Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cloak and Slasher

Slash spills details about his Slasher Films company Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival. (Photo/Doug Fox)

Ex-Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash spent a couple days in Utah this week. He started the week out at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City and is closing it out in concert tonight at the Depot in Salt Lake City.

Slash, apparently, is a big horror movie fan, which led to his appearance Sunday at a press conference to pimp his new production company, appropriately titled Slasher Films. I covered his press conference and filed this report for the Daily Herald.

Slash, who opened the press conference off by admitting that “I don’t know if I’m here as a film producer or a guitar player,” fired off a bunch of interesting quotes during the proceedings, some of which didn’t fit into the main story. In honor of his concert tonight, here are some additional comments by the iconic guitarist.

When asked what he enjoys about the horror movie experience, Slash said, “I love white-knuckling it ... being scared [crap]less in a movie theater with a bunch of strangers."

In a moment of unintended irony, Slash explained his foray into horror film production by saying, “I thought it was a killer idea.”

In an obvious line of questioning, Slash was asked about his plans for and level of interest in producing the musical scores for his company’s films.

“I’m totally interested in the music in every scene,” he said, noting that could mean he either picks a composer to handle it or creates it himself. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Slash said he envisioned being involved in all aspects of movie production, except he had no interest in actually acting. He said he just wants to make the best movies possible while staying in the background.

“This is going to be a gas,” he said.

Slasher Films has four movies in the pipeline, and hopes to finish one or two projects per year. Incidentally, none of the current movie plots deal with an egomaniacal lead singer that systematically kills one of the most infamous rock bands in history at the peak of its success. Sometimes truth is scarier than fiction.

(Note: Check back later and I'll try to add some video from the press conference.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Queensryche walks 'The Thin Line' in Wendover

Other than a great show, one never quite knows exactly what to expect from a Queensryche concert -- and I’ve got to admit, that’s the way I like it.

Uh-huh, uh-huh.

The Seattle-based band is not one that regurgitates the same setlist every night, year after year. Queensryche has charted plenty of hits, but outside of maybe one or two songs, there’s never a guarantee it’s going to play any specific ones every time out. Additionally, the band always seems to shuffle through some obscure album tracks during the course of a show, which always keeps things interesting, for the band as well as the fans.

Take Queensryche’s sold-out show Saturday at the Peppermill Concert Hall in Wendover as an example. The show, not only Queensryche’s first of the new year, but also the only one on the touring schedule until July, featured material from eight different albums touching nearly all eras of the band’s recording career.

In fact, the first part of the show was dominated by album tracks that audience members who simply followed the band by its radio hits would have had no clue about. Songs like “Hit the Black,” which opened the show, “Sacred Ground,” “Damaged,” the new “Man Down” and “The Hands,” my favorite tune off of “Operation: mindcrime II.”

As might be expected, the band played a handful of songs off its seminal 1990 album “Empire.” Not so expected, however, was the eschewing of some of that record’s hits in favor of a couple of album tracks that open it. In fact, two of the best parts of the show were the performances of “Best I Can” and “The Thin Line” – the first two tracks on “Empire.” “The Thin Line” was especially enjoyable, with Tate augmenting the tune’s vocal gymnastics with a bit of saxophone – an instrument which also saw extended play in “Promised Land” and “Disconnected.”

If there is a more purely theatrical rock performer than Tate, I’d like to see it. Queensryche’s tours have often incorporated an uber-theatrical presence – the “Evening with Operation: mindcrime I and II” and “Promised Land” tours come quickly to mind – but even when playing the music in a straightforward way, Tate can’t help but act out the lyrics as he belts them out. So he doesn’t just sing “every push and shove” during “I Don’t Believe in Love” but he also portrays it with an emphatic two-handed push. Added to that, Tate, whose recently shaved head gives him a slight Howie Mandel appearance, exhibits some of the greatest range of any rock vocalist, handling pulsating rockers, tranquil ballads and everything in between with equal aplomb.

The rest of the band was spot on as well. I’ve written it before, but it was obvious to me yet again, it’s not often a bassist’s sound is so front and center in a band’s mix as it is in Queensryche – in fact, many times one has to struggle to listen for the bottom end notes over the squeal of live guitars. But Eddie Jackson’s lines remain high in the mix and easy to follow, and he and drummer Scott Rockenfield provided the backing template that powered the band forward all night.

