Sunday, June 30, 2013

Styx - i-wireless Center

I've always been intrigued by bands that have some sort of "catch phrase" inevitably it becomes their identity.  Despite the best efforts of many of these bands to avoid those songs in which the catch phrase exists, often times said songs become nothing short of a sore point with them.  Its sad really because for many of these bands that little phrase can keep your career flowing regardless of sales and it can increase their fan base too.  The '80's were teeming with bands that are instantly recognizable and often the title of the song is replaced with that single catch phrase.  Why is that important?  Well...

The "catch phrase" of a piece of music is a boon or a bust, just think back to those records, cassettes or radio for that matter.  Think back at the music in which we let it permeate our psyche and then allowed it to tickle that place in our brain that allows us to enjoy it.  Who doesn't remember bands and performers that they used to listen to and their music?  I fondly remember Nena and her classic "99 Luftballons" and I remember trying to emulate the sweet sounds of nuclear war dripping through her lyrics.  You know, and I know that you tried to sing in German but hadn't a clue what she was saying.  But, if I were to ask you about the song what would be your memory of the song my guess would be simply the line 99 Luftballons.

Don't underestimate the importance of the power of identification in music in this fashion, it can tell you quite a bit about the band and their music.  Such material is the thing any band should hope they can attain and maintain.  Recently I saw the band "Survivor" (article to follow soon) and their was a woman who had obviously consumed a little too much and she continued to scream "EYE OF THE TIGER".  That one title / lyric is so familiar to her that she wanted to hear it BUT before the band took the stage the same woman was telling her friend she knew nothing else they did.  That woman was far from a "lone wolf", throughout the crowd were people screaming forth for the same song.  In all honesty I expected that, the song is so identifiable that it has become the identity of the band.  I'm perplexed by that situation really, Survivor had some really good music but it remains an identity of sorts.

If I were to say "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto" would your answer be similar to the one as Nena or Survivor?  Probably but this band is recognizable by any number of lyrics, titles, albums or simply their name: Styx.

Having been born in the late '60's I remember AM radio and I remember listening to the scratchy sounding music that wafted through the speakers.  Those speakers were a portal to music that so many remember and so many have never heard.  I remember hearing "Steve Miller Band", "REO Speedwagon", "Cheap Trick"and "ELO" and I remember singing along with those bands (and so many others too).  The previous four bands were instrumental in bringing a generation to the genre of rock music.  At a time where country music was king, rock took over and forced its way to the airwaves.  So too was a band formed in Chicago, Illinois in 1961 (as "The Tradewinds") and in 1972 the band changed their name to "Styx".

Styx, named after the mythical river in Greek mythology, was far from mythical, not by a long shot.  Look back at the second album the band released, and within lies the song "Lady".  The song reached #6 in the pop charts and has been used in weddings from the era and still to this day.  That is truly the mark of success when a song released in 1975 is easily recognized.  The catalog of music from Styx is truly the things that legends born from.

The success of Styx was built on the foundation of killer musicians, and song writers thus the band could do nothing other than take off, straight to the stratosphere.  Evidence of such is easily ascertained with three simple words: "The Grand Illusion".  Within this one simple album lies the songs "The Grand Illusion", "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)", "Miss America" and "Come Sail Away".  Think about this for a moment, the four songs I just named were on the album consisting of eight songs.  EIGHT.  Fifty percent of anything is remarkable, except for a math test.  Speaking of the number eight, the next studio album which ironically was their eight studio album named "Pieces of Eight" (yet another reference to the number eight) went triple platinum.  All kidding aside, this album gave us "Sing for the Day", "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)" and "Renegade", thus reinforcing their deserved "legend" moniker. Subsequent releases were as successful such as the album "Cornerstone" which yielded the uber-hit "Babe" while "Paradise Theater" spawned "Too Much Time on My Hands" and "The Best of Times".

As I mentioned earlier it is completely feasible that any of the previous songs can have their own "catch phrase" (it's really easy to do), but the one I mentioned earlier, "Domo  Arigato, Mr. Roboto" is above and beyond any of the others.  The album "Kilroy Was Here" gave the listening world "Don't Let it End" and "Mr. Roboto" plus that "catch phrase".  Styx continued forth spawning a couple other hits, lost and gained some members but really never left the psyche of their fans.

On April 20th, 2013 I was able to see Styx live for the first time in my life of concerts past when they headlined at the i-wireless Center in Moline, IL with REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent.  When one looks at that trio of bands you can only imagine how eclectic the crowd was.  From the get-go the opening act, Ted Nugent, injected energy into the crowd, while REO Speedwagon kept the flow moving forth with their combination of upbeat and ballad like music so by the time Styx took the stage the crowd was really fired up.

With the relatively sparse stage Styx entered to a raucous cacophony of men, women and children. Its really fun watching a band like Styx because their body of work is so well known and I caught myself actually anticipating certain songs.  That made the show even more exciting for me, they did so much material that at times I could see my own progression as a Styx fan.

