Styx: Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight – Live, Blu-ray (2011)
Director: Lawrence Jordan
Studio: Eagle Vision/Eagle Rock Entertainment EVB334009 [1/31/12]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 1080i HD color
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, Spanish, German, French [interview only]
Extras: “Putting on the Show,” 29:19 behind-the-scenes documentary
Length: 101 minutes
TrackList: The Grand Illusion: Intro/1978, The Grand Illusion, Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man), Superstars, Come Sail Away, Miss America, Man in the Wilderness, Castle Walls, The Grand Finale; Pieces of Eight: Great White Hope, I’m Okay, Song for the Day, The Message, Lords of the Ring, Blue Collar Man (Long Nights), Queen of Spades, Renegade, Pieces of Eight, Aku-Aku
The concept of recreating full albums on stage by aging baby boomer bands is nothing new and engenders nostalgic feelings of youthful days. When a group has been around for decades, mature audiences tend to want to hear familiar hits and often such groups have gone past a time when they can snag newer, younger fans. American prog-rock/arena rockers Styx fits that mold, as evidenced by Styx: Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight – Live.
There are two aspects to Styx. On the one hand, the group was deft at producing radio-friendly pop ballads such as “Babe” and “Lady,” but the Chicago-based outfit also offered a balance between theatrical works with story lines and a hard-rock inclined, guitar-heavy approach. During the peak period from the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s, Styx was a multi-platinum juggernaut and among the top money drawers in the American arena rock scene. During that era Styx issued two enduring releases which have become classic rock mainstays and fan favorites, The Grand Illusion (1977) and Pieces of Eight (1978). Those two titles are the focus of the Styx concert document, Styx: Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight – Live. Both albums are performed back to back, track by track, by the current line-up: founding members James “J.Y.” Young (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and bassist Chuck Panozzo; vocalist/guitarist Tommy Shaw (who joined in 1975 at the cusp of the band’s national breakout); drummer Todd Sucherman (who came aboard in 1996); vocalist/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan (who was enlisted in 1999); and newest member Ricky Phillips (bass and backing vocals, who also was part of The Babys and Bad English).
This 18-song performance was recorded using an 11-camera setup on November, 9 2010 at the historic Orpheum Theater in Memphis, Tennessee during that year’s Styx tour. Styx and its technical team did not skimp on the budget. The high-definition filming heightens the group’s complex music without getting in the way. There is a complementary, synchronized video shown on a large screen behind the band, which offers introductory material for each concert segment (a young fan can be seen putting each record on his vinyl record player, and flips the vinyl over when Styx is ready to launch into the second side of each album) in addition to well-organized portions (some computer-generated) meant to enhance the musical and lyrical content. Director Lawrence Jordan keeps the camera crew busy with multiple close-ups, medium and long shots, pans, zooms and crane shots which provide a you-are-there viewpoint. Split screen is used in certain, key moments to also increase dramatic flair. The lighting staff did an impressive job, too, and the video and lighting were obviously planned out in pre-production. The audio is superb: the mix is finely detailed and spacious and captures the larger ensemble sound as well as nuanced contributions from each musician.
The show is first-rate for Styx fans. Casual connoisseurs will gravitate to hits such as “Come Sail Away” and “Renegade.” But the real spark is hearing some numbers rarely played during Styx’s long history, such as the complicated “Superstars,” which Young explains during the concert was a difficult piece to arrange in a live setting. Then there are invigorating front-runners like “Miss America,” and clear-cut tracks from Pieces of Eight, like “Great White Hope” and “Blue Collar Man,” where Shaw’s fluent, sharp guitar is at the forefront. Unfortunately, the only missing gap is vocalist/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung, who acrimoniously split from Styx in 1999. However, Gowan is an appropriate replacement whose keyboard expertise, sturdy vocals and effective (sometimes slightly over-the-top) stage demeanor provides a solid component to the overall Styx presence. Another highlight is seeing original bassist Panozzo, who is now a part-time Styx member. He is a special guest on some cuts from the The Grand Illusion.
The 29-minute bonus feature (the only portion with optional subtitles) includes interviews with the production and stage managers, the lighting director and the sound mixers who recorded/engineered the live audio used for the concert as well as the subsequent DVD/Blu-ray and CD material, although a short conversation with the merchandise manager seems superfluous. One caveat: why no interviews with band members, who could have explained why they chose to recreate The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight albums on stage and what this music means to them; or about audience reaction to the show? Styx enthusiasts should note Styx: Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight – Live is available in three formats: Blu-ray, DVD and a special DVD/2-CD set.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.