This Friday marks the 40th anniversary of the first rock concert I attended. The date was Nov. 8, 1979. The venue was the Rochester War Memorial and the band was Styx, who were appearing in support of their “Cornerstone” album.
I was only 13 years old at the time and still in middle school. It took weeks to convince my parents to let me attend the show on a school night — the show was on a Thursday night. Looking back, I remember the excitement and the terror. It was my first exposure to really loud music, and the sights and smells of a venue filled with smoke can be pretty intimidating for a kid who was barely a teenager.
On Tuesday, I will be celebrating the important anniversary in the same city, and watching the same band, as Styx performs in Rochester at the Main Street Armory.
After I told him about my first concert experience, Styx’s Lawrence Gowan said, “First off, 40 years! Way to go, that’s double my time!”
“I don’t think anyone forgets their first rock concert,” Gowan noted. “It’s the greatest form of entertainment and nothing sticks with you quite like a great concert. I went and saw King Crimson a couple of weeks ago, and you might think I would be a little jaded because of what I do for a living, but I’m still surprised how a great concert permeates your soul.”
Gowan, a Toronto native who was a successful solo artist before joining Styx, fondly recalled his first rock concert.
“My first concert was the Guess Who in Toronto, and ‘American Woman’ had been on the charts for about a year. Shortly after that I saw Elton John, and then Yes, and they all had a remarkable impression on my existence for the rest of my life.”
Gowan is a fan of live music, and he can relate to the fans, like myself, that have seen a band like Styx multiple times, even as the lineup evolves over the years.
“There are people that hold up signs saying that it’s their 100th Styx show, and people wonder how many times you can see the same band, but that is really special. It’s also a high compliment when a guy like you says they saw the band 40 years ago and you think we are as good as they were back then, that’s high praise, it means we have made it through all the changes and we still love it.”
Like many classic rock bands, Styx has had their share of band members come and go over the years, but the current lineup has been stable since 2003, which makes them the configuration that has been together the longest. This year marks Gowan’s 20th anniversary with the band.
“I look at this band as the culmination of the 10 guys that have been in the band. It’s all about keeping the spirit of the original band. In my two decades in the band, we have survived and thrived, but that does not denigrate the contributions (former members) Dennis DeYoung, John Curulewski, John Panozzo or Glen Burtnik brought to Styx. Every member’s contributions are vital to where we are today.”
The current lineup includes founding member James Young, longtime member Tommy Shaw, bassist Ricky Philips, drummer Todd Sucherman and occasional guest appearances from founding bassist Chuck Panozzo.
In addition to selections from the era that Styx permeated classic rock radio and filled arenas in the late 1970s and early 1980s, fans can expect a couple of selections from their newest album, “The Mission,” which came out in 2017. It’s a very Styx sounding concept album.
“Tommy has said his two favorite Styx albums are ‘Man of Miracles’ and ‘Equinox’ (two albums that pre-date Shaw’s tenure in Styx) and when we recorded ‘The Mission’ we wanted to honor the legacy of the band. We knew we had to connect the sound to that classic four album era, or it would not resonate with the audience.”
That classic four album era includes “The Grand Illusion,” “Pieces of Eight,” “Cornerstone” and “Paradise Theatre,” albums that saw the band evolve from a prog rock band with a decent following to an arena rock powerhouse with a slew of radio-friendly songs.
Part of Styx’s appeal as a live band is the onstage chemistry between Tommy Shaw and James Young.
“Thanks for bringing that up,” Gowan said. “Nobody brings that up in interviews. They are nothing alike other than the fact they have blond hair, but onstage they are a two-headed monster. Their differences become their strength, and their musical connection is incredibly strong. They have been the vanguards of the band and pushed it forward. They are the reason you and I are talking today.”
They are also the reason I love live concerts.
If you want to join me in celebrating 40 years as a Styx fan you can purchase tickets on Ticketmaster.
Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.