November 10, 2015 Styx Feel At Home NYCB Theatre at Westbury, NY 11-8-15
When one thinks of the ultimate Arena Rock experience, chances are Styx come to the forefront of their mind. Formed over four decades ago in Chicago, Illinois, between the years of 1977 and 1984, every album they released sold at least one million copies, making them one of the most popular bands in the world. Keeping their legacy going, minus a brief break in the early ’90s, Styx continue to tour regularly to sold out crowds across the globe all these years later.
In recent years they have teamed up with fantastic packages such as Don Felder and Foreigner in the Summer of 2014 before Def Leppard and Tesla in the Summer of 2015, Styx sometimes partake in special headlining shows. What does this mean for dedicated fans? It means longer performances, more diverse song selections, and an evening to have Styx all to themselves. With that said, one of the band’s regular stops over the years when headlining shows has been NYCB Theatre at Westbury, New York. With a long history at the unique in-the-round venue with a rotating stage, Styx has played the space countless times through the years. In fact, on Sunday, November 8th, it would more mark the band’s three consecutive year playing the theater, and once again, to a sold out crowd.
While original vocalist, Dennis DeYoung, parted ways with the band back in 1999, founding members James Young (guitar) and Chuck Panozzo (bass) remain, as well as Tommy Shaw, who joined the band prior to start of their meteoric rise on The Grand Illusion. They are also joined by Todd Sucherman (drums), Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keys), and Ricky Phillips (bass/guitar) for an exciting lineup. Walking down from behind the curtain in the rear of the theater, they took the stage just after the 8 PM hour as everyone rose to their feet, anticipating, rightly, an evening of high energy, dynamic music.
Nineteen and seventy-seven’s The Grand Illusion was the first in a slew of consecutive platinum albums released by Styx, and the title track began what would be a transcendental evening of inspirational music. A classic Prog Rock intro on keys set the tone for the night as the crowd was engaged with, “Welcome to the grand illusion/come on in and see what’s happening/Pay the price, get your tickets for the show/The stage is set, the band starts playing/Suddenly your heart starts pounding.” A chugging riff on guitar joined the keys for a driving song, which was brought to another level with a blistering Psychedelic Rock sounding solo in the middle section. After the fireworks, the song came back to its beautifully constructed melody, before closing with more grandiosity on keys and vocals. Keeping the energy flowing, upbeat Pop Rock gem “Too Much Time on My Hands” followed the opener with a bouncy intro by Gowan on keys. From 1981’s Paradise Theater, the song had all the trappings of ’80s FM radio; a New Wave lead on keys, an undeniable chorus, and a guitar solo straight from ’70s Rock.
It was then back to The Grand Illusion for big hit “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man),” which featured another mind-bending intro on keys that sounded like something straight out of a Science Fiction movie. The pairing of the lead on keys by Gowan with strumming guitars made for a smooth melody, and the track’s soaring harmonies made for an intricate, rousing number. Going to the corners of the stage, looking out into the audience and making eye contact with many, each member was making connections early in the show that would last two sets. Giving the performance space, timeless piano driven ballad “Lady” allowed the band to catch its collective breath after three scorching tunes, if only for a few minutes, as the song would eventually veer off into propulsive Rock.
Thereafter, a darting lead on keys got “Lorelei” going before a subdued guitar riff would join in, and then take center stage for the rest of the song. With Bassist Panozzo to joining the band on stage, the song moved along at a brisk pace with intricate guitar work sprinkled throughout. Taken from 1975’s Equinox, the song made it clear why the band was two years away from becoming a behemoth. This fittingly led into “Man in the Wilderness” with its dreary, harrowing sound, proving to be a powerful, elegant break from the raucous sounds that preceded it, exemplifying Styx’ versatility. Not shying away from their strengths, the song would eventually soar into a downright heavy middle section with wailing guitars and pounding drums, before returning back to a menacing, harmonious outro. “Castle Walls” was more of the same, with a slow-building intro on keys over a plodding bass line, making for a sinister sounding song, heavy on atmospherics and dread.
