Album Review: Styx – The Mission

Styx dives into its past with The Mission (out June 16) the band’s 16th studio album, it’s first in 14 years and a return to form as they invite the listener on a journey to Mars through this concept effort the classic rockers spent two years writing and recording.

Styx is no stranger to concept albums finding smash hits in the 1980s with Paradise Theater and Kilroy Was Here. So, The Mission hardly qualifies as ground-breaking since it’s not the first time Styx or any band for that matter embarked on a journey to a faraway place and put it to music. Ambitious, though, it is.

It’s hard enough to write an album filled with tracks mostly separate from one another. Try writing an album of songs with one leading into the other creating a storybook with the music as narrator. The Mission which chronicles the first manned mission to Mars in the year 2033 probably won’t produce any singles or get much radio play. OK, who are we kidding, don’t expect any of the songs to air on traditional radio. And the new album probably won’t generate new fans but certainly those who moved on from The Grand Illusion and Paradise Theatre or perhaps simply forgot about the band might return to the fold.

The Mission begins with “Overture” and moves froward from blast off on the rocking “Gone Gone Gone” as each song develops the story of leaving earth on a trip to Mars like the adventure getting there with the vintage “Radio Silence,” trials  faced on the rhythmic “Red Storm” and finally ending with the quirky “Mission to Mars.” It’s a fun album and quite creative when you think about it. “The Outpost” surely stands out, keeps that familiar Styx sound but feels new with a bit of modern rock flare, “Time May Bend” offers solid guitar work while the dreamy “Locomotive” meanders a bit and “Hundred Million Miles From Home” features classic Styx melodies.

The album comes in around 42 minutes with 14 songs though “All Systems Stable” is a mere 18 seconds, “Overture” and “10 Thousands Ways” come in less than 90 seconds and the cool piano heavy “Khedive” is around two minutes as these shorter songs serve either as setups for the longer tracks or perhaps “intermission” between acts. The Mission certainly feels theatrical and as the closing song “Mission to Mars” comes to life you can almost see cast and crew singing together on stage towards a final climatic ending.

Overall, The Mission definitely sounds like Styx and in many ways picks up where the band left off before the break-up that ended their headlining arena days. It’s got lots of 70’s guitar, 80’s synths and the classic Styx harmonies with lead singer and keyboardist Lawrence Gowen and lead guitarist and singer Tommy Shaw trading on main vocals along with driving classic rock guitar chords, fully heard bass and strong supporting keyboards.

Styx consists of Shaw, Gowen, original guitarist James “J.Y” Young, original bassist Chuck Panozzo, drummer Todd Sucherman and bassist Ricky Phillips representing the longest running line-up in the band’s 45 year history. But it’s the first album of original material featuring the current members as Phillips came aboard after 2003’s Cyclorama  but played on the covers album Big Bang Theory in 2005.

“Hundred Million Miles From Home,” “Radio Silence” and “The Outpost” probably comprise the handful of songs that manage to standout as individual efforts. But with the resurgence of vinyl that’s not a bad thing. You want nostalgia? Then open the record jacket. Indeed, The Mission fully involves the listener, requiring set-aside time to follow the band’s adventure from beginning to end. Even better? Surely, it’s an album destined for the live show something Shaw mentioned he’d like to play in its entirety.

At the very least, for those who’ve seen the band anytime in the past 10 years, hopefully The Mission means a new stage show but certainly guarantees a variety in the setlist instead of the same old fare along with the exact same in-between-song conversations.

Grade: B

Styx – The Mission Track Listing

  1. Overture
  2. Gone Gone Gone
  3. Hundred Million Miles From Home
  4. Trouble At The Big Show
  5. Locomotive
  6. Radio Silence
  7. The Greater Good
  8. Time May Bend
  9. Ten Thousand Ways
  10. Red Storm
  11. All Systems Stable
  12. Khedive
  13. The Outpost
  14. Mission To Mars

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Boston Gives Portland a Little Peace of Mind

Boston Review Feature

With all that’s happening in the world today, it’s nice to just sit back, watch the pros and take a chance on rock ‘n’ roll.

Boston brought their 40th Anniversary tour to Portland, OR on Saturday to a lively and robust crowd at the Moda Center, setup in the smaller Theater of the Clouds amphitheater format, tackling all the fan favorites in a well-polished and consummate performance extending nearly two hours and 22 songs.

