Setlist History: After 34 Years, Styx Brings "Mr. Roboto" Back

The mid-1980s were a weird time for rockers torn between diving into the softer synthesizer sound or doubling down on the harder guitars. No band struggled more with that fork in the road than Styx who started of as a rock group for the boys but slowly turned into a female favorite.

And at its heart was the tug-of-war over "Mr. Roboto," the lead single of the ambitious Kilroy Was Here concept album that broke the band up twice. Once in the early '80s and then again in the early '90s.

Even though the band regrouped in 1995, they would not play "Roboto" live again until May 30, 2018 when they kicked off their summer tour with Joan Jett and Tesla.

In 2018, Styx toured with Joan Jett and Tesla.

In Chicago, where Styx was from, in the early 1980s, there were only a few other big rock bands: Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, and Chicago. None of them brought the hard rock that was taking over from hair metal acts like Motley Crue, metal bands like Iron Maiden, or whatever you'd call Def Leppard.

Chicago going softer had already paid off and they were all in. REO was moving faster in that direction than Styx, but when "Babe" knocked it out of the park in late '79, Styx found itself in a conundrum.

Even though Styx was no stranger to the Top 40, "Babe" was its only #1 single.

Midwestern men, who had been their bread-and-butter, were not running out to buy "Babe." Despite being the #1 song in the country for two weeks, that was strictly for their girlfriends who wanted to slow dance in basements at parties.

Styx made a name for itself with rockers like "Grand Illusion," "Blue Collar Man" and "Renegade."

But at its heart they were a '70s rock band, they weren't wearing flying Vs. Was there room for straight up rock music or did it have to be much faster or much slower?

The camps couldn't be more pronounced in the band. On one hand you had the keyboard playing Dennis DeYoung who wrote 1973's "Lady," '77's "Come Sail Away," and the aforementioned "Babe." He was also gaga for concept albums. And he looked like your dad's smart friend known for his comfortable shoes.

In the other corner was the cute guitar playing Tommy Shaw who wrote the rockers.

Sometimes those musical opposites make a band more dynamic and complex, sometimes they ruin everything.

What should you do, for example, when the piano player wants to make a concept album called Paradise Theater which sounds schmaltzy on paper but goes #1 and even the rocker's contribution, "Too Much Time On My Hands" gets in to the Top 10 for the first time?

Paradise Theater live in Japan, 1982

Do you let the piano player lead you further down the soft rock path?

Worse, what do you do when his new concept album is a rock opera about a time in the future when rock is illegal and he wants the first single to be about a Japanese robot?

"He believed in it, but none of us did," lead guitarist James Young told Dan Rather in 2023, referring to DeYoung and Kilroy.

They not only played their parts, wrote songs, and gave it their all, they also watched as they poured $1 million into a film for the record, and an expensively produced tour. The Roboto robots were designed by 4x Oscar winner Stan Winston who would later craft the Iron Man costume. Stan doesn't come cheap.

But here's the interesting thing about popular music. Kilroy was not a disaster. It went platinum, the tour made money, and as dumb as it was "Mr. Roboto" went #1. And any time an American of a certain age hears the phrase "domo arigato," they'll follow it up with "Mr. Roboto."

It was the band's fifth platinum album in eight years. But because most of the band didn't believe in it, they needed to break up? That's exactly what they did, then they got back together and broke up again even quicker.

In 1989 Shaw wanted to rock so badly, he joined forces with Ted Nugent and Night Ranger's Jack Blades and formed Damn Yankees... whose biggest hit, ironically, was the decidedly soft "High Enough."

Damn Yankees in 1990.

Over time cooler heads prevailed and the band got back together, mostly as a legacy act that had a locked-in fan base who just wanted to hear the laundry list of hits which included both the rockers and the ballads.

And it didn't hurt their popularity when South Park referenced them in Season 2.

In 1999, Styx fired the piano player, DeYoung and apparently hated "Mr. Roboto" so much, they'd play other tunes from Kilroy, but not the #1 hit.

Not until their first show on their 2018 summer tour with Joan Jett and Tesla.

