"The Grand Illusion/Pieces
Of Eight" Tour
Star Plaza Theatre - Merrillville, Indiana
15 , 2010
Scott "Dr. Music" Itter
means so many things to so many different people. If you ask a scholar,
they might tell you about some lake or river or something, but I
can tell you exactly what Styx is Styx is a pure rock and
me, just the sound of the name defines my life as a young boy. I
spent so many of my early years with my ear stitched to the fabric
of my speakers, with Styx music pouring into my head for hours on
end. It was 1977 when the band went from local fave to international
sensation with their breakthrough album, The Grand Illusion. And,
after about a year with that album, the band gave me another gift
in the form of the Pieces Of Eight record. This was another album
I spent countless hours with; learning every lyric, singing every
note, every vocal inflection. Styx was the soundtrack of my youthful
existence. It's now some 33 years after the release of The Grand
Illusion and the band is on the road performing both The Grand Illusion
and Pieces Of Eight, in their entirety. And let me tell you, once
the band started to play, it felt so much like 1977 I almost checked
to see if I had my Star Wars Underoos on.
band has really outdone itself this time out. Aside from the historic
set list, the band brings a state-of-the-art stage set to life.
I was able to explore the inner workings of this Oz-like set with
the Wizard himself, production manager Keith Marks. Every facet
of this stage production is astounding. From the speakerless digital
sound system, to the enormous high resolution LED screen, to the
cool and comfortable crew that control everything including effects
pedals for the band. And, with the magic of wireless audio technology,
each member has a custom fit earpiece that serves as their return
monitor. That's right, no effects pedals, and no giant black boxes
littering the stage. The band is free to canvas the entire stage
without being hindered by wires, pedals, monitors or anything else.
All of this powerful equipment and technology has the potential
of creating a mind-blowing concert experience, but only if the crew
hits their cues and the band is capable of driving home a stellar
musical performance. With the Styx crew, and six of the most talented
musicians in the world, this audience was treated to a night of
the screen started its Star Wars-style scrolling, and gave the current
state of affairs (for 1977, of course), we saw film of a young boy
sifting through his record collection looking for something to put
on. He moves past the first Boston record, then REO, Journey, and
finally settles on The Grand Illusion record. As we watch the vinyl
slab spinning at 33RPM, the needle is dropped, and off we go.
band launches into the opening chords of "The Grand Illusion,"
and the stage erupts with light and sound. Bassist Ricky Phillips,
and guitarists Tommy Shaw and James "JY" Young are set
into motion. They started to shuffle from one side of the stage
to the other, playfully interacting with each other along the way.
It was high energy with razor sharp musical precision. Keyboardist/vocalist
Lawrence Gowan's voice was booming as he welcomed us to The Grand
Illusion. With former vocalist/ keyboardist Dennis DeYoung absent
from the current lineup, I asked Gowan about the pressures of filling
such iconic shoes. He insured me that the audience would get a true
Lawrence Gowan, not someone trying to be Dennis DeYoung. As he says,
"We are both keyboard players, and we both sing in the same
vocal range, but the similarities end there." He rifled off
names of former members of Styx, like John Curulewski and Glen Burtnik,
and emphasized their importance to the Styx legacy. Each of those
guys brought something to what is now known as Styx, and Gowan is
comfortable with being the current piece of the legendary puzzle.
With that said, there is an eerie similarity in vocal style between
Dennis DeYoung and Gowan. He puts the DeYoung material over as if
it were his own. Gowan's concerns were more with the classic harmonies
that Styx is known for. He always wants to make sure that he is
fitting into that vocal mix perfectly, in order to recreate the
classic harmony sound. Well, I can tell you that on this night,
every harmony was a picture of perfection.
the band moved on to one of their biggest hits, "Fooling Yourself
(The Angry Young Man)," it was time to see how well Tommy Shaw
has been keeping his vocal instrument. My good sweet Lord. You would
think he keeps his voice in a velvet-lined box under his bed at
night with the way he sounded. This is a guy that has lost absolutely
nothing in the vocal department. He sounded exactly like the record;
every high note, every low note, no back door gimmicks to avoid
any of the tough stuff. Tommy Shaw came to play, and play he did.