Tom Scholz, who is more or less Boston at this stage being the remaining founding member, ripped through classic song after classic song and a whole bunch of deep album cuts and seemingly never stopped playing whether it was for his signature guitar sound, signature keyboard sound or on acoustic guitar.

The band, make that Scholz, started things off with the very apropos “Star Spangled Banner” complete with a backing video of the American flag and then everyone else dropped in with “Rock & Roll Band.”

Boston Star Spangled Banner

Boston tore through three more classic radios cuts with “Smokin’,” “Feelin’ Satisfied,” and the quintessential “Peace of Mind.” Then a break from the traditional radio fare as they tackled deeper album tracks off their first three records like the very cool “Cool the Engines” with an awesome video backdrop of the signature guitar-shaped  spaceship which led right into “We’re Ready” continuing the space theme with a rocket launch video. Boston included “Higher Power” an ode to Alcoholics Anonymous recorded for their Greatest Hits  release in 1997 and of course dedicated their beloved ballad “Amanda” to everyone with the same name.

Tom Scholz

Tom Scholz, writer, guitarist, performer and conductor of Boston

Boston didn’t play anything off their latest Life, Love & Hope out in 2013 or Corporate America from 2002. But it was pretty clear they wanted to break out mostly the songs from the albums that’s kept the group delighting audiences for 40 years. Long time guitarist  Gary Pihl, who has worked on every Boston album since Third Stage back in 1986, asked the crowd if they wanted to hear anything off Life, Love & Hope or something from their 1976 self-titled debut album and clearly the crowd wanted a track from one of the best selling albums of all-time which brought forth “Peace of Mind.”

Despite the sometimes revolving door of members and the devastating loss of original singer Brad Delp in 2007 to suicide, Scholz has done wonders finding accomplished musicians to fill the void. Current singer Tommy DeCarlo who jumped on-board in 2007, does a solid job reaching those iconic high notes and duplicated Delp’s tone throughout the evening, really shining on “More than a Feeling,” “Foreplay/Long Time,” and “Used to Bad News” but a bit off for “I Think I Like It.”

Guitarist Beth Cohen sang on three songs which made little sense considering DeCarlo was handing the mic just fine and had the prowess to rise above the soaring guitars. Cohen’s vocals were completely washed out during “Long Time Segue” and “Higher Power” the latter she almost looked lost at times. She did pull through with “Walk On.”

Gary Pihl

Gary Pihl, guitarist for Boston

Regardless, Scholz’s mastery rules the stage. He’s the brains behind each and every song, all delivering straight up guitar-centered rock, somehow sounding like half a dozen guitarists on stage at any given time, yet it was just Scholz and the right-hand man in Pihl but when the two worked the fretboard together playing the same chords and riffs, it was spellbinding.

Big, bold and beautiful.

Scholz was not only never without an instrument in hand but rarely not playing. He left the stage once, briefly, during “Something About You” but when he wasn’t ripping off solos mid-song (nice smashing guitar work on the E jam instrumental!) he used them as segues between songs. By the way, he’s pretty adept on the keys, too.

Boston let it all out for the title track off 1994’s Walk On during an extended jam session as Scholz commanded the keyboards and turned fooling around with various sounds and instrumentation into an art form. That led right into “Foreplay/Long Time” which closed the opening set as Scholz remained behind the keys, allowing Pihl to lead on guitar but watching (and hearing!) the two jump on the acoustic section together injected new life into this oft played radio tune.

Dennis DeYoung

Dennis DeYoung – the Voice of Styx

Boston encored with the relaxing beat of “Used to Bad News” and “Party,” both off 1978’s Don’t Look Back. And, oh but they did. It was a most welcome and entertaining trip through the past.

Dennis DeYoung, the original singer for Styx, opened for Boston and played an exceptional hour-long 10 song set of all Styx songs including “Mr. Roboto,” “Babe” which he wrote for his wife in 1979 (who helped with back-up singing duties) that became a cornerstone of the Cornerstone album, and the iconic “Come Sail Away.”