Guitarists Michael Wilton and Parker Lundgren worked well in tandem. They often appeared together at center stage dueting on several solos as they played up to the crowd. Songs that called for a single soloist were pretty exclusively handled by Wilton, who has obviously taken over many of the lead licks that used to belong to Chris DeGarmo, who first departed the band after the 1997 tour. Lundgren is the only non-original member of the group, having replaced former replacement guitarist Mike Stone in 2009. Lundgren, who toured with Tate’s solo project a couple years back, is in his early 20s and sports a bit of a goth look, two things that make him stand out from the rest of the band.

Other set highlights included “The Lady Wore Black” and “Breaking the Silence,” two traditional QR anthems. Just as the pace was picking up, the band slowed things down again with “Silent Lucidity,” which despite being a huge hit, did seem a slightly offbeat choice to close the main set due to its mood-calming effect.

Mood was no issue in a dynamic four-song encore that opened with “Best I Can” and followed with three powerhouse rockers -- “I Don’t Believe in Love,” “Jet City Woman” and “Empire” – that had the crowd fully involved, on its feet and singing along.

“It’s so important these days to go see live music,” Tate exhorted audience members during “Empire.” “They say you don’t give a [crap]. Not here! Not tonight! This is what we celebrate!”

If the Queensryche show was any indication, and I believe it is, there is still much to celebrate about live music.

Queensryche is currently in the studio finishing a new album, but after the show band members were mostly tight-lipped about the project. The only word Rockenfield would use to describe the effort was “big” – and that was offered with a sarcastic smile.

Peppermill Concert Hall
Jan. 22, 2011

Hit the Black
Sacred Ground
Man Down
The Hands
The Thin Line
The Lady Wore Black
Promised Land
A Dead Man’s Words
Breaking the Silence
Silent Lucidity

Best I Can
I Don’t Believe in Love
Jet City Woman

Performance time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What about 'Bob'? An interview with Geoff Tate of Queensryche

Photo by Greg Watermann

Queensryche has another “Bob” in the oven.

The veteran Seattle rock band is in the middle of recording sessions for a new album, which it hopes to release this spring. As lead singer Geoff Tate told me in a previous interview, every Queensryche record bears the working title of "Bob" until it is officially christened with its final moniker. The tradition stems from the band's first demo, which was recorded on a cassette tape that belonged to a guy named Bob.

"He'd written his name on it in, like, really dark pen," said Tate of the original Bob, "and he wrote it actually on the case that the cassette was in, so it never came off. So after that, we always put each demo in that same case, and we called it 'Bob.' And it became this weird tradition that every album is called 'Bob' until we actually have a title."

Queensryche — featuring Tate, guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson, drummer Scott Rockenfield and touring guitarist Parker Lundgren — toured during 2010 in support of “American Soldier,” a concept record dedicated to the thoughts and experiences of soldiers and veterans in all branches of the military. The lyrical content for the album was culled from numerous interviews Tate held with soldiers – starting with his own father.

As I consider it, one of the coolest aspects of my job is getting to pick the brain of those involved in creating songs which have impacted my life in some way – whether I consider them personally inspiring or just great tunes to rock out to. Two such Queensryche songs are “Someone Else,” a soaring, but stripped-down ballad that features an amazing vocal performance by Tate, and “The Thin Line,” a track on “Empire” that is often lost in the shadows of that popular album’s six successful singles. I was able to ask Tate about both those songs during the course of this interview, which occurred by telephone five days before Christmas.

Queensryche will be appearing in Wendover on Saturday at the Peppermill Concert Hall. The concert is sold out.

DOUG FOX: The last time we talked, you gave me a preview of the concept album you were getting set to record, and at the time it had the working title of “Bob.”

GEOFF TATE: Oh, yeah. Uh-huh.

DF: And that turned out to be “American Soldier.” Now, that was an entirely unique project. Looking back at it now a year after its release, what kind of reaction did you receive from it?

