Styx w/ Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Tesla June 4, 2018 USANA Amphitheater

It was a hot June evening out at USANA Amphitheater. It definitely feels like summer here in Utah. It was the perfect evening for Volume 1 of Utah’s classic rock station, Arrow 103.5’s Arrowfest featuring Styx, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and Tesla. I love that feeling of being out at this amphitheater as the sun goes down. There’s almost always a breeze, and that feeling of the temperature going down while listening to live music.  It’s the best!

Tesla
The show started right at 7 o’clock with Tesla. I felt bad for the band because the temperature was still about 90 degrees when they took the stage. And the way USANA Amphitheater is positioned, the stage faces the west. So the sun sets right in the band’s faces! Those guys were getting cooked! I’ve got to hand it to them though, they seemed totally unphased. They performed their 8 song set with what I would imagine their same high level performance even if the sun was down. While much of the crowd was still filing into the venue, those who made it for Tesla were excited to see their performance which included hit songs “Signs” and “Love Song”. I met a couple seated in the row in front of me who had traveled from Great Falls Montana just to see Tesla. They traveled over ten hours to hear just eight songs from their favorite band. Now that’s dedication! They stayed for the entire concert, but they were emphatic that it was Tesla that they came to see.

Tesla Setlist

I Wanna Live
Hang Tough
Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
What You Give
Signs
Little Suzi
Love Song
Modern Day Cowboy

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

Fortunately for the Blackhearts, the sun had all but set when they took the stage. It was especially great for them because they were in all black. I don’t know why I’m so concerned about the body temperature of these bands. I suppose it’s because I hate being overheated, so I figure they might not love it either. But they’re playing music for thousands of people. I’m sure they’re just fine.

Joan opened her set with guns blazing! She started with “Bad Reputation” then ripped into the Runaways classic, “Cherry Bomb”, then followed that with “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)”.  It was a really cool start to her set. Unfortunately, during “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah), Joan Jett fell backward to the ground after she backed into a monitor. The band kept playing, while she encouraged the crowd to sing the “Yeah, Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah” part of the song to buy a little time to be given a new guitar and regroup for a second. I thought the band did a great job of vamping, and she recovered pretty quick. I was waiting for her to make a joke about it but she just said something like “Hey it’s Rock n Roll” and moved on. By the time the set was over, I had forgotten it even happened. Well, until now where I’m remembering to write about in this review.

Joan played some of her first Blackheart songs, as well as the Bruce Springsteen penned title track of a movie she co-starred in with Michael J. Fox called “Light of Day”.  The buddy, I went to the show with and I have determined that we must see this movie immediately. Let me know if you’ve seen it and where I can watch it. I never even knew it existed, and now my life has no purpose other than to see this hidden 80’s gem.

The main set finished with the same guns a blazing as the opening of the show, featuring mega-hit “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” followed by “Crimson & Clover” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You”. Then the Blackhearts did what would probably be considered their encore if they had time to leave the stage and come back by playing a medley of “Real Wild Child (Wild One) and “Everyday People”.

I always forget how many hit songs Joan Jett & the Blackhearts have. With famously putting her own twist on some covers, playing a couple of Runaways songs, and of course her big Blackhearts singles, it makes for a great block of music. I really enjoyed them.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts Setlist

Bad Reputation
Cherry Bomb
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
Victim of Circumstance
Soulmates to Strangers
You Drive Me Wild
Light of Day
Fake Friends
Love is Pain
A Hundred Feet Away
Fresh Start
Love is All Around
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
Crimson & Clover
I Hate Myself for Loving You
Real Wild Child (Wild One)
Everyday People

Styx

I’m sure I’ve said this a bunch of times but I’m always impressed with how quickly they move one band’s equipment out and the next band’s in. I was given a photo pass for the Styx set so I was up close as the transition took place and it’s an art form. I don’t think we waited twenty minutes after Joan Jett for Styx to be ready. I don’t know how they do it. But I know I’ve taken for granted just how quickly the switch happens.

I had the opportunity to see Styx at the Eccles Theater back in January.  They performed alone with no openers and no co-headliners.  Just them.  It was a good concert.  I was excited to see if any surprises were in store for us at USANA Amphitheater.  And was there ever a surprise!

