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Lawrence Gowan and Styx ride wave of popularity into Canadian tour

Classic rock band to open Canadian tour in Victoria on Wednesday, with a show at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
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Classic rock band Styx, from left: Chuck Panozzo, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman, Tommy Shaw, James Young, and Lawrence Gowan. RICK DIAMOND

STYX WITH NANCY WILSON’S HEART

Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, 1925 Blanshard St.

When: Wednesday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m.

Tickets: $55-$129 from 250-220-7777 or selectyourtickets.com

Nine albums in seven years? That’s almost impossible to consider, let alone create. But that was the pace for Chicago-based progressive rock band Styx during the 1970s, which laid the foundation for bigger things to come.

When the calendar flipped to 1980, the group struck gold with Babe, a power ballad that landed at No. 1 on the Billboard single charts. Overnight, Styx was crowned the most popular rock band in the U.S., according to a Gallup poll at the time. The band’s wildly successful run on the charts was cut short in 1983, however, when singer Dennis De Young left the group following the release of Kilroy Was Here, its fifth consecutive million seller.

In most cases, the band would not recover. But most bands aren’t Styx.

“There’s going to be ebbs and flows and ups and downs, and all those various ways of describing how a career fluctuates,” said Lawrence Gowan, 65, who took over lead vocals and keyboards for the group in 1999. “And during all those periods, people thought, ‘Could this be the demise of Styx?’ But each time, they somehow came back again.”

Gowan, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but raised from an early age in Toronto, watched the rise of Styx from afar, while simultaneously making his own way as a solo artist. He was always a fan of progressive rock acts like Genesis, who bridged the gap between long instrumental passages and pop hooks, so when he was asked to join the similarly-styled Styx he didn’t wait long to respond.

The band will open its Canadian tour in Victoria on Wednesday, with a concert at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. It will be the first time in several decades that either Gowan or Styx have performed in Victoria, though Gowan said he has fond memories of his previous shows in the market. His last appearance here was a 1996 concert at the former Harpo’s Cabaret, three years before he was scooped by Styx. “I rarely went two years without playing Victoria. And you guys were on my touring schedule for 1999, until I joined Styx and we had to change everything.”

Gowan expects next week’s concert (which features Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson as the opening act) to resemble the band’s stateside shows this summer, which made for an inspiring run. “The response was beyond the normal loud yelling and cheering,” he said. “It was heartfelt, and very, very rewarding to see that from the stage.”

During his 23 years with the group, he reckons the average Styx fan has not changed. But while the diehards remain, a new, younger music fan has entered the picture, and their presence has breathed new life into the band’s concerts, according to Gowan.

“A rock concert is a different form of entertainment — it’s a visceral experience, where you are going on a musical journey. The greatest form of entertainment is a great rock show. And why is it that? It stays with you.”

Gowan and his bandmates — singer-guitarists James Young and Tommy Shaw, bassist Chuck Panozzo, drummer Todd Sucherman, and bassist Ricky Phillips — recently wrapped their summer tour of the U.S. with REO Speedwagon and Loverboy, which included 44 consecutive sold-out performances. Their lone Canadian performance was in Toronto on Aug. 16, the first time in three years Styx had performed outside the U.S.

Gowan said he loves it when Styx performs in Canada, especially when the group adds Gowan’s solo hit, A Criminal Mind, to its setlist. Much of the material in the band’s current concerts is taken from albums The Grand Illusion (1977), Pieces of Eight (1978), Cornerstone (1981), and Paradise Theatre (1981), all of which were released years before Gowan joined the group. But when audiences in Canada hear the first strains of A Criminal Mind echo through the arena, it’s clear his song still carries weight.

“It’s really special,” Gowan said. “The first time I ever played the song was in 1985 — who could possibly foresee that I’d still be playing it 37 years later?”

Another solo Gowan hit, (You’re A) Strange Animal, made its way back into pop culture consciousness this summer through Oscar winner Jordan Peele, whose most recent movie, Nope, used the song prominently in the film.

“I started getting social media messages from people when it came out, who said they stood up in the movie theatre and yelled, ‘Gowan!!,” he said with a laugh. “Music has a life of its own, and so often something you are not expecting at all is out there dancing on the fringes. It is almost of its own volition.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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