To a vast majority of their fans it's obvious that Styx has undergone changes throughout the bands history.  Of the original five members, one is with the band (James "J.Y." Young) and another is in the band part-time (Chuck Panozzo), two have passed away (John Panozzo and John Curulewski), and the final member is no longer in the group (Dennis DeYoung).  Within the confines of the band still lies the dynamic that made Styx, and that would would be James "J.Y." Young.  

James "J.Y." Young is really the "Swiss Army Knife" of the band playing guitar (lead and rhythm), vocals (lead and backing) and keyboards.  I harp upon this all of the time but it rings true, performers like Young are rare, he is truly comfortable in his own skin and within his music as well.  Many performers wish they could be as diverse as Young and why not he can do it all.  As one ponders that thought how many performers can play more than one instrument AND how many could pull that off?  Too often I'm afraid and the result may be just another one hit wonder.  Take note and heed at this man you up and coming musicians you.

It would be difficult for any vocalist to perform with Styx as the "voice" of the band is no longer with the band but Lawrence Gowen isn't just any ordinary singer.  In his repertoire Gowan provides vocals (lead and backing), guitar and keyboards.  Watching Gowan while playing keyboards as he rotated about on the turntable in which he was standing could be described as looking like fun.  Like the comment I made months back when talking about the change of lead singers with Skid Row, I personally believe that Gowan is better than DeYoung.  With high energy and an air of confidence, Gowan is a master.

Todd Sucherman mans the often forgotten role of drummer but Sucherman changes that misnomer.  It seems when someone takes over the duty of a drummer its because the drummer has a conflict with someone and he becomes like chaff on the threshing rooms floor.  Sucherman has the unenviable task of following John Panozzo who, unfortunately passed away.  I would like to believe Panozzo would be ecstatic with Todd Sucherman by the way he performs.

Ricky Phillips is another person in an unenviable role in Styx playing bass.  Imagine if you will playing for a classic, a legendary band such as Styx and the weight resting upon Phillips as he tries to fill those shoes.  Phillips is extremely talented playing both bass and guitar.  A performer like Phillips is a major asset for the band and it is obvious how comfortable he truly is in the band.  It would be one heck of a role to have and when you factor in that Phillips isn't the only bass player in the band, kind of, is really cool.  The fact of the matter is that occasionally Chuck Panozzo takes over a song or two during performances.  I know what you're thinking, "Who and what?".

Chuck Panozzo plays a role within the band that is one of the simplest, most confusing type thing.  Panozzo was the twin brother of John Panozzo (former drummer of Styx) and he does occasionally perform with the band for a few songs.  Panozzo, an AIDS advocate as well as a cancer survivor (prostate) performed at this show (April 20th, 2013) and he was masterful.  Any band would be ecstatic to have either Panozzo or Phillips as their bass player but I doubt either are going away any time soon.  (On a side note Panozzo and I share the same birthday [month and day] and I'm very proud to know that). 

Music in the '80's, "hair metal" at least, was rife with bands breaking up, then joining new bands with people that left bands, it was anarchy.  I'm kidding it wasn't really anarchy it was more like starting new bands with men and women wearing mullets listening to those new bands.  When Tommy Shaw joined Styx it really was one of being the right person, at the right time.  According to Shaw's bio on the Styxworld website, "I got a call from STYX's tour manager wanting to know if I would come to Chicago to audition. They flew me up and without me ever picking up a guitar, offered me the job. The deal was, I could hit that high D in Lady, I looked the part and I played guitar."  During a "brief" hiatus Shaw formed the band "Damn Yankees" with Jack Blades, Jack Michael Cartellone and Ted Nugent as well as a successful solo act.

If I had any musical talent I would make it my life's work to hire a musician / performer like Tommy Shaw.  Okay probably not, I would want to be in a band with Tommy Shaw.  As the band entered the stage I made the remark that from that distance Shaw looked like Robin Zander (Cheap Trick) but that's where the comparison ended.  Shaw performs at this uber-high level and his guitar skills make him one of the elite.  While he is fun to watch it is apparent that he is the consummate professional.

After the Damn Yankees released their first album and then went on tour, I was in attendance when they played at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, Iowa.  Saying that we (some friends and I) were close to the stage would be an understatement.  Jack Blades hit me in the head with a pick (which I couldn't retrieve) and the "Motor City Madman" Mr. Ted Nugent wanted my shirt (emblazoned with an American Flag and "Try Burning The One A.....e") I didn't give it to him (no one, I repeat NO ONE, wanted to see me without a shirt) but I did get a "high five" from him.  Shaw was amazing, I mentioned to the people I was with (after the volume was stopped) that the solo he (Shaw) did was incredible.  

Let's get back to the regularly scheduled program, or the 2013 show (sorry I rambled a bit).

The opportunity to see Styx in concert was one of the highlights of my "journey".  Seeing such a legendary band with my family and friends was one of those moments I will remember forever.  Despite the fact that Styx no longer plays music from the infamous "Kilroy Was Here" album" and I wasn't able to hear that simple catch phrase "Domo  Arigato, Mr. Roboto" it made no difference to me.  Styx is a band that cannot be described by one line of one song.  Styx has complexity, it has meaning and feeling.  Styx is legendary and they are timeless.  Well Mr. Roboto "good riddance", I'd rather see musicians and not robots.


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