At 69 years young, DeYoung looks more like a Presbyterian minister then a rock and roll singer but his vocals? Flawless. Sounds just like they did 40 years ago.  Considering he didn’t play any of his solo music, you have to wonder where it all went wrong and what could have been had the two sides of Styx figured out how to live with each other.

Boston – Portland (Moda Center) Setlist

  1. The Star Spangled Banner
  2. Rock & Roll Band
  3. Smokin’
  4. Feelin’ Satisfied
  5. Peace of Mind
  6. Long Time Segue
  7. Cool The Engines
  8. We’re Ready
  9. Higher Power
  10. I Think I Like It
  11. Don’t Look Back
  12. Something About You
  13. Amanda
  14. The Launch A) Countdown B) Ignition C) Third Stage Separation
  15. More Than a Feeling
  16. “E” Jam (instrumental)
  17. The Journey
  18. To Be A Man
  19. Walk On
  20. Foreplay / Long Time
  21. Used to Bad News
  22. Party

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Def Leppard Gets Loud Just Outside Portland

Def Leppard Banner

Def Leppard is not burning out or fading away anytime soon.

The British rockers cranked up the volume to a massive crowd on Thursday just up the road from Portland, OR at the Amphitheater Northwest in Ridgefield, WA playing a mostly-hits setlist for 90 minutes leaving little doubt these guys were ready to rock.

With the sometimes face tingling vibration emitting from the speakers, the audience often matched the intensity of Def Leppard’s performance with their own singing back in unison to the chorus on most of the songs that demanded it. Letting up only handful of times, even when Def Leppard played their slowed paced fare, none of the life was ever sucked from the crowd through the 17 song evening.

Def Leppard opened with “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” then the popular “Animal” and “Let It Go” before finally blazing out the massive 80’s hit “Foolin’”. A fantastic and welcome addition to the setlist was “Paper Sun” off 1999’s Euphoria which hasn’t been played live since that tour. The war imagery played behind the band added to the song’s heavy lyrics about the 1998 Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland.

The emotion got pulled a different direction with couples slow dancing to “Love Bites” then everyone got into it for “Armageddon It.” The cover “Rock On” fits with Def Leppard’s music and included a cool bass opening by Rick Savage, but is totally unnecessary for a band with 10 albums and #11 due October 30. How about a sneak preview especially considering singer Joe Elliott announced a single was just released to radio?

Joe Elliott

Joe Elliott sings “Two Steps Behind”

Recent tours featured the band performing a stripped down version of the ballad “Two Steps Behind” another female favorite, but they went a step further and left Elliott alone in front of the mic with  an acoustic guitar. It worked.

The band came back in force with the stellar “Rocket” and the complimenting duo of guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell playing together trading off on solos. The band slowed it down again with “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” and just like on High N Dry, and sometimes what you hear on radio, they blended it right into the instrumental “Switch 625.” The guys should do more of those. Hair nation aside, they’re a hard rock band through and through and “Switch” is as solid as it gets.

The show closed with “Hysteria,” “Let’s Get Rocked” and of course their anthem “Pour Some Sugar on Me” which never disappoints. They encored with “Rock of Ages” and the trip down memory lane with “Photograph.”

Campbell and Collen

Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen

All told, it was a flawless show full of arena rock anthems and boundless energy. Campbell, looking dapper all evening, showed no ill effects from the Hodgkin’s lymphoma he’s been battling which returned again this year after seemingly past successful treatments. The shirtless Collen shredded through his solos with flair and the two compliment each other rather nobly, each getting his turn under the lights. Elliott’s vocals were solid and might not harken back to the high notes of the 80s but it’s been that way for years now and he’s found a decent range that fits right in. Drummer Rick Allen never ceases to amaze.

Def Leppard got short-changed a bit their last time through town as the opener for KISS so hearing a longer setlist plus the inclusion of “Paper Sun” made if feel less like the band wringing out what they could from past tours. However, much of the backing video for songs most notably on “Photograph” and “Love Bites” was the same.

To pull off what was little more of a “Best of” show is a testament to not only their longevity, approaching 40 years, but even just the outright number and variety of radio staples. They’ve got hard charging rock and then melodic ballads that bring out the women in droves. But what seems to happen with all veteran acts especially with today’s music industry is a failure to get a fan base for new material. So it won’t be a surprise if Def Leppard encounters the same fate with next month’s self-titled album. Therefore, it makes good sense to play one tract off it even if hard core fans haven’t had a chance to digest it, just as a way to ratchet up the excitement.