At the beginning of the show, I was set up between the barricade and the stage.  So basically in front of the front row for the first three songs. Let me tell you, it’s a pretty awesome sight. There were moments where I had to remind myself to keep taking pictures because I was just captivated by the well-oiled machine that is Styx.  They give each other these looks where they’re communicating more than we realize. Maybe they’re telling each other “This is a great crowd!”, or perhaps, “This crowd sucks, we need to put some extra work in to get them going!” or maybe, “We sound amazing tonight!”.   Who knows what they’re saying, but they seem so in sync that they don’t need to talk.

Speaking of the crowd, I’m not sure if it was the heat or that fact that it was a Monday, but they weren’t as energetic as I had expected them to be. That’s not to say they weren’t into it, and it could have been just my section, but it took a few songs before the crowd was fully into the show.

Styx is promoting their first album in over 14 years called The Mission.  It’s a pretty good album. The fear for fans is that the set will be over saturated with new songs when what they really came for are the hits. I thought Styx did an excellent job picking just the right spots to drop a new song into the setlist. They opened with “Gone Gone Gone” from The Mission. I’ve always felt that the first song is the perfect place to play a song off of the new album because the crowd is just excited the band is on stage. By the time they realize it’s a new song, it’s half over. After playing a new cut, Styx rewarded the audience with seven hit songs in a row. That’s how you do it. I think if other bands understood this, their fans would be more open-minded about hearing newer material.

Tommy Shaw was in his usual great form. I don’t know how he’s continued to sing those high notes over the years. He sounds as good as he did when he first joined the band. JY who they now call the “Godfather” of Styx seems to really be enjoying himself up on that stage.The member of Styx that has impressed me since the day he took over for late drummer John Panozzo is Todd Sucherman. I think he is one of the best drummers out there today. He really is underappreciated in the rock world.

Of course, it’s always great to see original bassist Chuck Panozzo take the stage for a few songs. It seems like him and current bassist Ricky Phillips have fun when they perform together.

Styx played all the hits you’d expect to hear if you’re going to a Styx concert. You know, “Blue Collar Man”, “The Grand Illusion”, “Fooling Yourself”, “Too Much Time on My Hands”, “Renegade”, “Lady”, “Come Sail Away”, and “Mr. Roboto”. Ok, maybe that last song isn’t one you’d expect to hear at a Styx concert. But if you’re rubbing your eyes to make sure you read that right, let me assure you, you did. Dennis Deyoung-less Styx sang “Mr. Roboto”.

Now even up to the time of writing this, I still don’t know how I feel about it. I have this one side of me that can’t figure out why they would do it when they’ve made it known for years how much they (Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young in particular) don’t like that song and have tried to distance themselves from it. Maybe I’m a little defensive for Dennis Deyoung and feel like, hey, this is the song that is attributed to breaking up the band and giving him the boot, how can you play this now without him? There is also a side of me that wonders if the fellas have simply evolved over the years to the point that they tolerate, maybe even appreciate the song now. And maybe performing it is a way of saying “Look, we know we haven’t done this song in a billion years, we don’t hate it anymore, and we love our fans so here you go.” And maybe it was some kind of an olive branch to Dennis Deyoung. Not necessarily to reunite, but to say, it’s water under the bridge.  So yeah, I don’t know how I felt about having heard that song. I’m not sure if Styx is sure about how they feel playing that song. 

 

As I looked around the amphitheater, I think there were many in as much shock as I was. The initial response I noticed was people with open mouths, and looking at each other totally surprised. I can say this. Lawrence Gowan did an amazing job on the vocals. He sounded really good singing “Mr. Roboto”. I really wish I would have known that they were going to do this song when I interviewed him a few weeks ago. I would have at least wanted to know who proposed the idea, if anyone fought it, and why they ultimately decided to go through with putting it on the setlist. I’m so curious about it. I did enjoy the shock of it all. Unless you cheated and looked at a previous setlist, there is no way you saw that coming.  Way to keep us on our toes Styx!

All in all, it was a beautiful night. The weather was perfect, the bands were fantastic, and the music was alive. Well done Arrow 103.5. Can’t wait for Volume 2 of Arrowfest.