GT: Well, I would say overwhelmingly good. You know, it was a record that I think affected a lot of people. I’ve heard lots of stories about the record, from lots of people I’ve talked to. In fact, recently, over the summer, we went to Iraq and Kuwait, and entertained the troops over there with the record, that we played quite a bit while we were there and got a lot of good reactions from the soldiers. So we felt really good about that.

DF: The effort was something they really reacted to positively?

GT: Yeah. Well, it was written from their point of view and their stories, so I think it’s something that just about every soldier could relate to.

DF: You kind of created the material from a series of interviews that you’d done and sort of incorporated them into the lyrics, and also you have some of the interview tapes interspersed in the songs, so I imagine that helped the impact felt by those in all walks of the military as well.

GT: Yeah. You know, it’s taken from the soldiers’ perspective, it’s about what they all experience. If they’ve been in battle, if they’ve been in that situation before, they could definitely relate to the lyrics of the songs.

DF: Were you able to play much of that material live?

GT: Yeah, actually quite a bit of it, the last year that we toured on the record.

DF: Which were some of the songs that translated best to the stage?

GT: Oh, gosh, well “Home Again,” we actually brought my daughter Emily out on tour with us, and she did the entire North American run with us. And that was really a wonderful experience for me, and I think for her, too. In fact, she said to me last night over dinner, “When are we going on tour again?” (laughs) “Well, not for a while, honey.”

DF: How old is she?

GT: She’s 13 now.

DF: So she really loved that participation?

GT: She did. She was pretty frightened at first. And she said, “Can I hold your hand during the song?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever makes you feel comfortable until you kind of get used to it.” And about five shows into it, she said, “You know, I don’t think I have to hold your hand anymore. I got this.” (laughs) “OK, honey.”

DF: So, you have another performer in the family?

GT: Yeah, we do. She’s the only kid of ours that has the passion for it, you know. So she might fall in her dad’s footsteps, perhaps. But you never know with kids. One day they want to be a singer and the next they want to be a pastry chef, you know?

DF: How many kids do you have?

GT: Five. I have five girls.

DF: Awesome. I was actually going to ask about her, because you also involved your dad, as I recall it was your interviews with him that kind of spawned the entire project.

GT: Yeah, that’s right.

DF: So it was kind of a three-generational experience on that record?

GT: Definitely.

DF: That had to be unlike anything you’d experienced before.

GT: Yeah, it definitely was, and one I’d like to repeat at some point. I find a lot of inspiration in my family, you know, with the relationship that I have with them. And I learned a lot. I think a lot of that stuff comes out in the songs, the lyrics of the songs. I don’t see it changing. I think it’s always going to be that way.

DF: Do a lot of your lyrics come from personal experience?

GT: Yeah, except for the last album, of course. Yeah, primarily I write from that platform, stuff I know. Somebody said, “Write what you know,” so that’s kind of the philosophy I’ve taken.

DF: Well, that’s good. One song I wanted to ask you about, out of the whole Queensryche catalog, so to speak, that’s always really spoken to me and just been a song I’ve completely loved, is “Someone Else.” And I just wondered what was the inspiration behind that song?

GT: Well, I think, you know, just growing up, life, going through things, ups and downs, tests to your integrity. You know, as a kid you kind of learn that things are kind of black and white. These are the rules, you follow the rules and this is what happens. But as you get older, you kind of see that life is really a lot of gray -- it’s kind of open to interpretation. And “Someone Else” is a song about kind of realizing you’re at different plateaus in your life, different places, achievements, either personal achievement, spiritual achievement, whatever. You go through these rough times to get to this place, and then when you’re at that place, it’s probably a good idea to look around and appreciate where you are. It’s a song about that – being at that place that you’ve struggled to get to and realizing there’s so many more places to go, and to keep your curiosity alive and your interest in life, and just don’t give up on things or take the easy way out. Keep looking ahead and striving to get to that next rung on the ladder, wherever that may be for you.

DF: How much time did it take to do the vocals for that song?

GT: I don’t really remember, Doug, off the top of my head. The song, we had first written it on piano, and then we decided, “Let’s try a band version.” So we got everybody included, and had guitars and bass and drums and everything in it. We recorded that and then we felt, “Oh, you know, the music’s too big, it needs to come back to the piano. It’s got a pretty strong lyric and we want to focus on that.” So we kind of stripped it all back to the original idea, which kind of goes to show you that most of the time, your original idea is the strongest one. (laughs)

DF: Have you ever released the full band version anywhere?

