Thursday, October 28, 2010

'It's just a Grand Illusion..'

The wife and I went to see Styx tonight at the Beacon Theater. They were one of her favorite bands growing up and she last saw them 27 years ago in Hamburg, Germany. I have to admit I never really got into them as a teenager. I was a big fan of Rush when I was 17 but that was primarily because I was a bass player and Geddy Lee was one of the most amazing musicians I'd ever seen - all three of those guys, actually.

I first lived in the US in 1982 and 1983, when Styx were probably at the height of their popularity, driven by radio-friendly power-ballads and songs that were largely inoffensive and lyrically forgettable. When they released their "Kilroy" album it turned me off for good. I grew to despise the "Mr Roboto" song because it was everywhere all the time, and I thought the "concept" was nothing more than a watered-down version of "2112".

So for me, seeing them after so many years of not really caring that much was always going to be interesting.

Did you know Styx have their very own coffee blend now? No, neither did I. And I guess I could have gone here tonight for a third of the price and with marginally less irony; but in the end, I'm really glad we went to this show.

Firstly, because the wife clearly loved every minute. And that's always a good thing.

Of course, for non-diehards there was always going to be a Spinal Tap-ish element, but the band to their credit have embraced it and put on a hell of an entertaining evening. It was a tight, well-rehearsed production, as they played two of their classic albums from the late 70's back-to-back: "The Grand Illusion" and "Pieces of Eight". They sounded just as good as they maybe ever did, with no sense that they were at all burnt out or not having a good time.

Tommy Shaw - who according to the wife "looks a hell of a lot better than he did 25 years ago - and James Young are very decent guitar players and I was particularly impressed by drummer Todd Sucherman. Great technique and he made it seem effortless.

It was also good to see original bass player Chuck Panozzo ("the band started in this guy's basement") come on for a few songs, since health issues prevent him from appearing more.

It's hardest on real fans when the band they love breaks up acrimoniously and it's tough to watch people argue in court over the use of a name; especially when the opposing sides used to be the band's creative force. And I guess Styx will always be seen in the context of Shaw and Young on one side and former frontman Dennis DeYoung on the other. There's an interview with James Young here that fills in some of the blanks and explains why the current line-up is re-recording some of its classic material.

Starting with a nice tongue-in-cheek homage to vinyl, tonight's video backdrop was pretty good: complementary but not too distracting, apart from a jarring and particularly creepy clown montage that accompanied a circus-themed song called "Lords of the Ring".

Overall, I genuinely had a much better time than I was expecting, but I'll leave the last - and my favorite - word to the wife. Keyboardist Lawrence Gowan, who replaced DeYoung in 1999, has a passable prog-rock voice but "dances a bit like Bill Nighy", she said.

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