It's time for football!
We're at it again with the 2019 Styx NFL Pool.
Sign up starting today: http://bit.ly/STYXNFLPool2019
This year's prizes:
TOP 5 Slots will win prizes.
1st place: 2 tickets to a STYX show of choice in 2020 (with a mutually agreed upon date) AND a signed NFL Football by STYX OR a signed Guitar.
2nd place: Either a signed NFL football or a signed Guitar (whichever one 1st place didn’t choose)
3rd place: A signed The Mission Vinyl and a signed 5.1 The Mission Album
4th & 5th place: will receive a vintage signed Styx Poster
By Tommy Shaw
Photo by Jason Powell, taken backstage recently at Sweden Rock Festival, June 8, 2019 — Jimmy Johnson in the black t-shirt in the middle, leaning on the shoulder of Todd Sucherman, with Tommy Shaw aiming his guitar at the camera, James Young in the background, and Ricky Phillips in sunglasses
It is with profound sorrow that I am announcing my dear friend and right-hand man, guitar tech and inventor Jimmy Johnson, passed away in his hotel room in the early hours of the morning here today, July 24, 2019, on the Southern Coast of California. When he failed to show up for lobby call, fellow crewmembers contacted hotel management, broke into his room, and discovered him there.
Our love and deepest sympathy go out to his wife Susan and the rest of his family, who, like us, are just hearing what few details are available at this time.
Anyone who has seen STYX over the last couple of decades and seen my many guitar changes or caught a glimpse of my onstage guitar vaults — this was Jimmy Johnson’s domain. Always from his hand to mine. What you didn’t see were all of the electronics he also managed, from amplifiers, backup amps, effects, wireless transmitters/receivers, and an always-expanding collection of tools he never stopped collecting. He took great pride in being able to produce the proper tool for any situation that might arise, knowing how beneficial it would be for getting things back on track.
In the past few years, we had taken on nicknames for each other. I was Tommy Joe, and he was Jim Bob. On the rare occasions when there was some kind of guitar glitch, I could always count on Jim Bob to immediately hand me another one, recently strung and “Gorgomyted” (look up Gorgomyte — it’s Jimmy’s product, loved and used by the best players on earth).
And above it all, we were friends who always departed with a sincere “Love you!”
I knew he was planning on seeing his old friend and dear friend Neil Peart of Rush here yesterday. I hope he did.
I can’t believe he’s gone. So many miles, gigs, guitars, laughs, tears, inside jokes, and shared experiences. He takes that with him, as I’ll hold onto here. He’ll live in my heart for the rest of my days, and now the extremely talented heavenly band he’s running with will never need worry about anything technical again.
We will find a way to take the stage tonight in your honor, as I know you’d insist.
Rock on Jim Bob!
by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
Come on in and see what’s happening: Styx’s biggest-selling album, The Grand Illusion, was released 42 years ago today by A&M Records on the cosmically cool stardate of July 7, 1977 — or, as it’s better known on the back of many a Styx t-shirt, 7/7/77.
Demo’ed at S.I.R. Rehearsal Studios and ultimately recorded at Paragon Recording Studios in Chicago in early 1977, The Grand Illusion was engineered by Barry Mraz and Rob Kingsland, but the overall production credit was given to the entire band in the liner notes as simply, “Produced by Styx.”
The Grand Illusion reached as high as No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, and it spawned two Top 30 singles — “Come Sail Away” reached #8, and “Fooling Yourself” reached #29. The album has been certified triple platinum by the RIAA for selling over 3 million copies (though GI has likely sold over 6 million copies to date, so we demand a re-certification!). The Grand Illusion was the first entry in the band’s groundbreaking string of releasing four multiplatinum albums in a row — a feat no other band had ever done before, BTW. The album’s iconic cover art by Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse is modeled after Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s 1965 piece titled Le Blanc Seing, a.k.a. The Blank Check.
Styx played The Grand Illusion in its entirety when it was paired with Pieces of Eight on a 2010 tour that’s since been commemorated on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray. Its core songs remain as indelible fixtures in the band’s live set, which can also feature other sweet Illusion gems like “Miss America,” “Man in the Wilderness,” and “Castle Walls” during many a headlining show.