Keeping the show moving, “I’m OK” was the first song of the night from the 1978 smash album Pieces of Eight, and was a mid-tempo rocker featuring all of the elements that have endeared Styx to millions of fans for over forty years. Strong power chords on guitar, deft harmonies, and swirling work on keys came together for another rousing number brimming with energy and expert musicianship prior to the opening set closing of “Suite Madame Blue.” The first half of the song was a chilling ballad steeped in melancholy, with eerie effects and a super slow melody, before taking off halfway through with weighty guitars teetering on the brink of Heavy Metal before returning back to a scathing message for America on the eve (1975) of her bicentennial with the repetitive chanting of “America” and “Red, white, and blue, gaze in your looking glass/You’re not a child anymore/Red, white, and blue, the future is all but past/So lift up your heart, make a new start/and lead us away from here.”
Walking off the stage, the lights went on for an intermission, allowing the audience time to cleanse their pallet for what would be an exciting second set. Twenty or so minutes later, the band returned for a heart pumping second set featuring seven songs, including some surprises. Ready to go, “Miss America” with its English Folk overtones would kick off the party again with a dream-like intro reminiscent of Jethro Tull and Traffic that gave way to a fast and loose lead on guitar as well as a vocal that sounded like it came from a lost Alice Cooper record with its venomous overtones. These sounds and nuances paired with Styx’ omnipresent harmonies and complex work on keys made for a wild ride. Then there was “Lights,” allowing Styx to show that despite being known for Rock, Pop, and Progressive sounds, they could also be funky and play some sweet Soul music. Complex, animated, and buoyant, the song meandered along with a light airiness and was downright danceable. It was a refreshing interjection to the set.
Showered with applause, each member were all smiles as they moved on. That is when the big surprise came and Shaw was under the spotlight for an solo acoustic rendition the Damn Yankees’ “Come Again.” As everyone knows, Shaw, during a break from Styx, joined forces with Ted Nugent, Jack Blades, and Michael Cartellone in 1989 to create the supergroup known as Damn Yankees. Their self-titled debut would go on to sell over one million copies and it was a pleasant offering to Styx amidst the set. With just Shaw and his acoustic guitar, the performance proved to be a fresh take on the studio version. While the studio version had dizzying work on electric guitar from Nugent, here, Shaw spun it into a delicate, furtive acoustic number that featured plenty of power.
Picking it right back up, “Crystal Ball” came next and began in the same vein as “Come Again” before exploding into the Hard Rock stratosphere with dazzling, dizzying work on electric guitar over a driving rhythm, before a wild outro. Following with “Piece of Eight” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Come Sail Away” would close the set with Gowan enticing the crowd in a sing-a-long. Much like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” the song has become the band’s anthem. A staple of AM and FM radio upon its release, the song is now as popular and oft-played as any other song on Classic Rock radio. It resides, rightfully, in the Pantheon of Classic Rock songs. An extended, mellow opening set the stage for the unadulterated bombast that would follow. As the song took off into its bewildering, frenetic paces, before a brief slow down, then back to sheer lunacy, the audience became unhinged bouncing in the aisles and pumping their fists to the sizzling sounds. Screaming “Come sail away! Come sail away,” the crowd took over the arena right through the remainder of the song.
With everyone remaining on their feet, the band returned with Panozzo joining them once more for a two song encore featuring the fast-paced “Rockin’ the Paradise,” an over the top upbeat raver and adrenaline-pumping “Renegade.” The latter, one of the band’s heavier songs, had keys that would not seem out of place on a Classic-era Deep Purple track and screaming guitars that channeled the best of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, while the former took Garage Rock from high school to college with its amped up sound being both brash and refined at the same time. It was a great ending to the show as it reminded the crowd how diverse Styx is.
Conversing with the audience when they could between the lengthy set, Shaw admitted to love playing at NYCB Theatre at Westbury year after year, and judging by the turn out, Long Island’s feeling is mutual. Their performance flows ever so naturally and with plenty of peaks and valleys, the set never gets old. Styx always delivers a night of intelligent, complex music. The thinking man’s Rock band, they manage to make the listener move their feet, bang their head, and open their mind. Winding down 2015 with select shows from now until December 12th, Styx will be picking back up with Def Leppard and Telsa come January 10, 2016. While the night at NYCB Theatre at Westbury was one of of their best to date at the venue, Long Island fans can now look to make the trip to Brooklyn on February 16th to see Styx in their arena element at Barclays Center.