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Rock band in town to rev up Cycle-rama
'70s icons Styx roll in to add to thunder

Entertainment Writer

Last update: 27 February 2004

Before a Styx concert three years ago, band members were approached "by a couple of young women dressed like they came out of 'Almost Famous' -- bare midriffs and what have you," says founding guitarist James "JY" Young.

With apologies to Young, forget about "Almost Famous," that romantic but realistic portrayal of rock 'n' roll life in the early 1970s. Instead, Young found himself in a moment that more resembled that cinematic parody of an aging rock band, "This Is Spinal Tap."

Fellow Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw was signing one of the women's bellies, "and they said, 'JY, JY -- can you please sign our bare midriffs as well?' " Young recalls. "Then the one young woman told me that I reminded her of her father. Then she told me I was a legend.

"That legendary thing is a hard mantle to wear," Young adds wryly, with tongue firmly in cheek. "So I've begun to refer to myself as a reluctant legend."

But the 54-year-old Young and his Styx mates aren't reluctant about still pursuing their rock 'n' roll dreams. Last year, the band released "Cyclorama," their first new studio album since 1999. And they're hitting the road again, with a new tour landing them at the Broken Spoke Saloon in Ormond Beach on Thursday for a free Bike Week concert.

Though recorded without founding keyboardist Dennis DeYoung -- who acrimoniously parted ways with the band -- "Cyclorama" revitalizes such Styx trademarks as melodic songs, brash guitars and choruses packed with vocal harmonies that rival a church choir.

"Many people say this is the best live incarnation of Styx," Young says by phone from his Chicago home. "There are people, some legendary radio personalities who shall remain nameless, who think 'Cyclorama' is the best record Styx has made."

That assessment may surprise casual fans of the band. After all, Styx scored the late 1970s with platinum-selling albums and such hits as "Lorelei," "Come Sail Away," "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)" and "Renegade."

The band went on hiatus in 1984, then most members reformed in 1990 and scored a hit with the single "Show Me the Way." But it wasn't until 1996 that the lineup from the band's glory days finally reunited: Young, Shaw, DeYoung and founding bassist Chuck Panozzo. After recording the album "Brave New World" in 1999, the band parted ways with DeYoung.

Young says it "doesn't surprise me" that some fans may be surprised by the vitality evident on "Cyclorama."

"Dennis DeYoung, when he was part of the band, was busy taking credit for everything that we all did," Young says with a chuckle. "So there would be some lingering impression that that is historical fact as opposed to fiction in his brain.

"The problem with this band is that there was always too much talent in it, he said modestly," Young adds with an impish clip in his voice. "Collectively it was a battle to see what songs got on the records, and what direction we would take the music. The reality is, in the absence of -- the permanent absence of -- Mr. DeYoung, this can really function more in the spirit of a team."

Asked whether a so-called "classic rock" band can get noticed in this MTV/"TRL"/rap/rap-metal age, Young says matter-of-factly, "Certainly we're stigmatized because of how old we are and how long we've had success."

Then he's off on a detailed, and insightful, chronicle of the history of rock since Styx formed in Chicago in 1970: from the birth of MTV in the early '80s, to the rise of "the Journeys and the big-hair bands of the late '80s," to the disillusionment symbolized by lip-syncers Milli Vanilli, to grunge, alternative and the "unplugged" trends of the '90s, to such current bands as Creed and Evanescence. Those latter two bands Young dubs "very Styx-like" due to their use of melody, "hard-edged guitars, big harmony choruses and great singing."

"I sense that once young women in the mid- to late '90s got tired of wearing Doc Martens and no makeup and fatigue clothing, there came the notion that melody could come back in, and everything doesn't have to be angrier and angrier," Young says. "Rock has to purge itself from time to time. The whole thing has evolved back around where suddenly there are melody and big guitars."

Young says Panozzo, a founding member of the band along with his late brother, drummer John Panozzo, will perform at the Bike Week concert despite battling a "full-blown case of AIDS." Panozzo still performs select dates, usually joining the band during the latter stages of concerts.

"If there's an excuse to wear leather, he's there," Young says. "His heart is always here, his spirit is here, and every now and then his physical form makes an appearance as well."

For their Bike Week gig, Styx will perform some songs from "Cyclorama" as well as their hits.

"Of course people want to hear the soundtrack to their glorious misspent youth," Young says with a soft laugh.

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