As noted, three of the album’s core songs appear in every show: 1) the title track, “The Grand Illusion,” which is either the first or second song performed just about every night and is sung with much aplomb and panache by keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan; 2) “Fooling Yourself,” which, if he’s in the house that night, will also feature original bassist Chuck Panozzo playing on the entire track and taking its brief but iconic bass break the moment guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw calls out, “Chuckie!”; and 3) “Come Sail Away,” which closes every main set with great cosmic bombast, and, at the song’s conclusion — if you’re lucky, and if the venue allows it — features cannons releasing lots and lots of confetti into and onto the audience from either side of the stage.
As easy as it is to sing along to it, “Fooling Yourself” is actually one of the most complex musical pieces the band has ever composed. Both its intro and outro are performed in 6/8 time, while the vocal sections are in 4/4. The synthesizer solo section is in 7/4 before returning to 4/4 for the final chorus. Two measures of 5/8 follow the brief intro recap with a return to 6/8 and another synthesizer solo before the fadeout. In fact, bassist/vocalist Ricky Phillips cites “Fooling Yourself” as having always been his favorite composition by Styx: “People ask me, ‘What is it that gives Styx their sound?’ The way Tommy and JY play together has been a huge part of that sound, but it’s also the odd time signatures like you get in this song.”
Towards the end of the recording sessions for The Grand Illusion, an Oberheim 4 Voice analog synthesizer arrived in the studio to further enhance the proceedings. “Its rich sounds unleashed another dimension of textures no one had yet taken advantage of,” observes Tommy Shaw. Lawrence Gowan has since made sure to program that vintage Oberheim sound into his current touring rig so that he can call it up for whatever song that needs it.
Eagle-ear listeners will also note that vintage Oberheim sound quite deliberately lends a certain authentic weight to Styx’s most recent studio album, The Mission, which was released on June 16, 2017 on LP, CD, and digital-download formats via Alpha Dog 2T/UMe. Tommy confirms the sound of The Grand Illusion — along with that of 1978’s Pieces of Eight and Side 2 of 1975’s Equinox — was instrumental in that key Mission production/performance gear decision.
And now, in a Styxworld exclusive, all six bandmembers recount the impact The Grand Illusion has had over the years — and continues to have, night in and night out. The stage is set. . .
James “JY” Young (co-founding guitarist/vocalist): Dennis [DeYoung] is the one who gleaned the idea that it was our seventh record. I think the release date had originally been scheduled for 7/8/77, or something like that, and we went, “No, we want it on 7/7/77.” Just trying to stack the deck — not that we’re superstitious, or anything. (chuckles) So they changed the original release date to the 7th — which is fantastic! It has such a beautiful resonance and synergy.
Dennis wrote the lyrics, but as the man behind [the title track to 1974’s] “Man of Miracles” [which features lines like, “He was a man of miracles/Riding golden meteorites/Ruler of distant galaxies/Born of the Northern Lights”], I had suggested “Come Sail Away” become not a song just about a sailing ship, but that it should morph into a song about a starship, which was my idea. “Come Sail Away” was also lifted by the release of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the same year, so ’77 was the year for outer space.
We have the good fortune of The Grand Illusion continuing to be a resonant topic, and The Mission resonates with The Grand Illusion in a variety of ways. The theme of Tommy Shaw’s “Man in the Wilderness” intersects with “Radio Silence” — an individual against the forces of nature, wherever you happen to be. And there’s no greater wilderness than the absolute zero-temperature environment of outer space! (laughs)
Tommy Shaw (guitarist/vocalist): It’s 7/7 again — the date that changed everything! We made a record that sounds really good, and we worked really hard at trying to get it right. It wasn’t always romantic and sometimes we lost sleep over it, but what matters is how it turned out. It’s the creative process.
I run into people almost daily who tell me that “Man in the Wilderness” and “Fooling Yourself” are the songs that helped them get through high school. I like hearing that. And now, to look out in the crowd when we’re playing “Man in the Wilderness” and see people singing along who weren’t even born yet when it came out — that’s very satisfying.
