Styx has spent the last several months bringing two of their classic albums, The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight to the live stage, playing both albums from beginning to end (with a twenty minute intermission between albums) “as they were recorded.” I must admit, I went in with a bit of trepidation. While there is no doubt these two albums were great and cornerstones of their catalog, there are more elements to a live show than the music itself.
Of course the music is an essential component, but just as important is how it’s presented. When I go to a live show, I look forward to hearing the music being played with some spontaneity: some extended bridges or altered arrangements. And what about interaction with the crowd? Would that be missing given the platform?
Any misgivings were dismissed when the band took the stage and brought the crowd to their feet. This wasn’t going to be a retrospective, attended by those simply looking to recapture a fleeting memory from the past. The crowd, surprisingly diverse in age, were there to rock out, and Styx was more than happy to lead the party.
Despite the fact The Stranahan Theater is not known for its acoustics, the sound was amazingly crisp and the advertised claim that ‘the sound would be just like the vinyl’ proved accurate. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of a show where the dynamics and mix was so spot-on.
Enhancing the music was a large video screen – as big as the entire back wall of the stage – that constantly played graphics, art, and videos that were not only applicable to the music but the time. As if the theater was a large way-back machine, the audience was transported back to 1977 and 1978.
As stated previously (and listed below) the set list mimicked the track listing of the two albums, but had it been another performance, the choice of “The Grand Illusion” to open the show would have been stellar. Bringing the crowd, which had been buzzing with anticipation, to its feet, it set the tone for the evening. Of course, the song that met the greatest reaction from the crowd – and became a sing-a-long – was “Come Sail Away.” It was the highpoint of the first set and positioned perfectly to keep the crowd’s adrenaline streaming.
It occurred to me during the intermission that this type of show wasn’t conducive to just anyone’s music. Take eighty percent of artists on the hot charts today; a performance of their album,even with twenty years passing, beginning to end, wouldn’t have the same flash. The reason? The concept of an album is an ancient one. With the advancement and popularity of iTunes and the like, there is much more focus put on hit singles than the collection of songs. And it’s the fact that The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight are albums in the truest sense that make this type of show possible.
Because they were both conceived as a whole unit, instead of individual pieces, there is a natural ebb and flow to the collections, and together they made two near-perfect sets.
Highlights from the second set were also ones that seemed obvious. “I’m O.K.,” “Renegade,” and “Pieces of Eight” being the songs that raised the roof and demanded audience participation. Even though the audience would have left completely fulfilled following the second set, Styx returned to do a short two song encore which included a John Lennon cover and “Too Much Time on My Hands.”
The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight tour continues for a bit longer and dates can be found on their website. Blogcritics own Donald Gibson recently sat down for a must-read interview with Lawrence Gowan of Styx where they talked about the tour.
The Grand Illusion
- “The Grand Illusion”
- “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”
- “Come Sail Away”
- “Miss America”
- “Man in the Wilderness”
- “Castle Walls”
- “The Grand Finale”
Pieces of Eight
- “Great White Hope”
- “I’m O.K.”
- “Sing for the Day”
- “The Message”
- “Lords of the Ring”
- “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)”
- “Queen of Spades
- “Pieces of Eight”