Styx ‘Mission’ to Musikfest
Legendary progressive rockers Styx are set to land at Musikfest in Bethlehem with classic tracks and another lofty musical voyage.
The 7 p.m. Aug. 3 concert at Sands Steel Stage at PNC Plaza, SteelStacks, is a double bill with Joan Jett And The Blackhearts.
The group’s latest space trip, “The Mission,” its latest album, is proving invigorating to Styx keyboardist and vocalist Lawrence Gowan. After a 12-year hiatus from the rock group’s last studio effort, the members started “getting the itch” to record new material, Gowan says. The band decided to go back to the future, and record the tracks like they were producing wax in the late 1970s.
“We said, ‘Let’s record these songs like it was 1979,’” Gowan says of the recording process.
During a four-year run (1977 - 1981), Styx was sailing away with a reach-for-the-stars bravado that earned them millions of fans, worldwide acclaim and four consecutive multi-platinum albums: 1977’s “The Grand Illusion,” 1978’s “Pieces of Eight,” 1979’s “Cornerstone” and 1981’s “Paradise Theatre.”
“Styx has left a lasting impression on people for nearly the last half century,” Gowan says in a phone interview. “It is a connection that is meaningful to people.”
That connection is heightened during a Styx concert, something Gowan says is as special for the band as it is for the audience.
“There is just something about that human connection, you know, about closing the laptop,” says Gowan, who plays piano, Hammond B3 organ and synthesizers.
But that’s what makes any new album just a little dangerous. Gowan acknowledged the band wasn’t certain if the new sessions would produce concert filler or concert killer. The sniff test was easy enough: If Styx didn’t like the material and if it wasn’t able to stand alongside with the group’s catalog, which includes, in addition to the Top 10 Billboard hits “Babe,” “Mr. Roboto,” “Show Me The Way,” “Lady,” “Too Much Time On My Hands,” “Don’t Let It End,” “Come Sail Away,” “The Grand Illusion,” and “The Best Of Times,” the hunker-down fortitude of “Blue Collar Man,” the grainy all-in gallop of “Renegade” and the fleeting nature of fame in “Miss America,” they simply “wouldn’t release it” and fans would continue to have joyous singalongs and jam on their air guitars to the band’s classics with no one the wiser.
But the music produced on the group’s 16th album, “The Mission,” proved sonically sweet to the ears and souls of Gowan and band mate Tommy Shaw, who co-wrote the album’s storyline with longtime collaborator Will Evankovich.
The adventurous 43-minute album chronicles the trials and tribulations and ultimate victories of the first manned mission to Mars in the year 2023. Released in 2017, the album contains modern Styx star-tracks such as the hopeful drive of the first single, “Gone, Gone, Gone,” to the harmonic convergence of “Radio Silence,” to the star-gazing rhythms of “Locomotive.”
Gownan and the entire band thought they had produced a great record and were confident the new tracks “would not let the fans down.”
Their calculation proved accurate, according to Gowan.
“The response to the new material is really strong,” he says.
He makes this claim not with statistics, analytics or scientific formulas, but by what could be called “the concession test.”
As veteran and successful musicians, Gowan and his mates know more than a little about life on the road. Established acts in particular, known for their stylistic cornerstones like Styx, will record new material and then present it to fans for the first time on the road. Sometimes the results are a loud thud: Fans will “head for the concession stands,” he says, while the band members are earnestly playing their hearts out to get them into the groove. Fans return for the anthem songs like nothing had happened.
That has not been the case on this summer’s Styx tour promoting “The Mission,” Gowan says. There is a “genuine connection” between the new songs and the band that leaves Gowan to think he has the greatest job on earth.
Or in the case of Styx, the greatest job in the universe.
Tickets: Musikfest box office, ArtsQuest Center, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem; musikfest.org; 610-332-3378