But if 15,000 flock to hear 30 year old songs and what’s heard daily on radio then returning next summer with a new album in tow and some fresh and exciting songs, then it shan’t be too much of a problem to get those same fans and perhaps a few new ones to head back out in droves.

Styx opened and though their setlist was pretty much the same as they’ve toured for years they certainly took advantage of the big stage. Styx always puts on a solid performance but seemed to put just a little more effort showing how good they are. They opened with “The Grand Illusion” and played half off their iconic The Grand Illusion album.

Though the current lineup has been together now for nearly 15 years, longer than the classic line-up (i.e.  Dennis DeYoung) stayed intact, the band often plays sold out shows at smaller venues, most notably casinos, but headlining large sheds or an arena tour is probably at this point a thing of the past. Styx played a nine song set for an hour, including an encore. Tesla opened the evening with a 40 minute set.

Def Leppard Portland (Northwest Ampitheater) Setlist:

  1. Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
  2. Animal
  3. Let It Go
  4. Foolin’
  5. Paper Sun
  6. Love Bites
  7. Armageddon It
  8. Rock On
  9. Two Steps Behind
  10. Rocket
  11. Bringing On the Heartbreak
  12. Switch 626
  13. Hysteria
  14. Let’s Get Rocked
  15. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  16. Rock of Ages
  17. Photograph

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Styx Tries Keeping it Fresh

Classic rockers Styx performed a two-night stand at Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City, OR and brought the usual staples and a couple of rarities to their live show.

Tommy Shaw

Tommy Shaw of Styx

The ever-touring band which makes their way to the Pacific Northwest once a year or so has primarily kept the same setlist for at least five years. Pleasantly, the band added a bit of aesthetics to the stage this go-around incorporating more than just a large namesake banner. An upper deck allowed members of the band to move around a bit and ground floor video screens added an element missing from past shows. Confetti littered the audience not once, but twice during the two-song encore.

Chuck P

Styx original bassist Chuck Panozzo

On Friday, Styx opened with fan favorites “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Grand Illusion,” “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man),” and “Lady” before diving back in time performing “Light Up” for the first time in Oregon since the 1970s, according to guitarist and sometimes singer James “J.Y” Young. “Light Up” is the first tract off 1975’s Equinox and showed off classic Styx harmony. It’s a welcome addition to the tour.

The band only played 13 songs but the show was a solid 90 minutes and many songs, which already register well-past the four minute mark, received added solos and extended plays that offered a different approach to their regular roadshow. Keyboardist and singer Lawrence Gowen threw in a great organ-esque solo on “I’m O.K.” and “Too Much Time on my Hands” benefitted from a solid band jam.

Tommy Shaw, some-of-the-time singer and all-the-time guitarist performed solidly throughout the evening and was in fine form for the emotive “Man in the Wilderness” and there were probably a few tears in the audience when it was just Shaw, his vocals and acoustic guitar opening the finely penned “Crystal Ball.” It remains a Styx classic.

Young grabbed vocal duties for “Miss America” a straight-up hard rock song about the fickle nature of fame and while the album version can come across a little stale now, more than 35 years later, the live performance, especially with Young’s biting guitar solo explains why it stays in the set. Styx played five of eight songs from their iconic 1997 album The Grand Illusion.

Styx Bass

Styx bassist Ricky Phillips

Styx last released an album of new material 10 years ago and there doesn’t seem to be plans to write a new one. Their concerts always bring energy and great musicianship but their predictability is overly evident for anyone who has experienced a show in the last five or so years.

Gowen always introduces one of Styx’s best songs and one of the all-time greatest rock songs by playing snippets of songs from other bands like Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and even Elton John. It’s not a stretch to say “Come Sail Away” easily stands on its own and Styx would be better off adding one of their own songs instead of wasting time playing other band’s songs.

Gowan

Styx keyboardist and singer Lawrence Gowen

Regardless, the Styx lineup remains consistent with the addition of Gowan who permanently replaced Dennis DeYoung in 1999, bassist Ricky Phillips who joined in 2003 and drummer Todd Sucherman now nearing 20 years with Styx. Original bassist and founding member Chuck Panozzo makes occasional appearances and played on “Fooling Yourself,” “Come Sail Away” and “Renegade” which closed-out the Friday set. Panozzo has battled health issues for years.

