. You will be thrust back in time to an era where rock and roll was the go-to formula for Top 40 and seeing a band perform live was the preferred way to have a good time.
Gallery: Styx at The Macon City Auditorium 10/5/2014
Two weeks ago I was given an opportunity to interview Lawrence Gowan, one of the members of the classic-rock band Styx. The group, famous for songs like “Renegade,” “The Best of Times” and “Come Sail Away,” is on tour again this fall and is performing in Macon, Georgia on Sunday, October 5th. The Target Audience Magazine interview with Lawrence can be found here, and focuses on Styx’s seemingly non-stop tour of the world.
I’ve been a Styx fan for over 30 years and can say, without any exaggeration, that their songs were the foundation of what would become my diverse and slightly odd taste in music. My first real interest in Styx can all be traced back to a summer in the 1970’s, before I started fourth grade. A new family had just moved into a neighboring house and their daughter, Karin, was my age and about to start going to the same school. We quickly became friends and thanks to the power of the internet we still keep in touch to this day.
When Karin and I first met, I had an overwhelming obsession for all things “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Mork & Mindy,” but my musical knowledge was limited to the constraints of the local Top 40 radio station. Karin, on the other hand, was really into music and introduced me to the concept of having a record collection. After a while her bubbling enthusiasm for music, especially Styx, began to rub off on me. She seemed to have every picture of Tommy Shaw (Styx’s guitarist and vocalist) that she could find on display in her bedroom. When Kilroy Was Here was released in 1983, she managed to convince the manager of the local record store, Waxie Maxie’s, to give her the life-sized standee of Mr. Roboto they used to display the album. To say she was a Styx fan is probably the greatest understatement that I can make.
One year for my birthday, my parents gave me an all-in-one stereo system and Karin bought me my very first Styx record. Once I had that stereo I began adding to my music collection by taping my favorite songs off of the radio and saving up to buy records of my own. Of course, if Karin introduced me to a band, I became an instant fan. That said, nothing she introduced me to stuck to my heart as much as the music of Styx.
I would listen to Styx’s Paradise Theater over and over while I read books or played with my action figures. Eventually I added other Styx albums to my collection, but never delved too far back into their musical history. In fact, until I was a teenager, I preferred Styx’s later albums and didn’t listen to anything earlier than Crystal Ball. Another peculiar quirk of mine was that I had convinced myself that bands only put their good songs on the A-sides of records. I would seldom listen to the B-sides for that reason. So, even though I had a growing Styx collection, I was not listening to half of their songs. It took the release of Kilroy was Here to finally change that misconception.
When Styx was out on their Kilroy was Here tour, I failed twice at convincing my parents to let me attend the concert. My mom just did not feel comfortable with her little boy going to a loud rock and roll show, even if I had an adult with me. I remember very clearly the night that we were in Charleston, West Virginia visiting family and Styx was playing just down the road. I begged and pleaded to go, but to no avail. It was just not meant to be.
Sadly, that was the last tour that the band ever performed with that lineup of musicians. By the time I was finally able to attend a Styx concert (almost 30 years later), original drummer John Panozzo had passed away and Lawrence Gowan had replaced original keyboardist Dennis DeYoung.
I tell you that last story in order to tell you this one:
When I was done interviewing Lawrence Gowan, I told him that same tale of woe. He commiserated with me and regaled me with one of his own. The exact same thing had happened to him when he was a boy. A neighbor had an extra ticket for a rock and roll concert that he desperately wanted to attend. Like my mother, his would not let him attend a rock and roll show at a young age. Instead, she promised that the next time the band came to town, he would be a bit older and she would let him go. The name of that band was The Beatles, and he is still waiting for them to come back to town.
At least my story has a happy ending. A few years ago, when Styx was out on the road with their “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight” theater tour, I bought a ticket to their performance at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. It had taken me almost 30 years to finally see Styx in concert and the opportunity to attend a show in which they played two of my favorite albums in their entirety just could not be missed.
There I was, 41 years old and thinking about all the things in my life that had occurred since Karin introduced me to Styx so many years ago. The lights went down, the band started playing and I suddenly realized that I was there cheering on Styx, literally “from the shadow of the 14th row.”
For more information on Styx and their tour, visit their website.
Originally from Chicago, Styx has grown to become one of the most recognized names in classic rock. In 1972, the band released their first record, the eponymous Styx. After releasing several chart-topping and certified platinum albums, the band went on hiatus while the members explored their individual musical ideas. In 1996, Styx regrouped for a reunion tour and in 1997, recorded a new album: Return to Paradise. The current lineup has been in place for the past ten years and consists of Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young on guitars and vocals, Lawrence Gowan on keyboards, Todd Sucherman on percussion and Ricky Phillips (with the occasional special appearance by original band member Chuck Panozzo) on bass guitar.