He became most impressive when the set reached the Grand Illusion
tune "Man In The Wilderness." It was a perfect rendition
of one of my favorite songs by the band.
introduced "Superstars" as one of the songs that they've
never performed prior to this current tour. It was exciting to witness
this first by the band, and like the rest of the set, it was executed
with precision and excellence. When the first side of The Grand
Illusion comes to a close, we see the vinyl spinning on the turntable
once again as Shaw asks the crowd, "What should we do now?"
After some crowd response he says, "That's right, flip it over!"
The band then proceeded to perform one of the best album sides in
classic rock history. It started with a supercharged version of
"Miss America," went through Shaw's spotless rendition
of "Man In The Wilderness," and came to a head with the
haunting sound of what could possibly be the best song in the Styx
catalog, "Castle Walls." When I spoke to Lawrence Gowan
before the show, he mentioned this track as one that has Dennis
DeYoung's indelible stamp all over it, but he was accepting of the
challenge and was excited to be performing it. And, in true Gowan
form, he nailed it.
the 20 minute intermission in between albums, the band returned
to play the Pieces Of Eight album all the way through. So back we
went to the kid's room so we could watch him throw on the next Styx
masterpiece. It was great to hear songs like the opening track,
"The Great White Hope," "I'm O.K."and"
Queen Of Spades" from this album. So much of this material
gets hidden behind the success of "Renegade" and "Blue
Collar Man (Long Nights)." This is an album packed full of
great material, and the band showcased it all with rock and roll
elegance. I did find it funny that Lawrence Gowan told me that his
favorite song to perform is "Renegade." As he states,
"I'm hardly even in that song, but it comes at a time in the
set when the crowd is all whipped up, and you can't help but get
into it." It's great to know that the band enjoys playing as
much as I enjoy listening to them.
Styx rhythm section of Todd Sucherman and Ricky Phillips were nothing
short of spectacular as well. Modern Drummer magazine voted Sucherman
Best Rock Drummer in the World in 2009, and it's no surprise after
seeing him work. He captured all of the small nuances, as well as
maintaining the overall feel of original Styx drummer John Panozzo's
style. Sucherman, along with ex-Babys bassist Ricky Phillips keeping
perfect pace, recreated the backbone that made this era of Styx
the band finished off the album with the strange and delicate "Aku-Aku,"
I felt a certain melancholy in the air. Did we all have to leave
1978 now? Can't we put the album on again, or perhaps another Styx
record? None of us in that theatre wanted to leave the wonderful
world of yesterday that the band had created. They closed the show
with encores of The Beatles classic, "I Am The Walrus,"
and the always entertaining "Too Much Time On My Hands,"
from another Styx masterpiece, Paradise Theater. I'd say it was
the perfect ending, but that really is an oxymoron, isn't it? To
say this show ended is kind of a sad thing. But as I made my way
home after the show, I slipped into my Star Wars pajamas (they're
kinda tight these days), and I closed my eyes tightly and wished
that the magic of Styx might someday return again to take me on
a midnight ride.
of the best things about this show was seeing Chuck Panozzo come
out to play bass. Being HIV positive, he can't endure the full setlist,
but he comes out to play on about half the songs in the set, and
he is travelling with the band to the major locations on this tour.
I felt that it was a real privilege to have him there, and he sounded
the decision by the band to use vintage guitars for this show was
also something that added a tremendous amount of flair to the show.
Brickler - Without you, the bestest Styx Chyk I know, this would've
never happened. Thank you just seems so minimal. YOU ROCK!
Gowan - Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. It
was an honor to be in your presence.
Marks and his road crew- Thanks for your graciousness and hospitality.
It was fun to watch you guys make it happen.
Brusco - No words can express how thankful I am for all that you've
done. I am especially appreciative of your time and amazing professionalism.
There's a reason why guys like you last in this business - it's
because you're the best.