The band Styx has touched listeners around the world since the 1970s and continues to make meaningful music with a human touch.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers continue that goal with 2017’s The Mission, an album they’re continuing to push on a tour that comes to the Celebrity Theatre Friday, January 11, and Saturday, January 12. The Mission tells a futuristic story of the first manned mission to Mars in 2033. Guitarist James “JY” Young says separation is a common bond between traveling musicians and explorers.
“As touring musicians, we deal with separation from loved ones on a regular basis,” says Young, who has a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
“We are gone from home half of the year, and somebody’s mother dies while you’re on the road, and you just can’t be there. Your parents die, crises occur at home, and you’re 1,000, 2,000 or 10,000 miles away.
“The sense of separation that we feel in our career as touring musicians certainly is not going to be as profound as the feeling of separation that people have in outer space and knowing they are going to head 40 million miles away, but I think the human emotion won’t be that different.”
Styx has embraced space themes with its song “Come Sail Away,” which originally depicted a sailing ship but later became focused on a spaceship. For The Mission, the group used analog equipment similar to its first album. Young says throughout the years, Styx has retained its signature sound.
“I just think we’re more evolved, but the basic power of the band still comes from the bass, drums, guitar and keyboard and the three-part harmony vocals, which has always been our signature,” Young says.
Young has been in the group since its early days with bass player John Panozzo and guitarist Tommy Shaw. It has newer faces in drummer Todd Sucherman, bass guitarist Ricky Phillips and Scottish-born Canadian keyboard player Lawrence Gowan. Styx has produced 16 studio albums, four of which have gone multiplatinum.
Styx’s crowds are a mix of original fans who have loved its music since the beginning and newer listeners who are just discovering it. The latter group speaks to the music’s timeless quality and focus on the formative years between youth and adulthood.
“We’ve always been known for doing quality records and quality shows, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. But somehow our music remains relevant,” Young says. “I really attribute it to in the late ’60s through the ’70s and ’80s, rock music was geared not at all ages but at young people in a way. The lyrics are more relatable to people in their late teens, 20s and 30s.”
One of the band’s writers, Young says Styx’s music evokes similar feelings in him as in the beginning.
“It’s a joyful thing to me. I think more than anything, the joy that I bring to the stage, and the joy that the rest of my bandmates bring to the stage, is contagious. If you exude joy, then the crowd reflects that,” Young says.
Up until 2008, the band didn’t play “Mr. Roboto,” one of its most popular hits. Young says they avoided it because it was so different from their other songs, but they decided to add it to their sets due to audience demand.
“We’re just finally catering to the audience that discovered us as 11 year olds back in ’83 by playing that,” Young says.
Young has found that other songs, such as “Renegade,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Crystal Ball,” have had an impact on the fans’ lives. For him, singing them in unison with the crowd is similar in some ways to a church service.
“It’s a celebration that bonds us all together and reminds us about what remains good still in life on planet Earth,” Young says.
Styx, Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd Street, Phoenix, 602.267.1600 ext. 1, celebritytheatre.com, 8 p.m. Friday, January 11, and Saturday, January 12, $40-$105 for general admission, $199 to $350 for VIP packages.