I’ve been a fan of Styx for much longer than I have not been a fan of Styx (as I indicated in my interview with Styx’s Lawrence Gowan last week). So, I was more than excited that my 8 year old son would get to join me to see Styx as his first rock and roll concert. Although I had seen this lineup 20 years earlier (with the exception of bassist Ricky Phillips, who replaced Chuck Pannazo for shows he’s not able to do), I had forgotten just what a force they are live. I had also seen them in a relatively large amphitheater the first time, so getting to see them in the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville was very special. The Norton Center is spacious and accommodating for larger acts, but it is also surprisingly intimate.
The energy of the room totally changed as soon as Styx took the stage and cranked up to 11. Styx pulled from several decades of music, but focused on their most famous albums for the bulk of the setlist, and the audience responded to those famous tunes predictably- songs like “Too Much Time” and “Come Sail Away” had people up on their feet and clapping. However, the band did take care to break things up, playing non-single songs like “Pieces of Eight” and “Snowblind” to break things up a bit.
It’s often the case that, when you see an older band play, people are there for the hits- the songs they grew up with, the songs that have been with them for years. Crowds at these sorts of concerts often respond really positively to the old stuff, standing up and dancing to their favorites, and then they sit down or ignore the band as soon as they start playing their new material. I can imagine, as a band that’s trying to move forward on a foundation built in the past, this can be somewhat deflating. However,Styx played several songs from their latest album, The Mission, and the audience response was, from what I saw, overwhelmingly positive, which is anomalous for acts that are this established. This is especially the case for the flashier, more bombastic tunes like “Gone, Gone, Gone” and Gowan’s solo moment in “Khedive”. I was thrilled that they played the almost Marillion-esque “The Outpost” at this concert, which is my favorite track from the new record. I am really happy that these live performances got some love, because I think The Mission is a terrific album that holds up even when compared to Styx’s classic records.
Styx in its current iteration is made up of 5 immensely talented men, who have even further refined their style and sound and band synergy through years of touring, either with Styx or with other impressive live acts. The result of their hard work is that they put on a near-perfect live show. Tommy Shaw handled his vocal and guitar parts so perfectly, I was in utter disbelief. His voice doesn’t seem to have aged at all. Lawrence Gowan’s renditions of Styx classics like “Come Sail Away” and “Rocking the Paradise” were not only pitch perfect, but filled with energy and excitement, as if they were touring with these hits for the first time. James “JY” Young played and sang solidly, but he lit up the room every time he handled a solo. Ricky Phillips is a powerful force on the stage, hitting every note with mastery and a smile, and contributing to the swells of harmonies that are Styx’s trademark. And drummer Todd Sucherman, who was recently voted Best Classic Rock Drummer in Modern Drummer magazine, played with such joy and vigor that his drum performance was almost worthy of its own concert.
I expected to see a well rendered rock concert from a consistently great live band at the Norton Center for the Arts, and instead I left in awe, with a renewed interest and appreciation for Styx’s catalog and trajectory. It reminded me that Styx, despite their commercial success, deserves the respect of gatekeepers and critics who use that to discredit them. When they were considered prog, they were seen to be too high minded and cheesy. When they wrote pop songs, they were considered to be sellouts. In the end, it’s clear: Styx deserves to be recognized as one of the foundational American progressive rock acts. And as I acknowledge the fact that they’ve been a successful band for almost 50 years, despite the ever-changing flavors of the day or decade, I also am thrilled to know that the future of Styx is looking brighter than ever.
Gone Gone Gone
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
The Grand Illusion
(partial, Tommy Shaw only, acoustic)
(Damn Yankees cover) (Tommy Shaw only, acoustic)
Rockin’ the Paradise
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Too Much Time on My Hands
Bohemian Rhapsody mid-section (Lawrence Gowan only on piano)
Come Sail Away
Special thanks to ABC PR and Styx.