Chuck Panozzo (co-founding bassist): The Grand Illusion was the right album at the right time. Why is it our best-selling album? It has the best songs. And it was a true collaboration.
Lawrence Gowan (keyboardist/vocalist): When we did The Grand Illusion-Pieces of Eight tour in 2010, we discovered what a cohesive composition that album is from beginning to end. Delving into the parts and playing the songs in the actual running order reignited my enthusiasm for that album as an album. I was a fan of it then, and I’m a fan of it now.
I should also mention that the album’s artwork has stood the test of time. It looks so engaging today. I love seeing that equestrian image mixed with the forest and the woman’s eyes whenever it gets projected onscreen behind us. It’s one of the great visual icons of rock history.
Ricky Phillips (bassist/vocalist): “Fooling Yourself” has always been my favorite composition by Styx. But being able to play “Castle Walls” is awesome too, because I come from a heavier place. I appreciate that it’s a great track — and it’s bass-heavy, on top of that.
The first time I heard [the song] “The Grand Illusion” was when I was with The Babys, when we were touring with Styx. It has that very clever, “Welcome back my friends/here we are tonight” vibe — it’s grand and pomp, with that bolero beat. So very cool.
Todd Sucherman (drummer): The Grand Illusion will always have a soft spot in my heart because it’s the first full Styx record I ever heard, or bought. My uncle Dennis happened to put that one on during one of our visits with him, shortly after that record came out.
My brother and I immediately went home and bought it, and we would play that record every day. It was the first record I ever bought from the band, and I continued to buy all of their records in succession after that. To me, that album was the genesis of me liking the band, really.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – All announced concerts for the 2019 season in Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion will be held in other locations or cancelled.
The change of venues is a result of structural concerns with the Portsmouth amphitheater’s roof. The City of Portsmouth will keep the venue closed for the entire year while installing a replacement for the roof discovered faulty in 2018.
Styx is rescheduled to Monday, June 24 in Chrysler Hall. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. All tickets purchased will be honored.
Celebrating the resonance of Styx’s last full-length studio album prior to The Mission, which was released on February 18, 2003.
by Mike Mettler
Cyclorama, Styx’s last full-length studio album of all-original material prior to the June 2017 release of The Mission, was released 16 years ago today on February 18, 2003 by Sanctuary/CMC International. The album was produced by Tommy Shaw, James Young, and Gary Loizzo, and it contains such enduring tracks like “One With Everything,” “Yes I Can,” “Killing the Thing That You Love,” “More Love for the Money,” and “Fields of the Brave.” Cyclorama (which also saw a wonderfully enveloping 5.1 surround-sound mix done by the late, great Loizzo for both the DVD-Audio and DualDisc formats, via the Silverline label) reached #127 on The Billboard 200 Albums chart.
In a Styxworld exclusive, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw recalls the unique location for recording some of the album’s vocal tracks, the initial and wisely discarded title for “One With Everything,” and the evergreen poignancy of “Genki Desu Ka.”
Tommy Shaw: Cyclorama was a fun record to make. It was a real “California experience” type of record. We recorded some of the vocals standing outside. That was in my home studio up in Beachwood Canyon in Los Angeles, where I lived for quite a few years before moving to Nashville. After we released the album, we went on a great tour with Journey and REO Speedwagon, and sold out arenas all across the country [from May to August 2003].
Lawrence [Gowan, keyboardist/vocalist] had been in the band for three years at that point, and it was our first album with him. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Glen [Burtnik, bassist/guitarist/vocalist] would be leaving that year around my birthday in September, and that was when [bassist/background vocalist] Ricky Phillips came into the picture. [Glen’s last show with the band was on September 14, 2003 at the Los Angeles County Fair, just three days after Tommy's birthday, and Ricky’s first gig as a member of Styx was October 24, 2003 at the Grand Casino in Tunica, Mississippi.]
I remember both Lawrence and me standing underneath a palm tree, getting this great vocal sound outside. It’s something we learned from [Damn Yankees producer/engineer] Ron Nevison, who had told us about recording Paul Rodgers outside singing the song “Bad Company.” So we tried it, and we loved it.