GT: Yeah, it’s on a B side of something. I’ve seen it and heard it before, so I know it exists.

DF: I’d be interested to hear that. It’s hard to imagine it different than the stripped-down version that’s so powerful, like you mentioned. It’s hard to imagine it in another form. Have you ever played that song live after the “Promised Land” tour?

GT: Um, yeah, we have. Quite a few times. It’s a crowd-pleaser, that song.

DF: Well, the band’s newest release, of course, is the 20th anniversary edition of “Empire.” When you look back, is it hard to imagine that so much time has passed since that came out?

GT: Yeah, it’s kind of a sobering experience, actually, because it just seems like yesterday, you know? Yeah, in fact, it’s been kind of interesting with this release, it’s forced me to kind of look back at that time, which is something ... I normally don’t look back too much, and I’m pretty much focused on the present. But I had to go back and kind of think about those times and what was going on and kind of remember when, you know? In fact, this coming August will be the band’s 30th anniversary, which is kind of hard to believe.

DF: It’s amazing how quick time goes by.

GT: Yeah, it’s a finger snap, you know?

DF: While you were busy writing and recording the tracks that became “Empire,” as a collective group or individually, did you have any idea how special that album would become? As you were working on it, were there any inklings like that?

GT: No, I don’t think anybody ever knows that kind of stuff. It was a record that was a strong record in a time where rock music was the music of the time. Record companies were strong economically, you know, downloading hadn’t been invented yet. (laughs) And the radio stations were all playing rock music and MTV was based in rock music and playing it every single minute. So we were in the right place at the right time, again, with a very strong record company and a good marketing plan. Record companies had a lot of money to spend on promotion then. That record got a lot of attention. It had six singles on it, and all of them did very well. So, yeah, it was a very special time in the record industry and very special for us in the sense that we got so much airplay.

DF: You kind of touched on this, but I was wondering what your thoughts were on the current state of the record industry and radio, especially as it relates to bands like Queensryche. I mean, like you mentioned, we still hear those songs on the radio all the time, but it still seems almost impossible to get new material on the radio or get it to stay there for any length of time. How do you approach that? Do you just say, “We’ll do the best we can” or do you not think along those lines any more? How has the whole industry changed your thought process?

From left: Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, Geoff Tate and Scott Rockenfield.
GT: Well, it’s radically changed. It’s not even comparable to what it was 10 years ago. One, it’s been completely gutted economically with downloading. So when you do that, there’s no money in the industry that makes it work. Less people can be hired to do the job, and your companies are all going under because they can’t make any money, and the ones that are still alive are only alive because they’ve bought up so many other companies to kind of prop themselves up. Everybody in the industry from that standpoint is looking to get out. So, it’s not even comparable nowadays to what it was then. It was a great system, you know. People got paid for their work. The royalty design was in place and working really well. What you have to do nowadays, there’s no use really lamenting what’s happened, it’s just you’ve got to figure out a way to get around it and try to make a living. Luckily we’re a touring band. We tour every year. We regularly visit about 42 countries every year. We’re pretty well established in the touring end. Bands nowadays, though, starting out, I don’t know how they’re going to make a career out of it because it takes an audience to come see you. And if you don’t have the ability to get out there and get an audience, if you can’t go on tour because you can’t afford it, then nothing happens. So I don’t know what it’s going to be like in the next 10 years, but for us, we just keep releasing music, you know, every two years, and touring quite a bit and just keep going that way. I think a lot of bands they stopped making new music, they just kind of rest on their laurels and keep playing the same songs they’ve always played every year. I think there’s an exception to the rule where that works, you know, but I think it’s kind of a dead-end street ’cause after people see you a couple times, they don’t really have an incentive to keep coming out because you’re not doing anything new.

DF: Especially it seems to be at odds with, I mean, the whole reason they probably joined bands in the first place was for the thrill of the creative process and writing new music and presenting that. You hate to see it when bands get into a rut like that.

GT: Yeah, for us, that’s what’s always kept us together I think, and moving forward, is our love of creating the music, that’s what we really kind of live for, you know, is the studio experience. The live experience is wonderful, too, but in a different way. But making those records is what’s really the passion for the band.

