Let me start this out by saying that I’ve never seen so many Styx concert shirts in one place at one time. It made me chuckle as my mind compared it to a gathering of geese in some poor farmer’s fields. They were everywhere, reflecting concerts from the late Nixon years all the way up to last night. That’s a testament to both the endurance of the band and the loyalty of their rabid fans.
A buddy of mine calls bands like Styx, Journey, REO Speedwagon and Foreigner “Corporate Rockers.” Now, I’m not too sure that moniker makes perfect sense for the litany of ’80s bands that came along and added their enduring two cents to our cultural lexicon, but they are criminally neglected by the Rock Hall and critics as not being “serious” rock bands.
Which is a damn shame. It also stands as a stark counterpoint to what the sold out crowd’s whoops and hollers revealed when Tommy Shaw and Company took to the stage at the Hard Rock Rocksino last night.
Styx is almost as old as The Beatles. Formed in Chicago in the early 1960s the band underwent a few personnel changes before settling on the lineup that sold out arenas around the world in the late 1970s. Hosting three of the band’s original hit-years lineup (Well, two originals and Tommy Shaw, who joined the outfit in 1975, just as they were heating up), this iteration has been touring quite successfully over the last few years. The only current misstep, outside of a small blurb in the band’s bio, is the complete and utter erasure of Dennis DeYoung’s existence from Styx’s website, a move that saddens me as they have attempted to rewrite the outfit’s history. DeYoung was a huge part of the band’s sound and, politics aside, is sorely missed from the lineup.
Taking the stage without a support act, the sold-out crowd of mostly middle-agers howled in approval at the lineup. Tommy Shaw still plays the guitar and takes on both lead and backup vocal duties; James “JY” Young, a founding member of the band, dittos Shaw’s resume; Ricky Phillips, the “newest” member of the outfit who joined in 2003 strums the bass; Todd Sucherman resides behind the kit, and Lawrence Gowan, keyboards and a remarkable replacement for DeYoung. Aptly dancing across the stage, Gowan sounds exactly like DeYoung; if you closed your peepers you’d think Dennis, hatchet buried, was up there with his old mates.
At the beginning of the third song Shaw announced the presence of Chuck Panozzo, the original bassist for Styx, who is ill and touring with the band but only plays for two or three tunes due to his health.
For a band of old timers, they sounded fantastic. Gowan’s voice is remarkable; his ability to traverse any number of songs really harkens back to the band’s heyday and signature sound. Shaw took lead vocal duties on a handful of tunes and, although his voice has aged a bit (like a fine whisky perhaps?) the timbre of it is solid.
Starting off the night with a handful of their greatest hits, “The Grand Illusion” and “Too Much Time On My Hands” kicked off the show with aplomb.
In homage to the recently-departed Leonard Cohen, Shaw went solo on a shortened version of “Hallelujah,” a very difficult tune to pull off in its entirety due to its hooks and lyrics. He nailed it.
Gowan came out towards the end of the show and did a mashup of other bands’ tunes. A misstep, for sure, as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man” seemed oddly out of place. The crowd loved it but I would’ve rather seen them play a few of their other hits such as “Babe” or “Mr. Roboto.” I know the complicated history of that latter tune, but it’s a fan fave and endemic of a certain point in the outfit’s history. I’m sure others would have liked to hear it as well.
“Blue Collar Man” and “Come Sail Way” got things back on track. As “Come Sail Away” crescendoed with Shaw, Young, and Phillips standing side-by-side like a Rockette’s line kick, the wall of sound filled the cramped Rocksino. It was an awesome moment, taking us back to 1981 and the power of a band that the Rock Hall needs to recognize.
And not in some stupid fan vote.
They encored with “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Renegade,” bringing the night to a very satisfying close.