On a ‘Mission’

Styx kicks off its 2020 tour at the Celebrity Theatre

By Haley Lorenzen

This January, fans can catch all sides of Styx when it kicks off its 2020 tour at the Celebrity Theatre.

Vocalist and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan promises the rotating stage “is going to spin out of orbit.”

Gowan and his Styx bandmates will perform their latest album, “The Mission,” in its entirety as well as several of the hits that made the band famous.

In the 20 years since Gowan joined Styx in May 1999, the band has been constantly touring around the world, but the upcoming jaunt will be one of the first to feature new music from its latest album.

Formed in 1972, the classic rock band gained popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s for their blend of both progressive and soft rock.

Styx has gone through several lineup changes, but the current touring members are Gowan, vocalists/guitarists Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young, drummer Todd Sucherman and bassist Ricky Phillips. Former bassist Chuck Panozzo will make surprise appearances throughout the run.

Released in 2017, “The Mission” was the band’s first album since 2005’s cover album “Big Bang Theory,” and its first release of original material since 2003’s “Cyclorama.”

“We spend so much time on the road together each year, and we’re constantly coming up with new things, but to actually make the album, we decided several things,” Gowan says.

“One was we were going to basically prohibit ourselves from engaging with too much digital technology because we wanted to make a record that was something that would resonate with the legacy of Styx from the ’70s.”

Gowan contends the record was fun to make because the musicians shut off their cellphones and used “all the clunky, old machines they used to use in recording studios.”

“What we really enjoyed more than anything, I thought so myself, was the smell of the oxide tape rolling around on the machine,” he says. “I mean I know it’s weird, but I always equated it with making a record.

“It’s something other musicians out there would understand. A certain familiarity comes back and evokes great memories and also great fear because you’re not always going to make something that holds up to what you’re hoping for.”

The catalyst for the album was Shaw’s song “Mission to Mars,” which closes the collection. Gowan adds afterward, “some really fortuitous things happened.”

Then, in 2012, the space probe New Horizons discovered a fifth moon orbiting Pluto, which was then named Styx, Gowan explains.

“So, we were invited to NASA to witness the arrival of the craft as it did its first pass by Pluto,” Gowan says. “It sent back these phenomenal photos, and I suggested to Tommy at that point and they accepted the idea that we expand the story to go beyond just Mars.”

Also on the setlist is “Mr. Roboto,” the 1983 hit that has remained largely off of the band’s setlist since Gowan joined Styx.

“When I joined the band, it was that album we avoided—not just that song, but the album,” Gowan says. “Three of the guys in the band—Chuck, Tommy and JY—had painful memories of the era of the band and how it ultimately led to the band’s temporary demise, for about seven years there in the ’80s.

“But over time, as a body of work, it stood the test of time, and our suggestion we give it another go was eventually accepted. When we see the audience’s reactions, we know it’s right for the band to be playing that song. It’s part of their history and it’s something they have made peace with.”

During the last 20 years, Gowan says, not only has the band’s performances evolved but so has its audience.

“It’s very evident we’ve reached younger generations whose lives were not concurrent with the past of Styx,” he says.

“On any given night, we look out at the audience and half of them can be roughly under 30 years of age. They weren’t even born when some of the biggest albums the ’70s were first released.”

Gowan chalks this up to the internet and classic rock radio. This isn’t just true with Styx shows.

“I was at an Elton John show last week, and the same thing—I was one of the older people in the crowd,” Gowan says. “Half the audience was not even born when these albums came out. I saw those tours the first time around, I saw ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ in ’73. And here I am seeing ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ in 2019.”

Rock to the Rescue, a nonprofit founded by Styx and REO Speedwagon and led by Shaw’s daughter, Hannah, will be at each tour selling $10 raffle tickets to win a signed Styx guitar. A percentage of these ticket sales are then given to a local nonprofit.

Although Styx continues to tour heavily, Gowan says, the band doesn’t tend to plan things too far in advance.

“One of the funny things that happen as you mature on this planet is you pretty much, by force, begin to embrace the now,” he says.

“We maybe took about six months ahead at a time and try to get it right, and if we do, hopefully, that’ll lead to another six months or another year, or another decade, or another two decades, we’ll just have to see.”

Gowan adds with a laugh, “We never stop. We don’t know what could happen if we stop. The world could be negatively affected if we did.”