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Styx no stranger to Las Vegas — or any other town

Styx filmed their next concert DVD in Las Vegas last summer, but we probably shouldn’t feel special.

Sure the classic rockers play here at least once a year. Though they haven’t scored a multinight residency like their friends in Journey are set to do the Hard Rock Hotel, it’s hard to think of many bands that have played as many single-night Las Vegas dates in the past few years.

But then they get on the bus and go play another town.

“I’m the new guy, and I’ve done probably 1,300 or 1,400 shows with the band,” says bassist Ricky Phillips, who recently rolled into his 12th year with the Chicago-born rockers.

“It’s not the record industry anymore. It’s the touring industry. Music is free,” he says of the road-dog philosophy.

So Styx has been releasing concert DVDs instead of albums. Their part of “The Soundtrack of Summer” tour (as well as Don Felder’s) was filmed at the Orleans Arena in late July for AXS TV and home video. Phillips says the band is close to signing off on the final mix and edit, though a release date hasn’t been set.

“It was a good night. Great, great audience, great venue,” Phillips says. While the band “came out with both guns a blazin’,” the audience also responded to the TV cameras: “There were girls grabbing Tommy (Shaw) when he went out in the audience to do his solo. Putting their arms around him and kissing him on the cheek, grabbing his crotch.”

The band returns Sunday, this time to The Pearl at the Palms, where they played about this time last year. But don’t expect new songs. The quintet fronted by singer-guitarist Shaw hasn’t put out an album of new material since before Phillips joined. The last was “Cyclorama” in 2003.

In October, Geoff Downes of Asia — a band similar to Styx in its anthemic arena-rock with one toe in British prog — said putting out four new albums in the past six years was “important, not just for our own sanity but also to excite the fans and keep them interested in the band.

“I think it’s a bit of a false road just to think you can play the stuff from yesteryear. I think the fans appreciate the fact that you’re challenging yourself again and coming up with new material,” Downes said.

Phillips was happy to explain the opposing point of view. “We could put out all kinds of new material but it’s not going to get the airplay that supports it, (so fans) are going to be disappointed. It’s not really fair to the band or the music. It’s a reality.

“Some bands will continue to record and whatever the result is, it’s probably not going to support anything,” he added.

Though record sales have fallen, profit margins can be preserved to a degree through cheaper recording techniques. Musicians can even record at home and share files over the Internet.

But Phillips says “we’re not going to make bedroom Styx records, we’re going to do it right. The way it should be with five guys looking at each other and feeding off of that energy that can only be created by five guys in a room.

“Passing files around, yeah we’ve done that for various things, but it’s not the way to make a Styx record. That magic that’s lost now in most recordings is you don’t have that thing that happens when people rub against each other. We all know how to make great records and how to do that, and it costs money.”

However, Phillips can be a bit of a tease for Styx fans hoping for new material. Band members have written a few tunes “I just know would be big songs. Even today,” he says.

“They have that thing. They just have the thing to them that no other band does besides Styx. And they’re big. They’re big-sounding arena rock songs that I think would be welcomed even on current radio if there was any way of sliding something in. Maybe getting it in a film or something.”

But for now, Styx brings that magic to the stage.

“I never thought this would be the place I would end up but it’s a very unique band,” says Phillips, who previously played in The Babys with John Waite and Bad English with Waite and Journey keyboardist Johnathan Cain.

“I think what I most admired about them is in three seconds you can tell it’s Styx on the radio. They’re very unique in their own sound and it doesn’t sound like anyone else,” he says of hits such as “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade” (Lawrence Gowan now sings the softer side of the catalog originated by Dennis DeYoung, who tours as a solo act).

“I never thought I’d be in the situation where I’ve done this many shows with any band,” Phillips adds. “It does bring something to the table I’ve never experienced before. There is such a give and take on every level onstage that goes beyond just knowing the songs. We change it up every night without even looking at each other. We’ll just ebb and flow in ways that I never thought were possible.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

 

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