DF: So what’s on the horizon in the future for your next studio project? Anything yet?

GT: Actually we’re in the studio now working on a new record. In fact, I’m just taking a break from that to talk to you. We’re hoping to finish it up sometime in January for a spring release. We just signed a new label deal with Roadrunner Records. It will be our first release with them, and we’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be exciting. They’re very excited about the record that they’ve heard so far, and they’re excited to have us on their roster. Actually, that’s a good thing when the record company’s excited. (laughs)

DF: That’s always a positive! Well, is it a concept record?

GT: I don’t really know how to describe it yet. Honestly, Doug, it’s still in pieces. I think musically it’s another experiment for us where we’re kind of looking to stretch out musically and try to take the band in a little further interesting direction. We try to make each record different from the last one, either musically or conceptually. So this is another kind of experiment in that direction where we kind of stretch out musically in some different directions than we’ve touched on in the past.

DF: What is the typical writing process for you guys? Do you work on a couple songs through to completion or do you have bits and pieces in a whole bunch of different areas and work on a lot of things at once?

GT: Yeah, kind of that, working on a lot of different things. Some songs come together rather quickly, and then you’re done with them and you leave them sit. Other ones you struggle with. Some of them just take months to develop and so they’re in various stages of being finished for long periods of time. But now we’re in the position where we just finished drums and bass tracks this last week, so now we’re into overdubs on guitars, and doing the vocals next. This is the exciting part for me, when you’ve got the basics, the foundation built, you know. Now we start adding to it, putting on the pretty stuff, you know? (laughs)

DF: Well, does this one still have the title of “Bob” at this point?

GT: It still does, yeah. It’s called “Bob” right now. (laughs)

DF: Just going back to “Empire,” for a minute. Did you have the same working process that we just talked about for the new record – was everything kind of in bits and pieces or was there any one or two songs that kind of jump-started the whole process?

GT: It was pretty much like all the records, you know, you have kind of a grand plan, and then you go about filling in the void with actual music. (laughs) It’s kind of that way. Usually, the recording sessions or the writing sessions start with a song. And the “Empire” album started out with the title track, that was the first one. And then once you get that one down and they all start flowing, you get kind of an idea of what you want to do and take it from there.

DF: One thing I’ve always been kind of fascinated with is how so many different people can listen to the same album and yet everybody has a different favorite song. And as many great songs as are on “Empire,” I think the one that I’ve always loved the best is “The Thin Line.” And as many times as I’ve seen you guys live, I’ve never had the chance to see that one, but I’ve noticed it’s been reappearing in your setlists in this last year, so is there any chance it will still be in your setlist in the year ahead?

GT: I hope so. I love playing that song live. Yeah, I don’t know. We keep reinventing that song, kind of using it in different ways and performing it in different ways. And it is one of those songs you can do that with. And it seems to be a crowd-pleaser, so we’ll probably keep it in the set.

DF: I would think it would be a great live song.

GT: It’s always difficult to pick songs to play live for us. We have songs that we know people are going to want to hear and expect to hear. We also want to fill in the set with songs we personally want to play, you know? So we do that quite often and try to find different ways of presenting ourselves live, and try to change it around a little bit so people don’t get complacent with our performances, and so we don’t get complacent as well. It keeps us on our toes to play different things. Like sometimes in concert, we’ll just work out a new arrangement of a song that we haven’t played in a long time and play it that night. It keeps everybody interested in the band so you don’t get that kind of glazed-over [look] after you’ve been on the road for a couple months. (laughs)

DF: You have a show upcoming nearby to here in Wendover in January. I know a lot of your tours in the past, you’ve spotlighted certain albums; I haven’t heard anything about your new tour, I’m just wondering if you have any idea what will be involved for that show yet and what kind of setlist fans can expect?

GT: Yeah, I don’t know. We haven’t actually rehearsed yet for that upcoming show cause we’re, of course, in the studio. We’ve been doing kind of sporadic touring this year because it’s a non-album year so we tried to kind of curtail our touring this year so we could spend more time writing the record. But this next year, of course, will be the big full tour because we have a new album coming out, and again, it’s our 30-year anniversary, and we’re going to be playing quite a lot of songs from all the different records. But for Wendover, I don’t know what we’re going to play yet. We’ll play “The Thin Line” definitely.

