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Styx keyboardist, vocalist discusses shift to online presence, ‘brand awareness’ over time

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Styx performs in Knoxville, Tenn. in September. Photo courtesy Jason Powell.

Classic rock group Styx played at Miami’s Magic City Casino last weekend on Friday, Dec. 2. While the audience was smaller than during the band’s heyday in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was no less enthusiastic, and the set list was upbeat and dynamic.

The show featured fun yet minimal lighting effects, such as flashing light-bulb graphics during “Light Up” and scrolling clocks with varying time zones during “Too Much Time on My Hands.”

The focus, however, was on sound quality, which was exceptional. Members of the audience remarked on how the group, despite performing for more than 40 years, sounded almost identical to studio recordings.

The show featured popular songs like “Lady” and “Renegade,” though it also diverged to include covers of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” along with a cover of “Hallelujah,” a tribute to Leonard Cohen, who died earlier this year.

In an interview with The Miami Hurricane a few days before the show, Styx’s keyboardist and vocalist Lawrence Gowan discussed how music has evolved over time and how older music groups such as Styx have adjusted by creating an online presence and becoming active on social media.

“When I joined the band, James Young [Styx’s guitarist] had a new mantra that he was constantly repeating: ‘Flexibility and adaptability will lead us to the path of opportunity.’ That’s really how we came to grips with all of the changes … that have arisen in this century,” Gowan said.

Styx maintained its fan base through brand awareness, Gowan explained.

“The band has been around for a number of decades, and there’s a brand awareness … There’s an identifiable brand with Styx where we have to live up to that. It’s a challenge that we meet head-on every day,” Gowan said.

The group’s shows continue to attract young people, despite the passing of decades since the band’s inception.

“A conversation began backstage here of … ‘Did you notice how many people in the audience weren’t even born when the biggest Styx records were put out?’ They knew all the words, had the same devotion to [the music]as if they had grown up with it,” Gowan said.

In the late ’90s, when Gowan joined the group, Styx saw a resurgence in popularity due to references being made to the band in pop culture. “Big Daddy,” a comedy movie featuring Adam Sandler, made reference to the band. “South Park,” an adult animated sitcom, referenced “Come Sail Away,” a Styx song, in which Cartman is unable to hear the song without finishing the lyrics himself.

Besides social media accounts, another way that fans are able to interact with Styx’s music and classic rock music at large is through video sites like YouTube, Gowan said.

“There’s so many young people that can play so well. There’s all these tutorials on the internet – there are some super players out there – and when they’re looking for material to play, it’s still electric guitars, drums and keyboards that are the most common instruments,” Gowan said. “They want to play classic rock songs.”

As a genre, Gowan said, classic rock has continued to remain relevant. Through music streaming sites, listeners can now choose exactly what they listen to and curate playlists according to their tastes.

“Young people on the internet can do their own programming. They’re not relying on program directors of various television and radio stations to feed them their cultural influences,” Gowan said.

“[Fans] start looking at all this old concert footage. Although it’s classic rock, it still sounds relevant today … it has survived to this point in many permutations, many ways that it’s changed, but it still resonates with young people today in a way that makes sense today.”

When asked whether he ever grows tired of playing the same songs over the years, Gowan’s answer was a simple and emphatic no.

“I’m lucky to be in a band with musicians who are really engaged in the music,” Gowan said. “It’s almost like saying, how many times can you look at a painting before you’re bored of it? If you really love it, you can engage with it every single day and it brings something new to the equation … it’s not a static thing.”

Alyssa Bolt // Edge editor

Styx performs live at Magic City Casino in Miami on Dec. 2. Alyssa Bolt // Edge editor

With a tried-and-true set list that mixed in a handful of surprises, Styx put on a show that impressed both die-hard fans and younger audience members alike. While smaller than anticipated, the crowd was enthusiastic and connected with the band onstage. The remarkable sound quality of the show made up for the limited visual effects, and Styx brought a confident gusto to the stage that was a testament to the group’s experience over the years.

Styx’s next performance will be in Nashville, Tennessee on New Year’s Eve. To see more of the group’s upcoming shows, check out the list of tour dates on Styx’s website.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

December 8, 2016

Reporters

Alyssa Bolt

Alyssa Bolt can be reached via email at abolt@themiamihurricane.com and through Twitter at @AlyssaLBolt. Her LinkedIn is linkedin.com/in/boltalyssa, and her personal website is alyssabolt.wordpress.com.


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