Styx brings ‘The Mission’ to Pala Casino

Published on February 22nd, 2018

By Jim Dail

Styx keyboardist and vocalist Lawrence Gowan is walking down the streets of Los Angeles, phone to his ear.

He’s thinking about the band on stage, a place Styx has been for decades.

“We take it seriously when we are preforming,” he laughs. “We have fun, so you might wonder how much work we put into it, but this is the soundtrack to our lives. It is that energy that people notice. It is a responsibility we have.”

The band is back in Southern California, performing Saturday at the Pala Events Center at Pala Casino.

“We do really feel about 15-years-old out on stage,” he said. “When we are playing, we are in touch with the essence and the power of everything going on and you get swept up by it and feel that energy.”

They are in the midst of touring behind their most successful album in years, “The Mission,” which is selling well and getting critical acclaim.

“On UCR, which is the go-to site for classic rock, we were voted the #1 Classic Rock Album of 2017,” he said. “It was especially gratifying for Tommy and JY and Chuck, but it was a big deal to those of us who were not the original guys. I am in my 20th year with the band and was looking to make a statement for my era with the band. That it fits is something I am proud of.”

That is for good reason, as it feels like the typical Styx album during their heyday.

“We don’t take time off,” he said. “Last year we recorded “The Mission,” and that undertaking was the consuming thing of the year. It is funny because we basically acted as if it was 1979 and recorded to tape. We pretended digital wasn’t invented yet. We reset our minds and we hit the right paradigm. That’s how Universal acted as well. They felt that as well. It fit with the band’s desires and we just acted that way, like we were still in the late ’70s.”

When listening to the record, it certainly feels like one of the classic Styx records.

“It has to be balanced with the tempos, lyrics and themes molding into the next,” he said. “It was always that way throughout the recording: A unified statement musically and lyrically.”

And the album has already provided one classic, “Gone, Gone, Gone,” which has opened many shows since the record’s release.

“Holding an album in your hand and listening to it is timely these days,” he said. “It stops the world from scrolling through the phone, by and you get a true engagement when you confront it that way. My life is enriched by it. I remember listening to Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album, all four sides and having that feeling.”

Of course, a lot of people have that feeling listening to Styx over the years. Whether it is the hard rocking songs like “The Grand Illusion” and “Renegade,” the pop-tinged “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Lady,” and such anthems as “Crystal Ball” and “Suite Madame Blue,” the songs have stood the test of time.

And so has the band.

“I looked at Styx over the five decades, and there have only been 10 members which is a relatively low number,” he said. “I didn’t know the beginning versions of the band, but the band exists as a culmination of the efforts of all these great people that have been able to thrive.”

That has also allowed for a wide-range of songs for the band to choose from on stage.

“We do about 2-3 changes because as JY says, we have an embarrassment of riches to pull from so we can play around with the set list but there are, of course, songs we always have to do,” he said. “And now, with the new record, we might be doing ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ as one of those constant songs.”

In addition to all the Styx favorites, the band does take care to include album cuts that are fan favorites or even certain Beatles classics.

“’I am the Walrus’ was a surprise that came from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival,” he said. “JY had heard me play the keyboard part during warm ups and he said ‘Let’s do it in the show.’ There were so many great blues songs being played, and he wanted to try something different. We did it and it went live on radio. Before we left we kept hearing that people kept calling in hear the song again.”

One of the keys to the strength of classic rock bands are groups like Styx being able to put on just a spectacular show with strong songs and strong musicianship. Not a lot of bands have two lead guitarists, three vocalists, a world-class keyboardist and rhythm section, plus an energy that draws the crowd into their realm.

“The live show is so vital,” he said. “First, there is the intimacy of being in your bedroom and listening to the song to see if it resonates with you, but then to see the band live and have the notion of seeing the song you feel the embrace. I haven’t found a more far-reaching experience.”

Who: Styx

Where: Pala Casino

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 24

Tickets: $55-$75. https://www.palacasino.com/entertainment/concerts/

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