DF: OK, excellent. And then I was just going to ask you, because we’ve talked about this before and I’ve never seen any final word that it ever came out, but “House of Eternity,” did that project ever come about?

GT: No. That project lost its funding this last year when all the banks went broke and all the investors went crazy. So that project is on the back burner and awaiting funding right now, but I ended up doing another movie called “The Burningmoore Incident.” I think there’s a trailer for it up on the Web now. It’s going to be released, I believe, in February or March, something like that.

DF: So how did you enjoy that experience? Was that your first real acting?

GT: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It was amazing, actually, really, really different. And much more difficult than I’d anticipated.

DF: What kind of a role was it?

GT: It’s kind of a very strange horror film. And the part I play is kind of a horrific character, the mass murderer character. And I can’t really talk much about the film because it’s not released yet, and they told me not to talk about it. But I had to work with stunt coordinators and trainers and things like that, so I learned a lot about how to throw a punch. (laughs) And to take one. In a way, it’s kind of spoiled watching movies for me now because I watch fight scenes, and I go, “Oh, he did that really weird, that’s not right!”

DF: Well, is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about?

GT: Well, I think you’ve been pretty thorough, Doug.

DF: OK, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you, and hopefully we’ll see you in January.

GT: OK, man. Well, take care, and thanks for the interview.

DF: OK, and good luck with the new album.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Styxmen in the Wilderness

Photo by Ash Newell

In more than 35 years of attending concerts, I have seen Styx more than any other band.
Friday’s Styx show at the Wendover Concert Hall marked the 25th time I’ve seen the veteran rock band perform live, dating back to October of 1978, when I first saw the band on its “Pieces of Eight” tour.

A lot has changed since then, not the least of which is Styx’s lineup. In addition to core members, guitarist/vocalists James "JY" Young and Tommy Shaw, the group features drummer Todd Sucherman, keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan and bassist Ricky Phillips. This lineup is now in its eighth year together and is a perfectly oiled machine in concert.

Since Gowan replaced co-founder Dennis DeYoung in 1999, Styx has become a veritable road warrior, performing more shows in the last 12 years than in the previous 27 combined. The band also has a unique historical bond with Utah, as Provo was one of three U.S. cities where the song “Lady” first became a hit before breaking nationally in the early 1970s. Combine those two facts, and it’s easy to see why Styx passes through the Beehive State a couple times a year while crisscrossing the country.

When you’ve seen a band so often, it’s easy to find yourself anticipating certain nuances or “tells” — to borrow a poker term, this being Wendover and all — of the show that may go unrecognized or unappreciated by the more casual fan. For example, Shaw changes up guitars often during the course of the concert, and I’ve learned that you can often correctly predict which song will be next by studying which guitar he has strapped on for the upcoming number.

Another solid Styx song predictor is simply knowing what section of the show the band is in, and noting who is handling the preliminary introduction. In nearly all cases, the person who introduces a particular song is going to be singing lead vocals on it. Applying those indicators with a little band background knowledge is easy, yet can seem like quite the parlor trick when employed correctly.

Several years ago, for example, I was taking notes while covering a Styx show at the Depot in Salt Lake City. A nearby audience member had noticed my in-concert scribblings and turned to me between songs to ask why I was taking notes. When he learned I was writing the setlist in progress, he, half-jokingly, half-condescendingly, asked me what the next song would be. I saw that Gowan was going to introduce the song, knew that he’d already sung “The Grand Illusion” and “Lady,” as was typical, earlier in the set, and figured there was a good chance the band would do the lead single from its then-recent covers album, “Big Bang Theory.” Taking all that into account, I said with some surety the next song would be “I Am the Walrus.”

I wish I could adequately describe the incredulous look on this man’s face as he flat-out scoffed at me and dismissed my prediction as pure baloney. Admittedly, if someone were completely unaware of this Beatles classic being on Styx’s covers album, as this man certainly was, it would have seemed an outrageous – and perhaps mocking — guess. But should I be held up for public ridicule because there were no vowels for sale at the merch stand? He challenged, after all, and I merely answered. What more did he expect?

