Harmony. Chemistry. Balance. Grit. Dexterity. Determination. Solidarity. Terms that describe a Super Bowl champion? Well, almost. These are words that define the core essence of Styx, the multimegamillion-selling rock band that has forged an indelible legacy both on record and onstage.
The six men comprising Styx have committed to rocking the Paradise together with audiences far and wide by entering their second decade of averaging over 100 shows a year, and each one of them is committed to making the next show better than the last. “Every night, we go on that magic carpet ride together,” observes original bassist Chuck Panozzo, who joins the band on tour as often as he can. “The thing I always like the most is the immediate response we get when playing live,” adds guitarist and vocalist James “JY” Young, an integral force of nature in the band since its 1972 inception. I like to say we’re the best-kept secret — but perhaps we’re not anymore.” Notes guitarist, vocalist, and emotional centerpiece Tommy Shaw, “Our live show is like a religious experience where people come to commune and testify. We have a pretty sophisticated audience, and we really respect that. We didn’t used to have people who would come see every show, but now they’re coming back again and again for more. And we owe it to our fans to continually rehearse, prepare, and improve.”
Styx draws from over four decades of barnburning chart hits, joyous singalongs, and hard-driving deep cuts. Like a symphony that builds to a satisfying crescendo, a Styx set covers a wide range of stylistic cornerstones. From the progressively sweeping splendor that is “The Grand Illusion” to the hunker-down fortitude of all that is the “Blue Collar Man,” from the majestic spiritual love for a special “Lady” to the poignant rumination on the fleeting nature of fame in “Miss America,” from an individual yearning for true connection as a “Man in the Wilderness” to a soul-deep quest to achieve what’s at the heart of one’s personal vision in “Crystal Ball,” from the regal reach-for-the-stars bravado of “Come Sail Away” to the grainy all-in gallop of that rugged “Renegade” who had it made, the band draws on an unlimited cache of ways to immerse one’s mind and body in their signature sound.
Styx hit its stride with Tommy’s first LP with the band, 1976’s Crystal Ball, and then they become the first group to score four triple-platinum albums in a row: The Grand Illusion (1977), Pieces of Eight (1978), Cornerstone (1979), and Paradise Theater (1981). Over the ensuing decade, Styx weathered the shifting winds of the public’s musical taste, reconvening for a highly successful 1996 Return to Paradise tour that was expertly documented on both CD and DVD in 1997. With a little help from their many friends in Cleveland’s Contemporary Youth Orchestra, One With Everything (2006) became a hybrid orchestral rock blend for the ages. And on The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live (2011), the band performed at its peak when tackling every track from a pair of their finest triple-platinum albums back to back. Not only that, but the band re-recorded two discs’ worth of its classic material with much finesse and musculature, aptly known as Regeneration Volume I & II (2011 & 2012). Observes Tommy, “Now you have something you can take home with you and go, ‘Yeah, that’s the band I saw last night.’ ”
After the success of Return to Paradise, JY and Tommy wanted to keep their renewed momentum intact, and that meant continuing to tour. The core of that momentum had already been rooted when the band tapped Chicago session ace Todd Sucherman to take over for founding drummer John Panozzo in 1996, who was too ill to join the team on the road for Return to Paradise (and whom later tragically died that summer). But to keep moving ahead, they had to part ways with founding member Dennis DeYoung — the man behind some of the band’s most indelible hits, including “Lady,” “The Grand Illusion,” and “Come Sail Away” — because the collective chemistry had changed. The next necessary component came to light when, in 1999, the band recruited Canadian keyboard and vocal wizard Lawrence Gowan, who had opened for Styx in Quebec City in 1997 and had drawn a rabidly enthusiastic response to his purely solo one-man, one-piano set. After Glen Burtnik left the clan in 2003, there was only one name that made sense to join the Styx party: bassist/vocalist Ricky Phillips, a skilled multi-instrumentalist who’s handled a number of musical tasks for the likes of the Babys, Ronnie Montrose, and Coverdale Page.
After more than a decade together on the road, this incarnation of Styx is looking forward to performing as many shows as it can as long as it can. “It all comes back to the chemistry,” says Ricky. “The legacy of this band will be that it brought joy to millions of people,” notes Todd. Observes Lawrence, “We’ve always tried to explain why this is this happening. It’s obviously a multitude of factors, but the main one is that our show is really good! And if it’s really good, they’re going to come to see it again.” Styx hopes it’s a wave that never crests. “Music is this amazing force that comes from a higher place. I’m humbled for this band to have the great success that it has, and I recognize what we have could go away in an instant,” admits JY. “We just want to keep on doing this,” asserts Tommy. “We want to let life take its course and let this music continue to be the soundtrack to it. And this band will continue to evolve as long as we live and play this music.” The jig is up, the news is out: The Esprit de Styx is alive and well, and now it’s time to see for yourself. Welcome to the Grand Evolution.
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