 

Styx Setlist

Gone Gone Gone
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
The Grand Illusion
Lady
Light Up
Rockin’ the Paradise
Radio Silence
Miss America
The Outpost
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Too Much Time on My Hands
Khedive
Bohemian Rhapsody
Come Sail Away

Encore

Mr. Roboto
Renegade

UCR Interview Lawrence Gowan of Styx

By: Kevin Rolfe

Photo Credit: Rick Diamond

Styx returns to USANA Amphitheater on Monday, June 4 with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Tesla.  They credit Utah as one of the first regions to truly embrace their music.  Because of this, it’s always a good time when they come to town.  

I had the opportunity to interview Keyboardist/ Lead Singer Lawerence Gowan.  When I think of his contribution to Styx I generally think of his influence in the live show.  I also think of him as a newer member of the band, but as you’ll read, he’s actually been in the band for quite some time now.  We talk about that as well as the band’s new album The Mission.  He was really fun to talk to.  Enjoy!  

Utah Concert Review:  The first time I saw Styx was in 2000.  And I think you had joined up with them a couple years before that.  You should be close to your twentieth anniversary with the band, yeah?

Lawrence Gowan:   Yes! I’m about a month into my twentieth year.  Time flies.

UCR:  I just wanted to congratulate you on that.  I think you’ve been great as a member of the band.  I know it was probably a weird situation to come into and I think you’ve been so gracious with everything.  

LG: Thank you very much. It’s a great band to be a part of and it always was a great band before I got into it so it’s something I always want to acknowledge.

UCR:  Now I’ve always felt like the past drama with the band is not really part of your history with the band.  So we don’t need to get into all of that. But I am curious, you’ve replaced a principal songwriter, a founding member, and a vocalist that people love and associate many of these songs to, was there ever a transition period initially that you noticed the fans not being sure about you yet? And was there a moment/tour where you felt like the fans accepted you as an official member of the band.  

LG:  It’s funny, I have to go right back to the very first show I did with the band.  There was only one moment in the entire twenty years when I felt anything but 100% worthy of being with these guys.  The very first show we did together we opened with “Grand Illusion”.  Actually, they had just done an album called Brave New World so they did a short piece from Brave New World that segued into “Grand Illusion”.  And after the “Grand Illusion” intro I drew breath to sing that first line “Welcome to the Grand Illusion…”  and just about five seconds before I hit that first line I realized “Oh, there are a few thousand people here that are about to hear someone else sing this song that they’ve never heard before.”  And at that moment it all kinda flashed in my mind that “in about four or five minutes from now I’m going to know if this is going to work or not.” Because we hadn’t really considered that. We really were quite confident that it would work out because we had rehearsed it and everyone had smiles on their faces.  But by the time we got through the song I remember Tommy and JY walking forward and nodding and there were people with their arms in the air and it was all high fives. It’s kind of been that way since that time. And that’s something that has been inspiring to me that this was a good move.

The other thing I would always clarify is, right from that first show to this very day I have never looked upon the idea that I replaced anyone in the band.  It’s an easy thing to say, and I used to just accept it. But it really is not that. It really is that the band’s life was extended because they got another new guy.  Similar to what happened to them in 1976 when they got Tommy Shaw into the band after they had made five albums. Similar to what happened in the 90’s Todd Sucherman came in when original drummer John Panozzo could no longer do it.  It just so happens that because there was all the backstage brooha drama and all of the gut-wrenching emotions that go along with that because that preceded my joining the band, I think there’s a heightened sense of gravitas of it being a weighty situation.  But my time in the band has always been playing to a fantastic audience of Classic Rock Styx enthusiasts. And they always leave with a lot of smiles on their faces.

UCR: That’s a great way to approach it.  I enjoyed the band’s new album The Mission.  I believe it’s only the second album of original music you’ve done while in Styx.  Is that right?