With the state of the music industry in constant flux, Styx has become one of the world’s premiere touring bands. They spend about 2/3 of the year performing live to audiences all around the world. According to their website, Styx has performed more live shows since 1999 than all of the previous years of the band’s career combined.
During this past summer, Styx played a series of festival shows with with Foreigner and Don Felder from The Eagles. Now that autumn has arrived, Styx is back out on the road with their “Evening with Styx” fall and winter tour. Lawrence Gowan talked with Target Audience Magazine about the band, their heavy touring schedule and what fans can expect to see and hear during the “Evening With Styx” shows.
Being on the road so much, what is it that keeps the band going strong every night, performance after performance?
Well you know, during the summer tour, we witnessed just how much classic rock has crossed generations. In the audience we were playing to, half the fans were under 30 years of age on any given night and sometimes it was even a higher percentage than that. It is amazing to see just how much of an impact classic rock has made on not only the people who grew up with it, but is now affecting people who weren’t even around when some of these songs came out.
With one tour still so close in your rear view, what can fans expect if they decide to attend one of the upcoming concerts?
So with the fall tour, the contrast is this: the chance to play the longer shows. That’s what comes in once we finish the blockbuster summer tour where we play for an hour and twenty minutes. Now we’re back to doing our usual “Evening with Styx” two-hour show. So when we come to Macon, Georgia, that’s going to be a longer show where we can stretch out a little more. That’s something that we love to do.
A few years ago, the band went on a theater tour where you performed two fan-favorite albums, Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight in their entirety and in running order, complete with Tommy reminding everyone about the process of flipping the record over. When you these do “Evening with Styx” tours, do you ever bring back the “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight” show?
The logistics of that are what dictates if we can do it or not. We have a whole new stage setup this year and the “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight” tour had a certain presentation. So, to do it one night and then not do it the next is a little difficult. What we can do is take various songs from those albums and rotate them into the lineup. But to do that entire show the way it is, it requires specific staging.
On this run we’re doing a greatest hits show, plus. “Plus” means a lot of these album tracks that have become favorites over the years and perhaps bigger favorites than some of the most obvious singles over the decades. People will really get their big Styx epic adventure either way.
What percentage of the year would you say that Styx is on the road?
I’d say roughly about 2/3 of the year. This year we’re out for 110 shows, so that means we’re on the road for at least 200 days a year. A little bit more than that, actually. It certainly helps occupy our time. It’s great, because there is an insatiable demand for Styx around the world, so we do all that we can to meet that demand, very happily.
From the performance standpoint, how does the band keep so energized on stage every night? Everyone on the stage is very active and full of presence and joy.
I’ll tell you, it’s not like we don’t pay the price for it the next day *laughs*. You know, everyone in this band started as very active, animated and enamored with the whole “rock theater” that offers itself every single night that you get on stage in front of a few thousand people. We’re still like that. Once we hit that first note we can’t help it, quite honestly. We feel better when we’re more physically engaged in the whole thing and we don’t look upon it as an esoteric experience.
To play the music live, in front of people is a great form of communication and part of that is the freedom to get up to all the antics that you’re referring to. It’s one of the joys of being in a band. The feeling of rock music, especially classic rock, is epic in nature and it’s larger than life, to reach for that cliché. It inspires you to want to come up with physical acts that reflect it. So, we’re proud of that fact and it is yet another aspect of the Styx concert experience.
What is the biggest challenge when you’re on the road so much?
To find nuanced ways to elevate the show every night. That really is the challenge. Somehow and not in predictable ways either, we have managed to achieve that every year that I’ve been a part of the band. Going back to that “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight tour,” that really was quite a monumental undertaking for us to do at that time. But, for us it was an impressive thing to do because we’d been performing together for 12 years at that point and we were able to pull that tour off. From there, great things happened as a result. We’ve elevated the show in different ways because of that tour and that really is the challenge, but it’s also the most rewarding aspect of it.
Is there a particular song that you look forward to performing every night?
Well, obviously the safe answer to that is “yes, all of them.” But, “Renegade” is a great tune that I’ve been able to witness the different audiences reaction to around the world. Every single night when we play it, whether we’re in America, Japan, Sweden, Mexico or England, it’s amazing how much the audiences are alike. That’s the song that I really get to take a moment to take stock of what the band has achieved and the impact that it has on the audience. It’s one of the most unique openings to a song. That calm kind of vocal heartbeat that precedes the song and then it just blasts off like a rocket. It’s kind of a rock ecstasy moment. So for that reason, it’s that song.
