Roots Report: Styx at Twin River

James Young, Photo credit: Lori Mars

James Young, Photo credit: Lori Mars

Okee dokee folks… The other night I had the opportunity to see Styx again for the first time in about 35 years. A lot has transpired with the band over those years and I was curious to hear how they sounded after all that time.

The capacity crowd greeted the band with rousing applause when they took the stage at 8:10 in the Event Center at Twin River in Lincoln. Judging by the looks of the gathered, we all appeared to be in approximately the same age range — OLD! I think maybe we were all there just to feel a bit younger and of course to hear some of our favorite songs from the ’70s and ’80s.

Appropriately the set started with the title track of the band’s 1977 album, Grand Illusion. “Welcome to the Grand Illusion … come on in and see what’s happening … pay the price get your ticket for the show!” I already knew that original frontman Dennis DeYoung was no longer with the band and his replacement, Lawrence Gowan, had the lead vocals and keys on DeYoung’s songs. The excitement of the concert start and the resemblance to DeYoung’s voice got me through “Grand Illusion” just fine. At the finish of “Grand Illusion,” guitarist and vocalist Tommy Shaw greeted the audience, “Welcome, Rhode Island! Put your hands together!” He led the band with his hit song, “Too much Time On My Hands.” The crowd sang along on the chorus complete with the perfectly timed clapped accents: “Too much <clap> <clap> time on my hands.” On the third song Shaw surprised the audience by welcoming original member Chuck Panozzo to the stage. Bassist Chuck Panozzo was sidelined due to health issues, his battle with HIV/AIDS, and only occasionally makes appearances with the band. Current bassist Rick Phillips picked up a six string and moved over. Tommy Shaw switched to acoustic guitar and went into “Fooling Yourself.” Gowan handled the synth solo and replicated it note for note. Then they played the song that initially brought them recognition, though it took almost two years after its release. That song was “Lady.” It was, according to James Young, “Way back in the Gerald Ford days.” He then added, “Remember Betty? You don’t have to raise your hands if you’ve been there,” (referring the the Betty Ford Clinic). He continued, “You all used to ‘flick your BIC lighters’ to this one. Now you use your cell phones.” “Light Up” was performed along with the illumination of hundreds of mobile phones.

Tommy Shaw (acoustic guitar) with Chuck Panozzo on Bass; Photo Credit: Lori Mars

Tommy Shaw (acoustic guitar) with Chuck Panozzo on Bass; Photo Credit: Lori Mars

Shaw once again chatted up the crowd, “There have been a few changes in the band over the past few years. I was the new guy back in ’75. Back then you would tell a story in two parts. Back when radio played albums. We wanted you to get through the first side and want more. Then you would pick up the album cover and start sifting through seeds and stuff — you probably don’t know what that means. This is from side two of the Grand Illusion.”

What could be considered a deep cut was next: “Man In the Wilderness.” Finally JY (James Young) took charge of vocals on his lead track from side two of Grand Illusion, “Miss America.” At the conclusion of that number all but Shaw and Gowan exited the stage. They did a short duet of “Space Oddity” in honor of the late David Bowie. Gowan then exited and left Shaw to perform the beginning of the title track of Styx’s sixth album (try to say that fast!), “Crystal Ball,” solo. The band returned and joined in to rock the remainder of the song. Gowan did his best Liberace and repeated a bit of “Crystal Ball” in a showy piano sort of way. “I’m OK” was fronted by Gowan and was a weak moment in a so far powerful set. “Stand up and prepare to shake it out!” Shaw commanded the audience and blasted into “Blue Collar Man”. He concluded the song with a high kick. I am always amazed when guys his age can do this. He is 63!

Now this is where the show went into a serious lull. They left Gowan alone on stage to banter and play. I began to feel like I was in an airport lounge listening to, and once again I dare use the analogy, Liberace, only this time he added vocals. Snippets of “1999” by Prince, “Rocket Man” by Elton John and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen were covered. There were reasons for him performing these: a tribute to Prince, NASA named one of Pluto’s moons Styx, and they also named an asteroid Freddie Mercury. Great. It just didn’t fit into a Styx show. The version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” albeit VERY short, probably had Freddie rolling in his grave! “Come Sail Away” momentarily redeemed Gowan and once again brought out Chuck Panozzo on bass, but this time Phillips stayed on bass as well. At 9:33 they wrapped their set.

After the usual post-show applause the band returned. All the members had rolled up t-shirts to toss into the audience. Shaw took the mic and said, “As it was prophesied they turned the joint into the Paradise Theatre.” Guess which song was next? “Rockin’ the Paradise” did just that, well, really they rocked Twin River. A burst of confetti and streamers fell from the ceiling to punctuate the song’s ending. Shaw’s “Renegade” rocked to the finish and wrapped the 15-song show. The members shook hands with the front row, signed a few items and threw handfuls of guitar picks into the crowd. They joined hands, raised them up and took a bow.

Overall I liked the show. It was seemingly and understandably heavy with Tommy Shaw tunes. The “new guys” on bass and drums, well new to me, have been filling in for 10 to 20 years and were great and seamlessly integrated. Lawrence Gowan, who is Dennis DeYoung’s fill-in, is another story. At first he seems fine. He has the sound of DeYoung and is a fabulous keyboard player, but as the night progressed he got annoying. The more I heard his voice the more it sounded forced to sound like DeYoung and was fake. He hammed it up way too much. He spins his keyboard around, dances, and for some reason, would play with his back to the crowd during key solos. Shaw, JY and Panozzo are the real Styx. Lawrence Gowan is a hired fill-in. He is certainly talented, but he is not Dennis DeYoung. He reminded me more of Robert Blake, which is weird to imagine him playing progressive pop rock. His little interlude where he performed solo broke the continuity of an otherwise enjoyable show. If I were Shaw and JY I would reign him in and stick to Styx tunes. Hopefully someday Shaw, Young and DeYoung can settle their creative differences and have the full band back together again.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

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