LG:  Yes. We’ve only done two albums of brand new music.  There have been a good number of live albums and DVDs.  There was the covers album and of course the Regeneration album which were re-recordings of the classic hits with this lineup.  So there are a good number of records, but only two brand new records. That’s really a testament to how much we tour. The band never toured to the extent that we have over the last twenty years.  We have yet to play less than 100 shows in a year and then you add in all the travel that entails, and the distances. We’re in an era of the music world now where the live show, the live performance is at the center of what people gravitate towards because we’re in a different time.  We’re in the internet era where everyone gets their entertainment from their laptops. So when they go and see a live rock show it’s even a bigger seismic shift in their lives because they’re actually living something in real time in the real world. Even if they are holding up their cell phones for most of it.

UCR:  I’m sure with this much touring, not only is it the number of shows and travel, but I’d imagine that you need to spend your off days on vocal rest.  So there probably aren’t many off days the band would be able to spend in the studio laying down vocal tracks take after take.

LG:  It is exactly that.  It really is. You’ve got to stay focused on the most important thing that’s going to have the band continue on.  In the 70’s it was obviously “Let’s get an album out as quick as we can while people are noticing. Let’s make sure it’s really high quality, and then let’s get out and play some shows to support it.”  Now the creativity, for the most part, has been in how the myriad of ways we can improve the live show. And that’s something we’ve really worked at.

Now when we made The Mission, we just set aside the time.  That’s how it got accomplished.  We cut back on shows, we set parameters of how much time we had to work on it.  It took us well over a year to actually pull it together. And that was with some really creative maneuvering around the schedule, but it got done.  

UCR:  When I saw you back in January at the Eccles Theater it seemed like the album was well received.  Which I thought was great. Generally speaking, bands that have been around for 40 years don’t really get to enjoy that.  

LG:  The beauty of being in a band with great hits to play is, you’ve got great hits to play.  The detraction is so often the audience doesn’t want to hear anything but that. However, if you give them just the right thing on the right day you might be surprised.  It seems with The Mission that’s what’s unfolded.  The audience was ready for it, they were ready to hear something that after all these years this lineup could accomplish in a studio setting with the writing and the culmination of our lineup.  I know what you’re saying, “Radio Silence” and “Gone, Gone, Gone”, and “Khedive” those songs are going over as well as many of the classic hits. I think it’s because they slot into the show in an effortless fashion and the audiences are digging it.  

UCR:  And for you, as somebody who had success as a solo artist how has it felt to get to create music again, and with this band?  

LG:  Really satisfying.  I thoroughly enjoyed being a solo artist, but there were times where I was kind of jealous or envious of the idea of creating with a band and having a collective voice that still sounds like one entity.  There aren’t all that many solo artists that I listen to compared to the number of bands that I listen to. I enjoy listening to Elton, and a few others but really the list of bands is far greater. Maybe it was the “grass is greener” idea, but the idea of the collective and what happens when the creative friction comes into the room and something emerges that really doesn’t sound like one guy but very much like this outside entity that no one can claim as their own because it exists as the sum of the parts.  

UCR:  Do you remember the first time you ever performed live?

LG:  I was in grade 2.  I grew up in Toronto.  I can even tell you the date!  It was February 10, 1964. I remember that because The Beatles played on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964.  When I went to school the next day, I don’t know why but everyone was asked to sing or perform something in front of the class.  I had nothing prepared but I already kind of knew “All My Lovin’” and “Love Me Do” because I had heard them on the radio prior to seeing them on Ed Sullivan.  So basically I got up in front of the class and stood there and I pulled up three other unsuspecting guys and showed them where to stand, and belted out “Love Me Do” in front of the class.  What I remember is the rest of the class looking like “What the hell is he doing?”, but my teacher Ms. Davis had this big grin on her face. I know now what it was. She was probably in her early twenties, and she was obviously a big Beatles fan already.  Or had seen the show the night before. So I was basically doing what a whole generation of musicians have been doing ever since. Trying to figure out “How do we put a band together that looks as much fun and artistically satisfying as that band?”. It was an entire generation of musicians that were affected by that night.  I think I might have beat them all to get in front of an audience with that schtick (Laughing).

UCR:  Do you remember the first concert you attended?  

