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Styx, ‘The Grand Illusion / Pieces Of Eight – Live’ – DVD Review

Eagle Rock

When Styx recently became the latest band to engage in the “full album performance” concept, they did so with an added twist.

The Chicago-bred classic rockers took 70,000 pounds of equipment on the road in 2010 for a short series of dates to mount full album renderings (with extensive, awesome video visuals to boot) of not one, but two of their classic albums. Thankfully, they captured one of those nights, filming their Memphis performance at the Orpheum Theater with an 11-camera high definition shoot.

Fans can enjoy the results of their efforts in the newly released ‘The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight – Live’ release, which is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray, CD and digital download.

A pre-show crawl of text (humorously mimicking the classic ‘Star Wars’ intro, complete with orchestral accompaniment) notes that the late ’70s were years where Baby Boomers “seriously flexed their creative muscles.”

That thought certainly applies to ‘The Grand Illusion’ and ‘Pieces of Eight,’ released back to back in 1977 and 1978, two albums that at last brought Styx into full arena rock superstardom.

Many of the songs from these albums are still staples in the Styx canon to this day and you know them well, songs like ‘The Grand Illusion,’ ‘Come Sail Away,’ ‘Blue Collar Man,’ ‘Renegade,’ etc.

They’re all performed here by the current Styx lineup, arguably perhaps a better band now than the Styx of the ‘70s, thanks to the considerable contributions from powerhouse drummer Todd Sucherman, vocalist Lawrence Gowan (who replaced original Styx lead vocalist Dennis DeYoung in 1999) and former Babys bassist Ricky Phillips, who come together with charter members James ‘J.Y.’ Young and Tommy Shaw to bring the ‘Grand Illusion’ and ‘Pieces of Eight’ material into the present century. Even retired Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo is on hand, guesting on a number of songs throughout the night.

Performing the full albums presented a few challenges, Young shared with the audience, as there were songs on the albums that the band had never performed live before.

Set to the side at the time as being “too hard to accomplish,” Young jovially bellowed that they had worked past that theory and were ready to “prove that wrong right now,” as he introduced the ‘Grand Illusion’ album cut ‘Superstars.’

The best moments within this new live package come from hearing those long-buried album cuts like ‘Superstars’ and in particular, the especially proggy moments on ‘Pieces of Eight’ like the spacey keyboard intro of ‘The Message’ that morphs into the equally progged-out ‘Lords of the Ring.’

But it’s also the delivery of the material, which Styx chose to address very properly one album side at a time, with a particularly animated Tommy Shaw (that’s ‘Tommy ‘Bleepin’’ Shaw to you, as he’s billed mid-show by Young) announcing the end of each album side and asking the fans, “What do we do now?”

“Flip it over!” is the reply in unison from the audience and it’s so on the money that you feel like they must have rehearsed that part, right?

This presentation really highlights what sometimes feels like the lost art of assembling and sequencing an album that was so important back then. Styx strategically anchored each album side with pivotal moments. It seems so normal now, but can you imagine dropping the needle for the first time on side two of ‘Pieces of Eight’ and hearing ‘Blue Collar Man’ for the first time?

Apply that same thought to hearing cut one, side one, the title track of ‘The Grand Illusion.’

With ‘The Grand Illusion’ and ‘Pieces of Eight,’ the collective members of Styx assembled two now-classic albums that nearly 35 years later, they’re very justifiably proud of. And their present day recreation of both albums flat out rocks.

‘The Grand Illusion/ Pieces of Eight – Live’ release is essential viewing and listening for both hardcore Styx fans and anyone that has ever wanted to dig deeper beyond the radio hits. Styx has created an excellent documentation that pays appropriate tribute to two classic AOR albums.

What’s up next on our wishlist if they’re game to tackle it?  We’d love to see Styx tackle a similar twofer featuring the ‘Equinox’ and ‘Crystal Ball’ albums.

Watch Styx Perform ‘Blue Collar Man’ From ‘The Grand Illusion/ Pieces of Eight – Live’

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