[Styxologist aside: In an interview conducted on June 9, 2014, Paul Rodgers told me about that very recording of the song “Bad Company,” where he was indeed standing outside Headley Grange in England while cutting the song live in November 1973: “When I came to do this vocal, I thought it would be nice to get some atmosphere. We were in an old mansion and we had a mobile unit outside — Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio, actually. We stretched the mike leads waaaay across and into the fields out there. I waited until midnight and the full moon, and then I sang it. It was very atmospheric. To me, that’s what music is — creating a mood, and taking the listener to the place that you’re going.”
And when I spoke with Ron Nevison about “Bad Company” on June 28, 2016, he added, “It was up against the wall. It was a really cold night. If you listen to the song as it’s fading, you can hear him sing, ‘And the cold wind blows…’ And it did! We only did one vocal take. We tried it. It was a house where we had rooms. For me, on a vocal, you don’t want coloration. You don’t want a room to color it. You don’t want the room’s reverb; you have your own, you know? You want as dry a place as possible — and you can’t get drier than outside. As long as, you know, there are no trucks running past, or anything. (laughs) But it was pretty quiet out in the country there.”
History lesson duly concluded! We now return to the continuation of Tommy’s Cyclorama narrative...]
Tommy Shaw: We had a great time jamming on those songs. “One With Everything” was this amazing song that went through all sorts of changes. It had a different name at first — something crazy, like “My Beautiful Pompeii.” That was one of those songs where my wife Jeanne would come over and I’d say, “Listen to this song!” We’d start playing it and she’d go, “What the hell — ‘Pompeii’? WHAT???” (laughs heartily)
We realized at that point in our enthusiastic joy of creating this great piece of music that we hadn’t really thought about what we were singing! (laughs again) So there was a quick rewrite to “One With Everything” — which actually had a great deal of meaning. And now we play “One With Everything” every chance we get. It’s one of our favorite things, especially because of the great, progressive middle section in there.
“Yes I Can” was another one of those California-based songs. The imagery is the California scene.
And right up until we began incorporating songs from The Mission into our set, we used the song “Genki Desu Ka” as our walk-off music. “Genki Desu Ka” is Japanese — a very polite way of saying, “Do you feel good?”
And speaking of California, our friend Billy Bob Thornton makes an appearance [doing lead vocals on “Bourgeois Pig”], and Tenacious D is in there somewhere too! [Jack Black and Kyle Gass — a.k.a. Tenacious D — appear on the hidden track “The Chosen One,” which follows directly after “Genki Desu Ka.”]
Cyclorama also had this great Storm Thorgerson album cover, our final Storm album cover. He did Pieces of Eight (1978) as well. We were proud to be associated with him and his great, iconic album covers. [Thorgerson, who passed away on April 18, 2013, is perhaps best known for designing album covers and related artwork for the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin with partner Aubrey Powell in the British graphic design firm Hipgnosis.]
Cyclorama was kind of an experimental record, just to see where we were as a band after having reformed in 1999. We were stretching our legs in the studio, and there was a lot of growth and moving forward. That’s how I look at that album. Whenever I think of Cyclorama, it puts a smile on my face.
Participants have until midnight on January 31 to join the world-class Styx drummer on an intense 26-week online course personally designed to hone, polish, and improve your skills behind the kit.
by Mike Mettler
photo courtesy Todd Sucherman
Styx drummer Todd Sucherman wants to work with you — yes, YOU — personally to take your rock drumming to the next level.
How can you do that? We’re glad you asked. Todd Sucherman’s Rock Drumming Masterclass is a 26-week online course that’s available via Drumeo, the well-respected home to online professional drum lessons. After you sign up here anytime between now and midnight on January 31, Todd will give you one new lesson each week, and you will always know what to practice and for exactly how long without any guesswork.
Among the skills you will master include being able to play anything in 4/4 time, create an arsenal of drum fills that will work in any rock setting, train your ear to hear patterns within the patterns in order to create musical motif ideas and hook fills to come up with your own musical language for soloing, and understand song forms and connect emotionally with musical and lyrical content to enable you to become part of the storytelling process. And that’s just for starters. “I’m going to guide you and push you to become the best rock drummer you could possibly be,” Todd promises.
