One With Everything

Styx

Through personal changes, deaths, ‘artistic differences’ and health concerns, Styx have survived. With original member James ‘JY’ Young, plus second -to-oldest regular, Tommy Shaw, the Styx machine keeps a-chugging along in the mid-level ‘shed’ tour circuit. Billed with other stalwart 70s icons like Foreigner or REO Speedwagon, or sometimes headlining small theaters, Styx have stayed pretty much on the road, even managing a few newer releases over the years since their heyday. Recently the band teamed up with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, an Ohio-based outfit, and at the behest of that group’s music director, Liza Grossman, performed a live show incorporating the music of Styx with orchestral arrangements. What makes this particular meeting so special — and the new DVD One With Everything so magical — is that the CYO consists of kids between the ages of 13 to 19! And though Miss Grossman has steered her kids through performances with Graham Nash, Jon Anderson, and other contemporary artist,s this was the first time the CYO joined forces with a full rock band.

We have all seen this type of thing before, and as Lawrence Gowan (vocalist and keyboardist with Styx these days) alludes to in the accompanying ‘bonus material’ interview, often times the meeting of a rock band with classical musicians is down right boring. With the stodgy older orchestra members playing music they don’t really care for, the marriage of rock and classical isn’t always a good one in live performance. What makes One With Everything so perfect is that the kids of the CYO are so passionate about performing on stage with Styx is that you can’t help but get caught up in their youthful exuberance.

With great camera work (hardly ever do we see that obligatory shot of an audience member singing along or focusing on one band member while another is soloing), the entire night is captured in a beautiful outdoor Ohio concert facility. Hitting the ground running with an amazing band/orchestral overture to “Blue Collar Man (Long Night),” the music of Styx has never sounded so alive. With the orchestra’s horns pumping the song along and Tommy Shaw’s vocals about as perfect as they have ever been, I almost felt that there was hope in music once again…almost!

Not that Styx isn’t a great band nowadays, but I had no clue how good they still are. Kilroy Was Here was the last Styx record I bought and they didn't play any songs from it on this DVD. While I prefer original band members over newer, I can’t ignore Gowan’s keyboard proficiency and voice and solid bass playing of Ricky Phillips. But for me, for this night and DVD, the band was all about drummer Todd Sucherman. Mr. Sucherman replaced the dearly departed founding member John Panozzo 10 years ago. I felt the ‘new’ drummer's influence with Styx and the CYO most of all. “The Styx CYO Medley” features 18 snippets of Styx songs, from as far back as “Sweet Mademoiselle” all the way through to “Paradise,” constructed, as Tommy Shaw informs the audience, by drummer Sucherman! His performance alone during this long piece is amazing, but this is really where the entire night congeals to something beyond just a rock band playing with an orchestra behind them.

With the ‘orchestrated’ keyboard opening of “Miss America” here taken over by an actual orchestra and backing vocals handled by the CYO’s strong choir, this Styx classic was lifted to heights I had never thought possible (and this is my most favorite Styx track!). The harp and clarinet at the beginning of “Crystal Ball” are inspired and the string accents on “Too Much Time On My Hands” and the cello intor for “Renegade” will give you goose bumps. And again, every time I caught a glimpse of the kids, which the director luckily keeps cutting to, I couldn’t help but smile as they jumped, danced, and bopped in their chairs, seemingly having the time of their lives. As the stunning enthusiastic (or enthusiastically stunning) Liza Grossman explains in the interview section, not only do the kids love this music but as they feel that much more inspired because they “own their art.”

With a few new songs peppered into the mix, most notably the solid and safe “Just Be,” the cover tunes “I Am The Walrus” and an inspired cover of “It Don’t Make Sense”(You Can’t Make Peace)” — this one featuring a young girl on ‘first’ violin who literally bounces in her seat all night — plus an unnecessary“I Don’t Need No Doctor,” it really is the older Styx material most fans will buy this DVD for…and not walk away disappointed.

A note on the extras. There is something called the “Quake Cam” in the bonus section which is basically a camera set up in the drum shell. It gives you a good idea of how integral to Styx Sucherman is and it’s a ‘wild ride’ of the concert. The aforementioned interview section is great as well, with a slide presentation and two extra Christmas songs completing the special stuff. Lest one forget, Styx did write some great songs — and they still do actually — but this is truly the first time I have heard an orchestra mixed with a rock band that resulted in something stronger than the individual parts. More then just the musicianship (which really is top notch here), it is the energy of the kids of the CYO that raises Styx’s game and makes this a DVD worth owning.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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