On a mission: Styx show hits new heights in support of spectacular new album
By Craig McKee (Special to Rick Keene Music Scene)
This is a very good year to be a Styx fan.
Not only is the band continuing to bring its wonderful live show to fans across North America, but this summer marked the release of The Mission, the band’s first new album of original material since 2003’s Cyclorama. This album is simply the best and most cohesive effort from Styx since the days it was topping the charts in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.
It sounds like a cliché, but Styx just keeps getting better with age. This was evident in back-to-back performances in Quebec this week: Thursday night in Trois-Rivières and Friday at the Strangers in the Night charity gala on the grounds of the Fairview Shopping Centre in Pointe Claire, near Montreal. What always comes across with this band, which has been a going concern in one form or another for more than five decades, is that they love to perform, which they always do with boundless energy and passion.
As the band was set to take the stage in Pointe Claire, the expectant crowd was treated to the instrumental opening number from The Mission,
called Overture. The song offered the crowd, most of whom grew up on Styx’s accessible progressive style and infectious rock anthems, a taste of what the new album has to offer, including the familiar synthesizer sound found on songs like Fooling Yourself and the exhilarating twin guitars of Tommy Shaw and James Young. In fact, the new album is filled with distinctive sounds and arrangements of the kind that once made this the biggest rock band in the world.
The boys took the stage and launched into the brand new Gone Gone Gone, the catchiest concert opener they’ve penned since 1981’s Rockin’ the Paradise. While many in the crowd would not yet be familiar with the new tune, they cheered for it like they would an old favorite. The
band played two other songs from the album, the piano instrumental Khedive and the brilliant Radio Silence, a song that would certainly
have been a big radio hit had it come out during their classic period. It also got an ovation from the crowd that is usually reserved for songs they already know. A very good sign.
From there we went to more familiar territory with energized renditions of Styx gems like Blue Collar Man, The Grand Illusion, Lady, Crystal Ball, Fooling Yourself, Miss America, Too Much Time on My Hands, and Come Sail Away. The encore featured Rockin’ the Paradise and the Shaw-penned rocker Renegade, which regularly closes the band’s performances.
There are so many great songs in the band’s catalogue that some appear in some tours and not others. In these two shows we were treated to
Light Up (sung by Young) and Suite Madame Blue from 1975’s Equinox. The latter classic helped make the band a household name in Canada before it even hit it big in their native U.S. Another treat, particularly for Canadian fans of Styx keyboardist Lawrence Gowan (who has been in the band since 1999 was his own signature song, Criminal Mind, which Styx has made its own with an inspired arrangement. Gowan also had the funniest line of the night on Friday when he said, “This is the second most fun I’ve ever had in a parking lot in Quebec.”
There are so many things that set Styx apart from other bands of their era. But what continue to stand out are great songwriting, great musicianship, and electrifying showmanship. These guys put their audience first at all times. As Gowan said backstage in Trois-Rivières, they understand that getting music fans to come out to a concert is no small thing these days, and it is incumbent on the band to ensure that they hear the songs they love and see a show that they won’t forget. And Styx always delivers.
It is also worth mentioning the essential contribution of Todd Sucherman to Styx. The youngest member of the band has gained a deserved reputation for being one of the best drummers in all of rock. (He replaced original drummer John Panozzo, who died in 1996.) Styx’s original bass player Chuck Panozzo (John’s brother) joined the band on stage for three songs in Pointe Claire, as he often does, while Ricky Phillips did his usual superb job handling the rest of the bass duties, backing vocals, and some guitar.
But what makes the Styx experience even more special for those who have loved the band for many years is that they can still produce first-rate new material that is completely at home alongside their many great songs and albums of the past. Backstage at Thursday’s show, Shaw addressed a question about whether there will be more new music to come by saying that the band is continuing to write new songs all the time. So maybe we won’t have to wait 14 years for the next one, particularly with the success (both on the album charts and among rock critics) of The Mission.
It is also worth noting that this album really brings Gowan to a new level within Styx. While the creative leader of the new project was clearly Shaw, it is evident from Gowan’s contribution to the album that he is a major force in the band along with long-time vocalists and songwriters Shaw and Young. This album, more than any they’ve done since the 1980s, is an example of all the members of the band pulling in the same direction. The results are sure to gain a whole new legion of fans for this talented musical unit.
As we saw in Pointe Claire, this group never goes through the motions; they always convey to the audience that there is nothing they would rather be doing than what they are doing at that moment. And nowhere they’d rather be doing it.
I’m already looking forward to next time.
Craig McKee is a Montreal journalist, political commentator, and