Were they tired of hearing their fans ask for it?

Had they shaken off the creeps it gave them? Had they finally overcome the Chicagoan desire to be the cool rockers who also happened to sing "Babe"?

Did someone whisper to them that they could sell Roboto masks at the merch stands and buy new boats with the profits?

Maybe it was Joan. Maybe she told them to get over it. Maybe she explained how precious hit songs are no matter where they come from and after a while they're not the bands' anymore, they're the fans. Fans who bought the "Too Much Time" picture disk. Who have also evolved on their stance on music from the early 1980s including the ridiculous "Mr. Roboto."

So they played it and the world didn't end, and it's still in their set today.

That's right, Styx is still on the road singing your, mine, and Cartman's favorite jams.

Not only that but on the same bill are Foreigner and John Waite in what they are calling the Renegades and Juke Box Heroes Tour.

It kicks off next month in Michigan but pay attention to the listing because since it's Foreigner's last tour, the two bands are switching off who opens and who closes each night.

Styx & Foreigner with John Waite - Renegades and Juke Box Heroes Tour

Tue 6/11 Grand Rapids, MI Van Andel Arena (Styx closes)
Wed 6/12 Cuyahoga Falls, OH Blossom Music Center (Foreigner closes)
Fri 6/14 Toronto, ONT. Budweiser Stage (Styx)
Sat 6/15 Clarkston, MI Pine Knob Music Theatre (Foreigner)
Tue 6/18 Maryland Heights, MO Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre (Styx)
Wed 6/19 Rogers, AR Walmart AMP (Foreigner)
Fri 6/21 Dallas, TX Dos Equis Pavilion (Foreigner)
Sat 6/22 Woodlands, TX The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion (Styx)
Tue 6/25 Denver, CO Ball Arena (Foreigner)
Wed 6/26 West Valley City, UT USANA Amphitheatre (Styx)
Fri 6/28 Anaheim, CA Honda Center (Foreigner)
Sat 6/29 Concord, CA Toyota Pavilion at Concord (Styx)
Sun 6/30 Bend, OR Hayden Homes Amphitheater (Foreigner)
Fri 7/12 Nashville, TN Ascend Amphitheater (Styx)
Sat 7/13 Charlotte, NC PNC Music Pavilion (Foreigner)
Mon 7/15 Charleston, SC Credit One Stadium (Foreigner)
Wed 7/17 Alpharetta, GA Ameris Bank Amphitheatre (Styx)
Fri 7/19 West Palm Beach, FL iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre (Foreigner)
Sat 7/20 Tampa, FL MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre (Styx)
Tue 7/23 Holmdel, NJ PNC Bank Arts Center (Foreigner)
Wed 7/24 Bristow, VA Jiffy Lube Live (Styx)
Fri 7/26 Noblesville, IN Ruoff Music Center (Styx)
Sun 7/28 Camden, NJ Freedom Mortgage Pavilion (Foreigner)
Tue 7/30 Saratoga Springs, NY Broadview Stage at SPAC (Foreigner)
Wed 7/31 Burgettstown, PA The Pavilion at Star Lake (Styx)
Fri 8/2 Mansfield, MA Xfinity Center (Styx)
Sat 8/3 Bangor, ME Maine Savings Amphitheater (Foreigner)
Sun 8/4 Gilford, NH BankNH Pavilion (Styx)
Fri 8/16 Orange Beach, AL The Wharf Amphitheater (Foreigner)
Sat 8/17 Huntsville, AL Orion Amphitheater (Styx)
Tue 8/20 Virginia Beach, VA Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater at VB (Foreigner)
Wed 8/21 Raleigh, NC Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek (Styx)
Fri 8/23 Cincinnati, OH Riverbend Music Center (Foreigner)
Sat 8/24 Tinley Park, IL Credit Union 1 Amphitheatre (Styx)
Mon 8/26 Omaha, NE CHI Health Center Omaha (Foreigner)
Wed 8/28 Sioux Falls, SD Denny Sanford PREMIER Center (Styx)

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