Other than touring, is there any other project that Styx is working on?
We just finished shooting a live show of the “Soundtrack of Summer” Styx & Foreigner tour in Vegas. We’re just doing the post-production on that and figuring out camera angles and how the 5.1 sound is going to be, so that is in the immediate future.
Our big plan that keeps being put off is getting into the studio and making another album. But, that plan keeps being revised as more and more dates are offered for the band to play. We can’t bring ourselves to turn them down. In the past three years, we’ve sculpted out studio time to go and record all these new songs that we have, but each time the plan has been thwarted because there are another 50 shows that have been offered. The band doesn’t want to turn down those opportunities for a number of reasons, chiefly of which is because we’re having so much fun. So, we’re just going to keep doing that and hopefully the studio thing will take care of itself at the right time.
When you are on the road, what kind of influence does modern technology have on your ability to write and record new material?
Well, that’s a good question. About 10 years ago, when suddenly we all realized that we could do such wonderful things with our laptop computers, we all jumped aboard that ship really happily. Yet, here we are 10 years after making Cyclorama and now we’re not as enthralled with it. We like just jamming the songs and maybe recording them on an iPhone or something so that we’re half way there. Really, we want to record in the manner which we originally did, which is back to the analog standard which people have suddenly taken note of again. That’s not to say anything negative about the digital world, because we love [Avid] Pro Tools and what’s achievable with modern technology, but I think that the more it’s married to the long standing way of doing things, the better the result.
In fact, I’m doing a solo album right now on 2-inch tape and going through that, much like in the great documentary that Dave Grohl did, “Sound City.” That movie really pointed out the great aspects of recording and why those albums sound so warm when you hear them. Not just the song writing and performance, but the very manner in which they were recorded and what those techniques brought to the sound on those records. So, we try to incorporate as much of that thinking and hopefully we’ll continue down that road.
What is the best advice that you can pass on to bands that are trying to make a business out of what they are doing?
That’s a tough question and it’s one that I am confronted with fairly often. I’ve come to the conclusion that I think the best advice is not to give out any advice. You may end up steering someone really wrong.
Music is an artistic endeavor and the paradigm of what works today is not necessarily relevant to what is going to work tomorrow. You have to grapple with the world at hand as you see it. As a younger person, you’re going to make something different of it than previous generations. With the seismic changes that have occurred in the music business, it’s a completely different model now than what I grew up with. In many ways, that’s a great thing. You can access the entire world just by clicking ‘send.’
If I am pressed for another answer, the best advice I can give is to fall in love with the instrument you’re playing and if it leads you to connecting with a larger audience, then that’s a great thing. If it leads you to creating a better life for yourself because you’ve got this fantastic thing in your life, then that’s just as good. That really is the most sincere answer I can give. Music is its own reward. If you can somehow turn it into making a living, that’s a fantastic trick, but everybody has to find a different way of achieving it. I would say, play a good tune and keep on playing it.
On Oct. 5, 2014, you can catch STYX at the Macon Centreplex. Buy tickets from Ticketmaster.
For more information on Styx and their tour, visit their website.
To buy tickets for Styx in concert, visit the links below:
|2-Oct||Ardmore, OK||Heritage Hall||Buy Tickets|
|3-Oct||Charenton, LA||Cypress Bayou Casino||Buy Tickets|
|4-Oct||Montgomery, AL||Garrett Coliseum||Buy Tickets|
|5-Oct||Macon, GA||Macon Centreplex||Buy Tickets|
|18-Oct||Lake Tahoe, NV||MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa||Buy Tickets|
|13-Nov||Morristown, NJ||Mayo Center for the Performing Arts||Buy Tickets|
|14-Nov||Westbury, NY||Theatre at Westbury||Buy Tickets|
|15-Nov||Westbury, NY||Theatre at Westbury||Buy Tickets|
|16-Nov||Montclair, NJ||Wellmont Theater||Buy Tickets|
|5-Dec||Hammond, IN||Horseshoe Hammond Casino||Buy Tickets|
|6-Dec||Windsor, ON CA||The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor||Buy Tickets|
|21-Jan||Anaheim, CA||Grove of Anaheim||Buy Tickets|
|23-Jan||Beverly Hills, CA||Saban Theatre||Buy Tickets|