AND THE GODS MADE LIKE
STYX: CAUGHT IN THE ACT LIVE
Styx are probably the finest band in the whole world. I don’t have to tell you that. But maybe I should tell you about their new videocassette, Caught In The Act Live–because, truth be told, it’s so incredibly great stores will never be able to keep it in stock.
Consider how the tape itself opens: While the screen stays dark, “NO MORE ROCK!” is chanted louder and louder until finally, prophetically, the magic letters “STYX” fill the screen, logo ‘n’ all. It’s a raw moment in rock video, certainly unrivaled by anything comparable since, say, the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. In a word, it’s wonderful–and only the beginning.
Soon enough, it’s apparent we’re watching a live presentation of the band’s marvelous Kilroy Was Here tour, one of the most spectacular stage presentations in rock history. The tape begins with the actual extended-length video that the guys opened their show with on that memorable cross-country trek, and–may I be subtle?–it’s a doozy.
Styx are at one with the wacky world of rock ‘n’ roll, and it shows. Who could admit to not feeling anger as the evil “Dr. Righteousâ€–in fact, Styx‘s longtime, charismatic guitarist James Young (“JY” to those in-the-know) dressed up as a “straight” politician type–declares that rock ‘n’ roll is evil? In his own words, our music is a â€œplague that Elvis Presley brought down against our nation.” I mean, can you imagine? Regardless, rest assured that the other guys in the band don’t share similar sentiments. In fact, Styx‘s Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw–in their own way, ’80s counterparts to Jerry Lee Lewis and Eddie Cochran–may well be the most charismatic acting team ever to grace the screen.
It’s a bummer–imagine a world where rock ‘n’ roll is outlawed! Dennis DeYoung, who I’ll affectionately tag “DD”(!), plays legendary rocker Kilroy–who is framed for a murder rap by Jerry Falwell-type Dr. Righteous. “It ain’t right!” you’ll likely mutter as the imprisoned Kilroy is taunted by the sinister Robotos that watch his every move. “I’m instructed to inform you,” one tells him, “that you are due for your periodic hair clipping at 17:00 hours today. Thank you. Please conform and confirm.” It’s a world gone mad–sort of like what Rush did in 2112, but even better–and need I add that the heroic Kilroy won’t stand for that haircut crap? Ever the rocker, Kilroy starts a riot and, sadly, is forced to return to his cell.
Tommy Shaw, playing the hiply-named Jonathan Chance, is a rebel, as always, and in his own way attempts to foil Dr. Righteous’s anti-rock plans. Cleverly figuring out a way to break into the mass communications system, Jonathan–who bears no small resemblance to ’70s rocker Peter Frampton, by-the-by–broadcasts a pirated tape of rockin’ Kilroy at his finest, a slice of pure rock ‘n’ roll “as you like it” and tough stuff indeed. Shaw defiantly screams, “You can’t stop the music, you bastard!” and–for a moment, at least–provides an adrenaline rush beyond belief.
But donâ€™t get the wrong idea. The tape rocks. And how. As always, my personal favorite Styx-song remains “Mr. Roboto”–an unjustly neglected masterpiece on par with Dylan and Tarkus, I firmly believe–and on Caught In The Act Live, DeYoung croons it with a power and majesty unrivaled by anybody anywhere, ever. If you donâ€™t get goosepimples when he proudly asserts, “I am Kilroy! Kilroy! Kilroy!” then mister, get your head examined.
From a purely technical standpoint, let me add that the way that the band shifts from the live presentation of the Kilroy Was Here material to their older stuff is neat. I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but I think something truly special happens when Tommy Shaw grabs that stage microphone and informs the world, “There’s thousands of kids like me who have had it up to here with this censorship crap–and they’re ready to do something about it–and do it NOW!” Plus, later on in the show Shaw tells it like it is about the “backward maskingâ€ accusations Styx have often faced. Introducing the almost legendary “Snowblind,” he lets the audience–and the straight world in general–in on a little secret: Styx don’t need any backward masking. In no uncertain terms, they rock.
And if you’re a big Styx fan, you’ll get a kick watching JY as Dr. Righteous. His famous hair is pulled back and greasy, and the intricate camera work does an “A-1” job of concealing his ponytail while he plays the role of the evil doc. In all, it’s a remarkable transformation of a living rock legend, and one I (for one) will always remember.
No point in continuing much further, though. Fair is fair. If you want to find out whether Dr. Righteous really does manage to outlaw rock ‘n’ roll–God forbid–well, you’ll just have to pick up a copy of Caught In The Act Live and find out for yourself. Sound quality is incredible, by the way–it’s one of those Beta/VHS Hi-Fi jobs, and if you close your eyes and space out for a minute, it almost seems like Styx is actually in your living room. Dream on, eh?
Heck. There’s no two ways about it. The new Styx videocassette has set the standard by which all other rock video must now be compared. To call it a masterpiece would be understating the case considerably. And that, dear reader, is simply that.
Incidentally, have I told you that Iâ€™m mentally retarded?
(CREEM, January 1985)