Todd has structured the Masterclass in such a way to allow you to digest everything in enough time from week to week during this 6-month course to build upon the knowledge you’ll be gaining in real time. “Whether you aspire to play big arena shows or you just want to jam with your friends, this course gives you the keys to the kingdom,” pledges Todd.
The Masterclass is truly interactive as well, as you will be able to directly ask Todd any questions you have, step by step, to help with lesson clarity or get over any individual hurdles you may encounter along the way. Take it from your Styxologist, who’s observed a lot of drummers up close, in person, and backstage: Todd is one of the most personable, giving, thoughtful, and ready-to-share artists I’ve ever had the privilege to see in action both behind the kit and behind the scenes. Whether he’s playing complex time signatures behind massive, full-scale kits that show why he continues to win accolades from fans and drum professionals the world over year after year or improvising an entire set on a pizza box with drum brushes at a show when the power goes out, Todd Sucherman is a top-shelf, A-level drummer across the board.
The man’s mission statement is quite simple: “Drumming is the engine that propels a band’s music forward night after night,” Todd feels. “Music is truly a language. The rudiments are our alphabet, and we put everything together to form our sentences and paragraphs and tell stories. Playing the drums gives you an identity. Not only are you controlling the tempo, but also the energy and the dynamics. We drive the bus a lot more than most people would think. That’s our job.”
Todd’s invaluable firsthand experience playing with Styx since 1996 gives him a unique perspective on how music affects the fans. “I’ve been drumming in Styx for over 23 years now,” he clarifies, “and what I get to see night after night is what the music means to the audience members. When you walk out onstage, you see and feel the palpable energy of that audience. People have been waiting for months with their tickets in hand, and now the show is about to begin. It’s happening! It’s quite a heavy thing to experience.”
Find out what that energy feels like firsthand and how you can harness and build upon it yourself by signing up for Todd Sucherman’s Drumming Masterclass today!
Styx play The Mission in its entirety live for the first time in front of an audience, and put on one of the best shows of their entire career in the process.
Story & photo by Mike Mettler
After more than 10 intense days of private rehearsals and mini-suite tryouts in front of other audiences on the West Coast, Styx finally played the entirety of their triumphant 2017 concept album The Mission live for the first time to a rabidly enthusiastic sold-out crowd at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas on January 20. For 44 enthralling minutes of that evening’s complete opening set, Styx took everyone lucky enough to be in the room on a journey previously unseen and unheard to the nth degree, supplemented by each song’s Mars-centric visuals on the massive screen wall behind them and beyond-spectacular light show. To borrow a line from “Locomotive,” one of the album’s most key songs, “No one else on Earth has ever been so far.” In short, the debut of The Mission in full was a show for the ages — and, as many attendees said and felt once the evening’s 65-minute hits-driven second set concluded, it was without a doubt one of the best shows of Styx’s entire 47-year career.
With Mission producer and guitarist/background vocalist Will Evankovich onstage for the full album ride — not to mention co-founding bassist Chuck Panozzo making a few significant appearances along the way — the mighty men of Styx stormed through the record’s 14 interwoven songs with fire and determination. From the elegiac liftoff of the opening “Overture” to the talk-box roll of “Hundred Million Miles From Home” to the post-prog proto-metal thrust of “Red Storm” to the joyful tongue-twisting endgame of “Mission to Mars” — plus a newly added reprise I’m calling “The Afterture” — Styx put forth their most sacred Mission like true champions of the world.
Within a few minutes of Set 1 ending at exactly 9:00 p.m. Pacific time, The Mission’s chief architect, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw, could hardly contain his excitement as we stood face to face in the dressing room hallway while the rest of the band came offstage, everyone smiling, laughing, hugging, and back-patting each other, along with enthusiastic exclamations of “Good job!” and “That was so good!” and “Those solos were f---ing awesome!” and even “Let’s do it again!” heard all around us. “Whew! The first one! It was exciting! That’s the most number of people I’ve ever seen singing along to The Mission,” Tommy noted while also sharing one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen on his face. “This show was kind of a test to see how we’d do with it, and it worked. I’m so used to listening to The Mission by myself in my car or at home and having these feelings after listening to it. To be able to see the audience having those same feelings after listening to it while seeing us doing it in front of them was really something special.”