LG:  I do.  It was in Toronto.  It was a Canadian band called “The Guess Who” that people, of course, know for their biggest hit “American Woman”.  I was 14 and they sounded exactly like the record. They were just so good live. It really had an impression on me.  Whenever I see a band live, if they don’t come up to or surpass the quality that they do on record they kind of lose me forever.  I was branded with that way of judging an act. If I’m on the fence with an act or indifferent to them and I see them live and they just slay the audience I’m forever devoted to what that band can do.  And vice versa, I’ve seen acts where I actually like their record but they’re subpar live they kind of lose me for good.

UCR:  It makes a difference how they sound live, doesn’t it?

LG:  Yeah!  I’ve tried to figure it out over the years.  Ultimately music is communication. So in the live arena, that’s where it’s the most real and visceral and intense, or the opportunity is there for it to be that.  And a great rock show is the best form of entertainment I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I don’t think anything is going to surpass it. I know what it can do to you, and when it fails to do that it’s disappointing.  Fortunately, that hasn’t happened all that often because most of the bands I like are phenomenal live.

UCR:  I think that’s something that could be attributed to Styx.  I’ve seen bands where when they take the stage it looks like they are going to work.  But with Styx, I’ve seen you at the beginning of tours and at the end of tours and it looks no different.  Every time you guys seem excited to be out on that stage. That goes a long way for fans.

LG:  I’m glad you perceive that because I can tell you it’s genuine.  It’s funny that you say that you’ve seen bands that “look like they’re going to work”.  We’re only doing this so that we can avoid going to work! (Laughing) The last thing we’re doing is working!  We’re basically just trying to create this great vibe in front of a few thousand people. When you leave the stage seeing this sea of smiles on faces as far as the eye can stretch, that’s a pretty good end to a satisfying day.  You should really drink that in and be happy to suit up again the next day. I’m lucky that I’m in a like-minded band in that regard.

UCR:  You’re really giving people their escape for a couple hours from their work week.  So it’s good that you guys have that approach.

LG:  The effort it takes to get out to a show, and park, go through a crowd, and that whole ritual, they deserve the best possible performance.  And we’ve jumped through a few hoops of fire to get we are so we don’t want to let ourselves down either.

UCR:  Is there a particular Styx song that no matter how many times you’ve played it, you still get excited?  

LG:  Every night I look at “Renegade” on the setlist.  It’s always towards the end if not the very end of the show.  I embrace that moment every time. It’s great too because I don’t have to sing lead on that one!  I get the opportunity to take the temperature of the audience and every time it’s at a fever pitch.  So I get to observe it and enjoy it so I love seeing that that song is coming up on the setlist.

UCR:  Do you have an experience or two as a performer that you might say are your very best?

LG:  A couple pinnacles come to mind.  First I’ll go back to 1985 prior to joining Styx.  In my hometown Toronto, my second album went to number 1.  It wasn’t released in the states which was a terrible frustration, but it did get to number 1 in Toronto the very week I had the biggest show I had ever done to date which was about 9,000 people. That was one of the highest moments for me personally because I had played all the little clubs around the area and then suddenly to have that happen, it was like, it’s what you’re dreaming of but yet it hits you like “Wow!  That was an unexpected thing.  That was great!”.

The next one I would say, in joining Styx I think we played twice at the Super Bowl.  Funny enough it was the second time, which is weird, I don’t know why, but it was the second time we did it.  I had been in the band for five years at that point. We were still reaching to see what was achievable. The show in San Diego that day was really spectacular.  I remember feeling like I was at the center of the universe. It was just astounding. That was an obvious giant thing. But, there are other moments that I can mention along the way.  Like the first time we played at Red Rocks in Colorado was a phenomenal moment. You’re looking up at this gigantic natural amphitheater a mile or so above the city, it’s almost like you’re in outer space playing there.  It’s an unbelievable spot. And then there are surprises along the way. Like playing the Eccles Theater there in Salt Lake back in January where you don’t know what to expect. You’re playing a new venue, you don’t know how it’s going to go. You’re playing some new material in this case.  And suddenly that’s just as rewarding as anything you’ve ever done. So the answer to your question has become a real moving target over the years.

UCR: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Gowan.  I really enjoyed this!

LG: Me too!  We’ll see you out at USANA with Tesla and Joan Jett!  It’s gonna rock!!!

 

For tickets to Arrowfest: Styx, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, with Tesla on June 4 click here.  

To purchase Styx new album The Mission, click here.