I recently had the great pleasure of seeing Styx in concert. On May 20, 2019 the band performed at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, New Jersey. I have been a long time Styx fan, however this was my first time seeing the band live. What an incredible experience! The band greatly exceeded my expectations. If you consider yourself a Styx fan and they are in your area do yourself a big favor and go see them.
Like many longstanding rock bands Styx has had their share of lineup changes. The current formation may not be the “classic” lineup of the band. Do not let that discourage you from seeing a fantastic show. The current lineup is, pound for pound, the most musically talented formation of the band. I mean no disrespect to prior lineups. The overall level of musicianship contained within the current band exceeds all prior lineups. Musical chops are not the be all, end all. The current band is tight, they sound fantastic and they get along with one another. Guitarist/vocalist James J.Y. Young is the only original member. He and guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw are the only remaining members of the classic Styx lineup. That said, this group of veteran musicians, together since 2003, is faithfully building onto the legacy of Styx. It should be noted that founding member and bassist Chuck Panozzo still remains active with the band. He still makes occasional appearances with Styx live. This concert was not one of those occasions.
The current line up of the band features:
Tommy Shaw: vocals and guitar
James J.Y. Young: vocals, guitar, keyboards
Lawrence Gowan: vocals and keyboards
Ricky Phillips: bass and vocals
Todd Sucherman: drums
From the onset of the show right through to end, the band was tight and energetic. The performances were phenomenal and the vocals were absolutely out of this world. The various combinations of vocals from Shaw, Young, Gowan and Phillips were such a pleasure to hear. Each member played their instruments exceptionally. Not only did each play well, they played as a collective. No member was more important than another, each did their part to support the music. I have to give special mention to powerhouse drummer Todd Sucherman. What a talent behind the drum kit. Spending two plus hours immersed in the wonderfully timeless music of Styx was a great experience. The band went beyond merely reproducing the music from the albums. They truly brought their music to life with exceptional musicianship, stage presence and an eye catching light show.
During the course of the concert Tommy Shaw referred to Styx as an AOR, album-oriented rock, band. He spoke of the bygone days of AOR radio when radio stations used to play entire albums, not just singles. I am sure that some fans will agree that Styx is a band that has been unfairly judged based solely on their hit singles. Those of us that opted to delve deeper into the band’s catalog discovered a rock band with a heavy progressive rock influence. As the 1970’s turned to the 1980’s that progressive rock influence lessened, but the band kept an AOR mindset. The record companies and the radio stations may have cherry-picked the albums for singles. The band’s intent remained the same. They desired to present a piece of music meant to be heard as a cohesive whole. Fast forward to 2019 where we are approaching the two year anniversary of the band’s latest album, The Mission. The album is a forty two minute concept album. The Mission brilliantly recalls the band’s glory days from the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The Mission is a fantastic addition to the band’s already rich catalog. I am not alone in thinking that it is one of their best albums.
I was hoping, unrealistically, to hear The Mission live in full. This was not the case, however several songs from the album were sprinkled throughout the band’s impressive performance. Styx played all the songs that fans would expect to hear. There were the occasional surprises, i.e. Pieces Of Eight, Light Up and Mr. Roboto. Otherwise it was a standard Styx set list. This did not diminish my experience since the band sounded so phenomenal. I would love to have heard deeper cuts such as Sing For The Day, Haven’t We Been Here Before, Superstars, I’m O.K., Man In The Wilderness, Mademoiselle and Castle Walls. It is an impossible task for any band to please every fan with their set list. I will say that the new songs helped to elevate the show.
The set of familiar songs took on new life in the live setting. Styx does not stray too far from the arrangements of the studio recording. There were segments where the guitar and keyboard solos were expanded. Some songs featured minor augmentations that extended sections. The live version of Mr. Roboto is the most noticeably augmented. The band did not deviate from the original song arrangement. The new version is more guitar oriented then the studio version. As a collective the set list worked extremely well. There was a great deal of progressive rock inspired music on display throughout the night. Styx has long had a knack for injecting progressive rock elements into highly commercial songs. The band constructed a set list that had a logical flow. The songs spanned the years from 1973 to 2017. With a few exceptions the music sounded vibrate and contemporary. The performance loudly and proudly declared that Styx is a serious and vital AOR band.
Styx in 2019 sound incredible. The high level of the band’s performance more than makes up for a somewhat predictable set list. Styx take their music seriously. At the same time this was a fun concert. Between songs there was a good deal of lighthearted commentary from Tommy Shaw, James Young and Lawrence Gowan. The songs brought back a lot of pleasant memories for me. And I am glad to be making new ones with music from The Mission. Styx is far from an oldies act. The Mission proves that they still have something relevant to say. I am hopefully for another new album in the near future. I am already looking forward to seeing the band in concert again. Below is the set list from the night.
Gone Gone Gone
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
The Grand Illusion
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Rockin’ The Paradise
Suite Madame Blue
Pieces Of Eight
Too Much Time On My Hands
Come Sail Away