And though no one is officially saying when or even if more Mission-in-full shows will be slated and/or announced, the band is quite aware of the #fomo factor felt by all the fans unable to attend this specific event-spectacular show. (#fomo stands for fear of missing out, for those who may not know what that particular hashtag means.) “To me, The Mission record is one for the ages, and that was no accident,” Tommy continued. “And I think we’ll stick with that, because it seems so appropriate for Styx. When we made the record, this was always a goal, to do this — to do it completely live like this. I’d like to do a few more of them, but we’ll see.” Tommy took a slight pause to exhale a loud, satisfied sigh before concluding, “Ahhh! I’m so happy!”
As Tommy headed to his dressing room to towel off and change shirts for the second set, just a few feet away, co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young was himself visibly beaming about what just went down onstage. “Whenever I see the crowd react like that, it gives me a little oomph,” he observed. “No one is out there critiquing the set like I do in real time, but I felt the performance was all there, and I didn’t make any high-volume mistakes. I really had a chance to step out front and let loose during ‘[Trouble at the] Big Show,’ and I also got to go way out front during ‘Red Storm,’ as did Tommy. And at the end of ‘The Outpost,’ I have the opportunity to do that Edge/U2 thing. It’s showbiz people — showbiz!!” he thundered with a broad smile and booming laugh.
I told JY that I liked the times where he’d bow his head and extend his right arm to point at keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan, bassist Ricky Phillips, drummer Todd Sucherman, and Tommy during particularly “heroic” performance moments. “The lead singer I had in my band in the late ’60s would do that,” he revealed. “It might have even been something [The Rolling Stones lead singer Mick] Jagger did too; I don’t know. He picked it up somewhere, but when guys like Todd and Tommy do something extraordinary, I like to point it out: ‘Pay attention, mother----ers!’ We got such a great reaction out there during that whole set, so I guess we have another couple years left.”
Back in his room, I told Tommy “Red Storm” was my favorite live performance of the first set and how I felt that whenever the band was seen in shadow in front of the massive screen imagery behind them, it reminded me of some of the most iconic visual moments of Adrian Mabey’s legendary 1972 concert film, Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii. He nodded in agreement, also concurring that “Red Storm” is “one of the heaviest things we ever did.” Agreed manager Charlie Brusco, “I had Pink Floyd dancing in my head during that set too. And this crowd — they knew the entire album. That’s why they bought the tickets.”
Tommy, clearly relieved at completing an indisputably successful Mission in Set 1, looked ahead to the next task at hand: “Now we get to do the jukebox set — the classic songs.” Charlie added, “Let’s give them a great second set! Now the crowd’s going to be even more excited!” And they sure were, especially those in it who were experiencing the full unbridled muscle of the modren, er, modern-man encore opener “Mr. Roboto” for the very first time before an elegiac ride through “Renegade” put the final stamp on such a marvelous night.
After the show was over, Tommy expressed his gratitude much like he did onstage: “We survived long enough as a band to make this record, and I’m so grateful to the crowd and the fans for sticking with us throughout this process. We’ve made some good records over our career, and this one is right up there with them.”
Without question, wherever The Mission takes both Styx and their loyal fans next, great things are sure to follow. See you there!
story & photo by Mike Mettler
Yep, it happened again.
Almost 2 years to the day after Styx played an improvised acoustic set in the dark at the Sunset Center in Carmel, California, the power went out in the same venue once again at 9:23 p.m. Pacific time last night, January 16, just a few minutes before the band was about to take the stage to commence their second set of the evening.
Instead, after a brief delay, Styx came out and played a 40-minute, created-on-the-spot, fully unplugged set — as in, a set with no microphones and no amplification, just the power of their voices and acoustic instruments to carry them. This truly unique, truly amazing set included “Pieces of Eight,” “Lights,” “Boat on the River,” “The Greater Good,” “Khedive,” “High Enough,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Girls With Guns,” “Come Sail Away,” and “Renegade,” the latter being a live debut of the special “down home” way the band harmonizes on a key portion of their usual set-closer in guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw’s dressing room before every show.
