August 2, 2013
The Pacific Amphitheatre
Costa Mesa, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon

Six months after they wowed their following within the lofty intimacy of the Grove of Anaheim, Styx returned to the OC as part of the 2013 Orange County Fair concert lineup and turned the Pacific Amphitheatre into a wellspring of arena rock magnificence. A show band in every sense of the word, they took full advantage of the venue’s large stage, utilizing platforms, ramps, LEDs and blasts of confetti.

Having not seen Styx as a headliner in several years, it was refreshing they chose to go deep into the catalog for some of the night’s best numbers. Actually, I learned in my interview with the band’s keyboardist, Lawrence Gowan, that they were going to be trying some different things, but I had no idea how that would play out. For a band that constantly tours and seems to float in and out of SoCal three or four times a year, it was an aspect of the show I was most looking forward to. And they didn’t disappoint.

That being said, Styx is obligated to roll out their most beloved songs, and of those, there is no shortage. After a colorful entrance to the strains of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the members of Styx came together for “Blue Collar Man.” Tommy Shaw was anything but a blue collar man, resplendent in a dark, rose-and-cactus-embroidered, borderline nudie suit, reminiscent of Jimmy Page circa 1977, while the rest of the band was equally well-dressed and ready to do battle.

“The Grand Illusion” was next, and it became apparent to me that Gowan has totally grown into his role as a primary singer of the band, reverent in singing the songs Dennis DeYoung originally sang, yet passionately adding his own style and panache to the mix. And, with a spinning keyboard and behind-the-back playing, Gowan is as appealing visually as he is musically.

For “Foolin’ Yourself,” original Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo, who regularly plays and tours with the band on a part-time basis, joined in. The band’s mainstay bassist, Ricky Phillips, switched over to his custom-made Italia White Pearloid double-neck 6/12, guitarist James “JY” Young played a second set of keys behind Gowan, and Shaw was on acoustic. Packed in like a flock of disciples, the audience stood and sang along.

JY introduced “Light Up” as a song that came out during the Gerald Ford presidency and encouraged everyone to hold up their cell phones in lieu of the traditional Bic lighter. The place lit up like a firefly convention as the man who co-founded Styx way back in 1970 sang the rarely played classic from 1975’s Equinox album.

When Styx tackled both The Grand Illusion and Pieces Of Eight in their entirety for concert audiences in 2010, they got the opportunity to play songs that they had rarely if ever played in a live setting. Fortunately, one of those, the alluring “Man In the Wilderness,” is still on the setlist. It’s only too bad they couldn’t have worked in “Superstars” as well. They did, however, get the crowd in a semi-frenzy with another one from The Grand Illusion, the ever-so patriotic “Miss America,” a regular tour de force for JY.

From Pieces Of Eight, “I’m Okay” put Gowan at the center-stage, assuming the vocals with stunning clarity and dazzling the audience with carnival-like dabs on his spinning keyboard. Shaw told his back-story, being a struggling musician from Mobile, Alabama and writing his first song for Styx, “Crystal Ball,” which he and the rest of the band proceeded to play. Once again, Gowan showed off his immeasurable talents with a remarkable piano solo.

“Pieces Of Eight” highlighted the band’s proggy notions, while “Too Much Time” (where Gowan teased the crowd with a capella sing-alongs to “Tiny Dancer,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Black Dog,” Fat-Bottomed Girls” and “Another Brick In The Wall”) and “Come Sail Away” brought Styx and the 7,000 or so restless souls back down to earth.

Smoke filled the stage, confetti covered the first 20 rows, and Styx encored with “Rockin’ The Paradise” and “Renegade,” much to the delight of the faithful. Drummer Todd Sucherman, who’d been dressing up the songs all night with a flurry of tasty percussion touches, brought the drumming on these songs to an entirely different level. This was Styx as I hadn’t seen them in years — seemingly as big and spectacular as they were in the 70s. If they ever manage to work in some new music, while abiding to mine the catalog for long-lost nuggets, there’s no telling what could happen next.


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