by Steven Sanchez
Classic rock giants, Styx, will “come sail away” to the Fox Theatre in Bakersfield on January 15, 2019. The 70s and 80s arena rock “renegades” are coming to the area to publicize their 16th studio album, The Mission. Styx has been in the business for over 40 years, and original members guitarist/lead vocalist Tommy Shaw, lead guitar James “JY” Young, bassist Chuck Panozzo, along with guitarist Ricky Phillips, keyboardist Lawrence Gowan, and drummer Todd Sucherman are still going strong. Their name references the river dividing the living from the dead in Greek mythology. You might say their “mission” is to continue making music forever.
The Chicago-based musicians have been touring since the beginning of summer last year. Bakersfield is the fourth date of their five California stops on this leg of the tour. Throughout their history, they’ve built a reputation for being stadium rock kings. They’ve played in every sizeable venue you can think of around the world, to huge capacity crowds and theatrical stage productions. They even had a Las Vegas residency at the Venetian. Now they’ll be playing in a 1,500-seat venue, the Fox Theatre. For such a powerful sound and flamboyant show, will they have to adjust their set to accommodate a smaller venue? According to “JY” Young, rock doesn’t come in small. They plan on bringing the same energy they have had since the beginning.
“Honestly, there’s no challenge here; we’re used to playing all sorts of venues, and we’ve been able to adapt to any circumstance, outdoors—and even [in] a small club like House of Blues, we give them the same show,” says James.
The Mission is their most ambitious album to date. It’s a conceptual record that tells the story of the first manned mission to Mars in the year 2033. It occupies familiar territory while also being different. “We are known for writing rock songs with a classical influence and jazz fusion, and this is a continuation of us being a storytelling band,” James says. He told me that the theme of the album is self-referential. It’s about a long space expedition, which mirrors the arduous life on the road as a touring rock ‘n’ roll band. You are away from your family, you are lonesome, constantly moving. In regard to their career, they’ve persevered and are showing no signs of stopping.
The record is not short on progressive subjects and science fiction themes. That has been their forte for a long time, including quasi-medieval/fantasy lyrics and cover imagery with their albums “The Grand Illusion” (1977), “Pieces of Eight” (1978), “Paradise Theatre” (1981), and their most famous album, “Kilroy Was Here” (1983), featuring the single “Mr. Roboto.” That’s just naming a few.
So, what’s their attraction to these high concepts and otherworldly ideas? “We’ve probably just seen too many episodes of Star Trek,” James says with a laugh. The Grand Illusion came out in the same year that Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars [did], so we kind [of] became the outer space band unintentionally.” Note: James has a background in aerospace engineering, so maybe that helps.
One of the many surprises you’ll find at this show is that they will be playing one of their most famous (or infamous, depends on who you ask) singles for the first time in a long time: “Mr. Roboto.” “We avoided playing it because it was identified with a different era of the band, mostly with our former lead singer, Dennis DeYoung, and we decided we needed something new to freshen up the set and surprise some people,” elaborates James. “The thing is, our audience is getting younger, and while it alienated old fans, it captivated a younger audience, and for some it was one of the first songs they purchased. It was time to acknowledge it and play it again.”
They have become the first group to score four triple platinum albums in a row from 1977-1981. Those are Hall of Fame credentials. Now that we’re on the subject, their name has been thrown into the candidacy list of potential inductees. However, the committee recently announced the new class, and Styx wasn’t called. Is their touring a way for them to receive that invitation to join the greats of the music industry? “It’s got nothing to do with what I do. I love what I do and I love getting on that stage and playing our music; and it brings me joy to do that…and whether or not we get voted in, it’s not going to be the end of my world,” James announces confidently. “But do we deserve to be in there? Of course.”
For more information about Styx: transmissionmedia.com/styx
To purchase tickets: thebakersfieldfox.com/event/styx