“Right now we’re going to do one that we haven’t done probably in about ten years… it’s a fan favorite. It’s not necessarily a happy song…” James “J.Y.” Young of Styx, leading into their controversial 1981 song “Snowblind”, which was claimed to have been “Satanistic” by some anti-rock activists at the time (as well as claiming that it was one of the songs that contained hidden messages – only heard if played backwards!). Styx has recorded and performed music now for over four decades (with some break-ups along the way), and given the energy and enthusiasm coming from the stage at Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton on Sunday night, it is quite amazing how well the band has endured over the years as they continue to bring their unique style of music to fans, old and new. Judging by their interactions while on stage, they seem like they really enjoy working and playing together these days, which is very rare in the music world. Playing “an evening with…” style of show with no supporting or opening artists, they split their own set in two (with a short intermission) and played a solid 90 minutes of not only their own songs but some surprise covers and tributes as well. An excellent show and the kind of band worth seeing again and again, as they seem to have unique elements to their concerts to keep things fresh and exciting. An earnest and authentic group of guys, there was no pretense or arrogance… they seemed to acknowledge that their legacy is locked within those songs and albums and were eager to celebrate their music with the sold out crowd.
- Tommy Shaw (lead and rhythm guitar, lead and backing vocals)
- James “J.Y.” Young (lead and rhythm guitar, lead and backing vocals)
- Todd Sucherman (drums and backing vocals)
- Lawrence Gowan (lead and backing vocals, keyboards)
- Ricky Phillips (bass guitar and backing vocals)
I last saw Styx perform live back in 2012, and at that time I also interviewed Lawrence Gowan as a guest on my podcast, so it’s been a few years since I’ve attended one of their concerts. This particular event was promoted by Richter Entertainment Group, who put on the awesome shows at Ironstone Amphitheatre in Murphy’s as part of their Summer concert series. They brought along their state-of-the-art sound and light gear that was new to that venue last Summer, so the sound and lighting was exceptional.
If you are in your 40’s or older, Styx is one of those enduring rock and roll bands that everyone is familiar with, knowing at least a few of their songs (which also tend to be used in film and television). Hit after hit have been played on a wide-ranging genre of music stations over the years, as their songs collectively defy simple categorization.
Along with Heart, Aerosmith, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, and other classic bands with real longevity, their music is ubiquitous with pop culture, their hits have stood the test of time, and the band has achieved legendary status. Newer artists will never be able to replicate what some of these bands have accomplished with their gifts, efforts, and works, because the world and the music industry has changed so drastically in the past twenty years.
The band has origins as far back as the 60’s, with twin brothers Chuck and John Panozzo and former vocalist and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung, with the subsequent further addition of a few others, including James “J.Y.” Young, prior to signing as Styx.
Like some other bands with substantial longevity, the line-up has changed throughout the years, and the band has broken up a few times, but it seems as strong as ever today, with a frequent tour schedule based on the demand from fans who want to see them play live in concert.
Categorized in the “progressive rock” genre, their music and album themes have varied over the years, with different styles of music finding success.
Going back to the 80s reference at the opening of this review, the first half of that pivotal decade really set the direction of the band as it stands today. Following the nonsense about suggestions that “Snowblind” was “Satanic”, the band responded with a follow-up album in 1983 which took the band in a “more keyboard-oriented, progressive-rock direction” with the “rock opera” Killroy Was Here (which actually contained joke backwards messages within). The concept album was the vision of then vocalist and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung. The biggest hit from that album was “Mr. Roboto”, which was a very “80s” song and a significant departure from songs like… “Snowblind”. I was 10 years old at the time and distinctly remember the music video for “Mr. Roboto” getting heavy play on MTV. It was sort of like an unlikely collision between Prog Rock and New Wave. Disagreements about the future of the band resulted in a break-up. The first incarnation of the band matched the span of progressive rock popularity which ran from the 70s to mid-80s. Reformations followed in 1989, 1995, and 1999… in any event, in recent years, the band had continued on without DeYoung, who tours independent of the band currently.
Interestingly, listening to the music itself, with some songs you can hear the battle of keyboards and synthesizers against the more traditional rock and roll driven by guitar, bass, and live drums, as well as more rock-oriented songs contrasted against solid ballads. So in many ways, that conflict helped to create their unique and signature sound that we associate with the band.
On stage Sunday night, it was nothing but harmony between the men, who frequently paid one another compliments in-between songs.
Probably the most significant representation of how they view their own music is their selection of songs for the show itself. Notably absent are the songs most associated with Dennis DeYong like “Babe”, “The Best of Times”, and “Mr. Roboto” – I’m going to need to check out one of his solo shows to complete the Styx experience (he’s currently touring “The Music of Styx”).
Below is the setlist from the show Sunday night as I could best compile from my notes…
- The Grand Illusion
- Too Much Time on My Hands
- Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
- Man In The Wilderness
- Castle Walls
- Light Up
- Suite Madame Blue
- Miss America
- Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
- Lawrence Gowan Piano Solo
- Crystal Ball
- Pieces of Eight
- Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
- Hoedown (Emerson Lake & Palmer cover)
- My Way (snippet, Frank Sinatra cover)
- Life On Mars? (David Bowie cover)
- Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen cover)
- Come Sail Away
- Rockin’ The Paradise
The “Space Oddity” cover was pretty sweet, and the Queen cover really got the audience participation up (as well as the crowd in the seated and formal theater up on their feet).
For an “older” band, Styx in their current formation can give any up and coming young band a run for their money, with Tommy, James, and Ricky constantly running around the stage and up behind Todd on drums, as well as striking those cool “rock star” moves. Lawrence played out his own “rock moves” on those songs in which he left his industrial-looking keyboards; new since the 2012 show I attended, his keyboard set is now on a revolving platform that he can spin 360 degrees. If that wasn’t enough, he also stood on it at times as well, showing that the band is all rock and roll today.
They play a lot of shows year to year these days, but I get the sense it allows them to continue to refine what they do, and how to squeeze the most out of every song for maximum audience impact, so they know how to put on a concert. And what a better way to bring it all to a climax then by ending it with “Renegade”, which is just stellar live. Tommy Shaw just puts so much emotion into the opening, and the song becomes an experience for the audience to take part in and celebrate.
Styx are most definitely a “must see” band, and they do a good job of covering the U.S. so there is really no excuse not to turn out for one of their shows – highly recommended.
Below are some photos of Styx performing on stage at the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton (click any image to open a virtual lightroom with higher resolution versions of each photo):