The venue at Chinook Winds is a bit uncomfortable and initially took some of the fun away from the evening. Much of the audience is placed around banquet style tables forcing people to arrange their seats in a manner not conducive to a rock show. Styx felt more like post-meal entertainment at a wedding or some other function.

But once those classic Styx songs get rolling it just becomes all about the music.

Saturday Update: What a difference sitting in the fourth row makes as opposed to the banquet tables at this venue. Styx rocked this show. The band switched out “I’m O.K.” with “Pieces of Eight” and gave another solid performance to the second full house in a row..

Styx Chinook Winds Friday Setlist:

1. Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
2. The Grand Illusion
3. Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
4. Lady
5. Light Up
6. Man in the Wilderness
7. Miss America
8. I’m O.K.
9. Crystal Ball
10. Too Much Time on My Hands
11. Come Sail Away
12. Rockin’ the Paradise
13. Renegade

Styx Chinook Winds Saturday Setlist:

1. Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
2. The Grand Illusion
3. Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
4. Lady
5. Light Up
6. Man in the Wilderness
7. Miss America
8. Crystal Ball
9. Pieces of Eight
10. Too Much Time on My Hands
11. Come Sail Away
12. Rockin’ the Paradise
13. Renegade

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Styx Does Things Their Way

One of the most forgotten and underrated bands on the planet is indeed still very much alive and if their ardent fan base has anything to say Styx is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Playing in front of a capacity crowd at the Northwest Art and Air Festival Saturday night in Albany, OR Styx powered through a 13-song set that included most of their hits and if crowd reaction is any indicator (at least half were first timers to see Styx) their presence in the northwest is solid. Yes, the fee to get in was based on donation only and present-day Styx primarily headlines small venues and casinos, but their music is so solid and, despite playing mostly 30-year old-plus songs, they are nowhere near extraneous.

Set opener “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” showed off why singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw boasts one of the purest voices in rock today. He sounds the same as he did decades ago. The moving “Man in the Wilderness” and “Crystal Ball” not only reflect America’s mood today but also show Shaw’s versatility on guitar.

Styx certainly has seen its share of complications over the course of its 40 year history. Shaw, who left in the mid-80s, and guitarist James “J.Y.” Young are who remain of what would be considered the “classic” line-up. Shaw returned in 1995. Original singer Dennis DeYoung left shortly after but Styx have stayed with singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowen since 1999 and who sounds remarkably like DeYoung – “Come Sail Away” is as beautiful as ever.

The current line-up with bassist Ricky Phillips (joined in 2003) and drummer Todd Sucherman (1995) has been consistent for nearly a decade and also been on tour for that long. Ever the working band, Styx travels essentially year-round often playing with other classic rock stalwarts like REO Speedwagon, Yes and Foreigner. Original bassist Chuck Panozzo, who has health issues, makes occasional appearances, and if you can catch a show when he plays a few songs it is touching to watch him, Shaw and Young play together.

Not all can be blamed on today’s music industry for Styx’s departure from the mainstream. Concerts consist primarily of the classics and they have not released an album since 2005 which consisted of covers. Their last studio album of original material was Cyclorama in 2003. Young recently indicated the band is interested in making a new album but conceded that it’s difficult to get exposure with a new singer. He has a point – Journey can attest to this.

It’s not classic Styx in the sense of what purists demand but what you see is what you get – Styx has toured more in the last decade than in all previous years combined. “Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man) is a harmonious blend of keyboards, guitars and drums and just try to stay still during “Too Much Time on My Hands.” “Lorelei” is just as rocking as it was in 1975.

Styx may not be headlining arenas and large amphitheaters the way they did in the 70s and 80s but their future looks quite bright to me.

Styx Albany Setlist:

  1. Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
  2. The Grand Illusion
  3. Too Much Time on My Hands
  4. Lady
  5. Lorelei
  6. Man in the Wilderness
  7. I’m OK
  8. Crystal Ball
  9. Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)
  10. Miss America
  11. Come Sail Away
  12. Rockin’ the Paradise
  13. Renegade

Written By: AndrewT