Merry Styxmas from Bootleg City!
Two weeks ago the mayor called from his dorm room jail cell and asked if I could whip something up for a special holiday edition of Bootleg City. I answered, “No problem,” and asked if he had any particular genre or band in mind that would be appropriate. The answer was simple: “Put up something you like.” Therefore I’m giving myself — and by extension, you fine folks — a belated Christmas present.
Have I mentioned that I really, really like Styx? Well, I do, especially their Paradise Theater era. The band’s 1981 LP was the first “concept album” I’d heard that centered on an actual concept, not a story like the ones found on the Who’s Tommy or Rush’s 2112. The whole idea that the world’s gone to hell but there’s still hope resonated in my junior high mind, plus the packaging of the record was cool: the gatefold sleeve simulated a playbill poster from an old theater when you opened it, and a kick-ass hologram was etched into the B side. (The 45 single of “The Best of Times,” which I bought on eBay a few years ago, had the same hologram.)
As for the tour that Paradise Theater spawned, well, what can I say? It expanded on the album’s concept, with frontman Dennis DeYoung taking on the role of a vaudeville emcee and the images projected onto the back of the stage slowly deteriorating as the show went on. There was even a roadie dressed like a janitor who slowly swept the stage during the closing number, “State Street Sadie,” as the lights came up.
So, the visuals were cool and the stage show dovetailed perfectly with the album — but how was the music? In a word, awesome.
Most of Paradise Theater‘s songs have appeared on the 300-plus live albums Styx has released over the years, but it’s nice to hear such concert rarities as “Lights,” “Great White Hope,” “Borrowed Time,” and “Boat on the River” on the bootleg featured here, which was recorded at the Scandinavium in GÁ¶teborg, Sweden, on October 31, 1981. Back then it was unusual for Styx to play “Boat on the River” in concert, but the song was a genuine hit in Europe; “Lady” took its slot on the North American leg of the Paradise Theater tour that spring, seeing as how it was far more important to the history of the band in the States.
Paradise Theater was the second-to-last hurrah for the classic Styx lineup of Dennis DeYoung (keyboards and vocals), Tommy Shaw and James “J.Y.” Young (guitars, keyboards, and vocals), and the very underrated rhythm section of fraternal twins Chuck (bass) and John Panozzo (drums). They released one more major-label album, the polarizing Kilroy Was Here (1983), which was coupled with an even bigger stage show, but Paradise Theater and its tour were the professional peaks of the band’s career.
Although it’s now considered uncool to admit you like Styx, rest assured nobody will know you downloaded this Halloween concert if you don’t tell them. If you keep the volume down, nobody will know you’re even listening to it, and if you don’t sing along or play air guitar in public, nobody will know you’re unironically enjoying it.
Nobody but your fellow Popdosers, that is. Because we’ll be doing the same thing.
State Street Sadie/A.D. 1928
Rockin’ the Paradise
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
The Grand Illusion
Great White Hope
[Tommy Shaw acoustic guitar solo]
Suite Madame Blue
Too Much Time on My Hands
State Street Sadie [Reprise]/The Best of Times
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Boat on the River
[James “J.Y.” Young guitar solo]
Come Sail Away
Half-Penny, Two-Penny/A.D. 1958
State Street Sadie [Reprise]
This extra Styx bootleg, recorded at Detroit’s Ford Auditorium on November 29, 1976, is from the Crystal Ball tour and is only about an hour long since the band was sandwiched between Graham Parker & the Rumour and Kansas on the bill that night. I’m guessing time restraints kept Shaw’s acoustic guitar in its case since he didn’t perform “Crystal Ball,” the song that earned him his spot in the band. But even though he was the “new guy,” he got to front two songs, the rocking “Shooz” and the Queen-esque “Mademoiselle.” He was also given the chance to wank around a bit on a solo.
Another notable aspect of this gig is Dennis DeYoung’s organ work. You may have dismissed him in the past as some sort of torch singer with a piano, but in reality the man was — and, I assume, still is — one kick-ass rock keyboardist.
So there you go, folks. Merry Styxmas to all of you from Bootleg City, and I hope Santa brought all you wished for.