The signs for the blackout to come were already in place as treacherous weather had been plaguing much of California proper the past few days. In fact, the power went out for almost 5 minutes in the Sunset Center during soundcheck earlier yesterday afternoon around 4:31 p.m., smack dab in the middle of a run-through of “Locomotive,” a key track from The Mission (which the band is rehearsing in advance of the album’s debut played-in-full performance in Las Vegas at The Pearl at The Palms on January 20). With only some lighting effects aglow behind him and the rest of the band onstage, Tommy joked, “You just ruined our gag for the show!”
The band even made a few references to the previous blackout gig of January 18, 2017 during the first set itself. “We actually have electricity tonight!” Tommy said on more than one occasion — well, he was right about that point for the first full hour of the gig, anyway. . .
But as soon as the lights went out for real last night, it was all hands on deck backstage, as both band and venue representatives immediately checked with the local authorities to see if the power would be coming back anytime soon (it still hasn’t, as of this posting) and that the safety of everyone in the building was accounted for above everything else. (Unfortunately, drum tech Paul Carrizzo was stuck on the elevator between the stage floor and the dressing-room floor for about 45 minutes before the fire department could get him out, but he was absolutely a-ok when I spoke with him in person after the show outside, standing next to the band and crew buses during loadout.)
Once it was determined that there were no imminent fire hazards and that the safest option was to keep the audience in the building all together rather than sending anyone outside to fumble around in the pitch darkness, band and crew huddled to figure out what could be played. The phrase “haven’t we been here before” ran through my mind as Tommy and keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan stood face-to-face in the dimly lit area between the elevator bank and the stage itself (lit by the backup-generated safety lights, that is). “I could even take a stab at ‘Mr. Roboto’!” Gowan offered at one point, with a certain gleam in his eye. (Ahh, if only. . .!)
The rest of the band — co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young, bassist Ricky Phillips, and drummer Todd Sucherman, in addition to special guest guitarist/vocalist Will Evankovich — soon sidled up to Tommy and Lawrence to see what could realistically be done on such short notice. Production manager Brian Wong grabbed a blank piece of paper and a Sharpie and said, “Okay, what are we doing?”
A number of song ideas were thrown around before the bulk of the above-noted set was locked in, and bodies quickly scampered down two flights of stairs for a brief vocal warm-up on the harmonies of “High Enough” in the dressing room, centered around Lawrence at the piano in the room. (He would soon play on a black piano that was already onstage, different from the mini spinner he played during the 2017 blackout.) Meanwhile, Todd found the perfect surface to use his drum brushes on — namely, a mostly full pizza box from local eatery Mountain Mike’s. (Once the set wrapped up, Todd opened the box and offered the remaining slices to the crowd down in the front row.)
After the truly magical set finished, Styx went downstairs to towel off and change, and they were in a combined state of excitement, relief, wonder, and bemusement. “It’s unbelievable! Can you imagine the Vegas odds on this happening again?” noted Ricky. I asked Tommy how he felt, and he grinned and said, “How cool was that? It was fun! And how about ‘The Greater Good’? Man, that was f---ing great!” When I then observed that “Girls With Guns” wasn’t initially planned for as far as I could recall, he added, “I wouldn’t have done that if they hadn’t asked for it!” JY chimed in, “I think my booming voice always comes in handy in moments like these,” followed by a hearty chuckle. For his part, Will (who has, in fact, played acoustic versions of songs like “High Enough,” “Renegade,” and “Girls With Guns” with Tommy before) observed, “I’m just happy my hands remembered the chords! It was like MTV Unplugged out there, if anybody even remembers that show. . .” (We do indeed, but thiswas a truly unplugged set from top to bottom!)
So, if there’s one clear takeaway from this once-in-a-lifetime show (or is that technically twice-in-a-lifetime?), it must be this: Neither rain nor sleet nor radio silence-slash-no power will stop Styx from doing what they do best. Stay tuned to see what live hurdles they vanquish next.