Styx crashes setlist with new songs
YOUNGSTOWN — It’s the dilemma that every veteran band that continues to make new music faces — how do you share those new songs with crowds that really, really want to hear the old favorites?
Styx, which released its 17th album (“Crash of the Crown”) last month, believes it’s found a solution.
“We do it by seamlessly integrating the new things into the legacy of the band,” lead singer and keyboard player Lawrence Gowan said during a phone interview last week the morning after a concert in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Tommy (Shaw) plays the first couple verses of ‘Sound the Alarm,’ which segues directly in ‘Crystal Ball’ (the title track from the band’s 1976 album).”
Fans who don’t have the new record may think it’s a forgotten track from the band’s early albums released on Wooden Nickel Records, he said. The short instrumental “Lost at Sea” becomes the lead in to one of the band’s biggest hits, “Come Sail Away.”
“It sets up a nice feeling in the crowd,” Gowan said. “Obviously, ‘Crash of the Crown,’ the title track is going over as well as any of the classic material. Particularly on that song, it’s really build for a live presentation, it really works in the live setting.”
But Gowan also promised that fans also would hear those Styx favorites from the ’70s and early ’80s when the band performs tonight at Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.
Despite featuring songs like “The Fight of Our Lives,” “Hold Back the Darkness,” “Save Us From Ourselves” and “Coming Out the Other Side,” almost all of “Crash the Crown” was written before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, we naively thought this will be over in about six weeks, and we’ll pick up the recording then,” Gowan said. “Then when we realized a couple months into it that it would stretch on longer than anyone anticipated, we began to notice how well the lyrics related to the situation. It seemed like it was written by current state of affairs.”
Much of the album was recorded with the members of the band — Gowan; Shaw, lead vocals and guitars; James “JY” Young, lead vocals and guitars; Chuck Panozzo, bass and vocals; Todd Sucherman, drums, percussion; and Ricky Phillips, bass, guitar and vocals — working remotely from their home studios or nearby studios. However, modern software allowed the musicians to interact in real time and get immediate feedback instead of recording individual parts and relying on filesharing.
Gowan said there were a few unexpected benefits that came from the arrangement.
“I recorded my keyboard parts in Toronto,” he said. “I can’t, for example, move my 1970s Mellotron. I never thought that would get onto a Styx record unless the band came to Canada.”
Gowan was able to use all of his toys, from a 1920s Steinway piano to vintage synthesizers, and Sucherman was able to record his drum parts in his specially designed studio.
“It actually helped this record,” he said. “It wasn’t a hindrance.”
“Crash of the Crown” clocks in at 43 minutes, which means it fits on a single LP. With vinyl re-emerging as the format of choice for those who still buy physical product, Gowan admitted that was one of the band’s considerations in picking the songs included on the release, and he wants listening to the album to create the same feelings that he had discovering albums like The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Yes’ “Fragile” and Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” growing up.
“That was when you began to hear the album as one complete statement with a little intermission when you had to flip it over,” he said. “Perusing the cover, decoding every little nuance was all part of the listening experience. ‘Crash and of the Crown’ was tailored exactly for that 40-minute experience.”
Two of the songs that didn’t make “Crash of the Crown” were used for another project with vinyl lovers in mind — the limited edition “The Same Stardust EP” that was released in June on Record Store Day.
“‘The Same Stardust’ and ‘Age of Entropia,’ those were recorded alongside everything else,” Gowan said. “When it came to formatting and sequencing the record, we were getting the sense they were just far enough outside the lines and felt they had their own statement to make that should be given its moment.”
While the EP release date was firm, Styx and its label, Universal Music Enterprises, decided to wait until the band could tour again before releasing “Crash of the Crown.” With touring opportunities resuming this spring, “Crash” and the EP ended up being released only a week apart.
As for touring, Styx is playing as many shows as it would in a normal summer. There are some changes — no backstage meet-and-greets, strict schedules that limit interactions between the band and its crew and the local crew at each tour stop.
Gowan said most of the shows the band has done so far have been at outdoor venues. Crowds seem to be respectful of not piling on top of one another, and he can sense a bit of a different mood.
“It’s this euphoria and elation mixed with that post-cataclysmic-event feeling. We all know what we’ve just been though. That’s part of the emotion that’s coming out. I’ve been through something, and I can read it on everyone’s face. Everyone’s been through an ordeal they had to traverse.”
If you go …
WHO: Styx and Donnie Iris & the Cruisers
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, 201 S. Phelps St., Youngstown
HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $29.50 to $75 and are available through Ticketmaster and at the gate