I felt immediately vindicated when Gowan, without naming the tune title in his intro, started in on the familiar keyboard beginning to the two tusks-inspired ramblings of the Eggman. As the first verse began, my new acquaintance turned around and shot me a smart-aleck look that seemed to say, “Gotcha, fool!” That’s when I realized he didn’t even recognize the song. I mean, come on, it’s not like they were playing a more obscure Beatles number like “Norwegian Wood.” Finally, when it got to the chorus, the man turned around and acknowledged defeat with a somewhat bewildered look on his face — an expression, I mused, with which he was probably well-acquainted.

Why am I relating this story now — other than the fact that I’ve been looking for a good place to work it into a narrative for years? It stems from knowing that a couple friends of mine were at last weekend’s show, some who had never seen the revamped Styx lineup before and a few others who had only witnessed the group a couple times. During the course of the concert, I found myself trying to evaluate the proceedings through their eyes and run the unfolding events through a somewhat different filter.

So, while I may have witnessed a thousand and 15 revolutions of Gowan’s quirky rotating keyboard setup over 21 concerts in the past 12 years, I took a moment to appreciate the initial thought that went into the instrument’s design and how the artist sometimes known as the Strange Animal utilizes it to great effect in myriad ways throughout each show. Whether he’s using it to jumpstart the concert with the opening chords of “Blue Collar Man” or using it as his footstool to belt out the third verse of “Come Sail Away” at the end of the main set, I find it’s clearly more a fun, visual attraction than an unwanted distraction.

One should also never take the talents of Styx stars Shaw and Young for granted. Each has their own unique style of playing guitar, but those talents meld in harmony as they easily switch off between lead or rhythm duties, often within the friendly confines of the same song. Shaw enjoys strutting across the stage, from his normal position at stage left to the right, while rifling off blistering solos in songs such as “Blue Collar Man,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Crystal Ball.” During many of his solo turns, Young prefers standing stoically at center stage, held tilted back in a pose that exudes pure freedom and spontaneity. (I once asked him to describe those burst-of-expression moments, and he said he envisioned it being like Leonardo DiCaprio on the bow of the Titanic — an apt description indeed.)

The rhythm section of Sucherman and Phillips is also a sight — and sound — to behold. Sucherman, who last year was voted the No. 1 skinsmith by Modern Rock Drummer magazine, is a blast to watch in concert. Like many drummers, he must be viewed live to be totally appreciated. Phillips, a former member of well-known 80s bands The Babys and Bad English, has been holding down bass duties in Styx since late 2003 and has created his own niche in the live show while playing off the antics and complementing the skills of everyone else.

Last fall, Styx embarked on a limited-run theater tour through the East that featured “The Grand Illusion” and “Pieces of Eight” albums played in sequence and in their entirety. The Wendover show included a four-song suite in the middle of the set with songs straight from the fall jaunt, ones that hadn’t been in Styx sets for many years. I found this section — which included the epic “Man in the Wilderness,” “I’m OK,” “Sing for the Day” and the killer “Queen of Spades” — a clear highlight on the night. Shaw told me after the show that Styx is rotating these songs nightly, shuffling them with other tunes from the fall tour that are otherwise not standard setlist selections.

Shaw also said the fall tour was so successful that the band is hoping to revisit the double-album theater presentation next year, possibly for a full U.S. tour. (For an inside look at the background of and planning for the fall tour, click here.)

In addition to his busy Styx schedule, Shaw also has a couple solo projects in the pipeline, including the scheduled March 22 release of a bluegrass album, titled “The Great Divide.” Also on the horizon, possibly next year, is an additional Shaw/Blades covers album, a followup to the successful 2007 collaboration, “Influence,” featuring Shaw and his former Damn Yankees compatriot Jack Blades, of Night Ranger.

Shaw shared a few more song choices that he and Blades had settled on, and I will just say there are some very exciting prospects in the works.

Peppermill Concert Hall
Jan. 14, 2011

Blue Collar Man
The Grand Illusion
Too Much Time on My Hands
Man in the Wilderness
I’m OK
Sing for the Day
Queen of Spades
Crystal Ball
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Miss America
Come Sail Away

I Am the Walrus

Performance time: 1 hour, 35 minutes