Classic rock paragons Styx and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder return to their residency at the Venetian Theatre this weekend, where they played a run of shows dubbed “Renegades in the Fast Lane” last year at this time. If you’re thinking these two acts have far too many hits to fit into a single setlist, you’re right. “It’s intense,” says Styx vocalist and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan. “The encore alone, well, I don’t want to give it away, but what we put into these four songs that make up the encore, it’s quite impressive to be a part of.”
The Scottish-born Canadian who joined the band in the late ’90s says Styx serves as Felder’s backing band for six or seven songs, which combined with favorite Styx tracks creates the ultimate setlist. “There really aren’t any bad choices. It’s a fantastic position to be in.”
Here’s the rest of my conversation with Gowan:
Styx has been touring steadily for a long time now and it seems like you guys always make time for Las Vegas. I’m in my 20th year with Styx and I don’t think there’s been a year in there we haven’t been to Vegas at least once. It’s become such a rock mecca. It’s a vital place for us to play and we’ve gathered so many great memories playing there. The first time I ever went to Vegas was with Styx and we played the Hilton that year, the stage Elvis was on, and I remember being kind of awestruck by it. When we did five nights there [at the Venetian] last year, we knew we had to return to do it again.
Twenty years is a big musical anniversary for you and the band. This year also marks 15 years since the release of “Cyclorama,” the first album you recorded with Styx. Oh my god, that’s right! Fifteen years is a lot. Thank god we put out a new album last year! It’s funny … I’ve been in Styx for a third of my life, and it’s funny how time expands and contracts simultaneously. In some ways that record feels recent and in others, it’s in the distant past. Part of that is because we’ve toured so incessantly—we’ve never played less than 100 shows a year.
Last year’s album was “The Mission,” and it got rave reviews. Are you going to play a lot of that material in the Venetian shows? Yes, we kind of start with the record. We know people are coming to hear the biggest Styx records, “The Grand Illusion” and “Pieces of Eight” and “Paradise Theatre,” so we still focus 8 percent of the show on those records. But “The Mission” sold well and was just voted the No. 1 classic rock album of 2017 in a poll in Ultimate Classic Rock magazine. Our confidence in it has grown.
And of course you’re playing Eagles songs, too, with Don Felder. It’s a lot of fun because it’s also great to suddenly shift gears musically. I always hear the more prog influences in Styx music and I’m drawn to that, and then there’s the more rootsy-Americana in the Eagles songs. To be in a band that has to shift that quickly and have it all work onstage is pretty exciting.
You also get the experience of performing classic Styx material from before you joined the band. Even though you’ve been with them for a long time, do you remember a time when you started to feel more comfortable with the role of lead vocalist in Styx? In every era, in each decade of its existence, this band has always found a way to elevate what it’s doing and how it’s impacting people. Styx is as great as it is because it’s the culmination of the efforts of everyone who’s ever been in it. The guys not present on the stage today are still a part of what the band is able to perform, and that’s true of other bands as well but it’s something I really started to feel. I have a musical kinship with guys I’ve never even met, which is also part of the beauty of Styx songs, that they are quite malleable from one era to the next. And now we’re playing these songs for people who weren’t even born when the biggest Styx records were made. I kind of feel the same way [as the audience], that I have interpretations of songs when I sing them that are probably a long way from the original intent or inspiration, but that’s part of what has helped them last so long and continue to be meaningful.
Styx and Don Felder perform at 8 p.m. January 26, 27 and 31 and February 2 and 3 at the Venetian Theatre (3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-414-1000) and more information can be found at venetian.com.