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REVIEW: Styx Continues Their Mission To Rock The World at Celebrity Theatre (1-10-20)

PHOENIX— This day had a solemn beginning as the news announced that the legendary drummer for Rush, Neil Peart, had passed away. Styx keyboardist Lawrence Gowan took the opportunity to pay tribute to his fellow Canadian musician by singing and playing a beautiful acoustic piano cover of “Limelight”. The lyrics pulled at the heartstrings and the chords and melody were hauntingly mesmerizing. As the song faded and commiserating fans’ cheers resounded, Gowan declared, “Thank you for one of the greatest drummers and certainly one of the all-time greatest lyricists, Neil Peart.” This was a highlight of the evening and made this particular show very special. 

Drummer Todd Sucherman provided a link to a fan’s video on Facebook and wrote:

The show kicked off on a high note as the song “Gone, Gone, Gone” electrified the theater-in-the-round. This song also opens the latest Styx studio album, The Mission, which was released two and a half years ago and put Styx back on the radio as it rose to 45 on the Billboard 200. There was no opening act, so Styx had time to unleash all of the “classics” and still sprinkle in a few more songs from The Mission: “Radio Silence”, “Red Storm”, “The Outpost”, and the classically influenced “Khedive” piano piece. Veteran guitarist James “JY” Young hinted at the fact that there may be new Styx music coming our way in 2020. The die-hard Styx fans were thrilled to hear this, but everyone went wild when they launched into the evening of hits, beginning with that classic Hammond organ intro to “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights).”

| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Most bands have a “lead” singer, but at a Styx show, the lead vocals (and bantering duties) are shared between the three frontmen in the band: guitarist Young (original member since the inception of the band in 1972), guitarist Tommy Shaw (who replaced John “J.C.” Curulewski in 1975), and keyboardist Gowan (who replaced Dennis DeYoung in 1999). Replacing DeYoung meant filling some big shoes, since his iconic voice and hit songwriting abilities were equally as important as his talent on the keys. But for the past twenty years, Gowan has held his own with studio albums and touring worldwide. Gowan’s keyboard and vocal skills were put to the test with the next pair of songs penned by DeYoung: “The Grand Illusion” and “Lady.” The keyboards were spot-on. The vocals were noticeably different from DeYoung’s, but very strong, confident, and blended wonderfully with signature Styx harmonies.

Lawrence Gowan (Vocals, Keyboard), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The original rhythm section of Styx was comprised of twin brothers Chuck and John Panozzo on bass and drums respectively. Tonight, Chuck would make several guest appearances, but it was Ricky Phillips on the Imola 5-string bass for most of the evening. Phillips was was best known as the bassist for The Babys and later a founding member of Bad English, but then joined the band in 2003. Chuck is still a current member of Styx, but he has limited his playing time due health issues related to HIV. Sucherman has held the drum throne since 1995, taking over for John Panozzo, who was battling cirrhosis of the liver and subsequently passed away in 1996. Gowan introduced Sucherman and mentioned that his mother was in the audience that night, and also dropped a bit of trivia that last year, Modern Drummer Magazine listed him as the number one Classic Rock Drummer in the World.

Todd Sucherman (Drums), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Danny Zelisko had Styx here at the Celebrity Theatre exactly one year ago for a two-night stand and welcomed them back tonight and tomorrow night to do it again. Last year, both nights appeared to be sold out; tonight, there were only a handful of seats that seemed to be open. It is such an intimate venue for seeing a band, and the sound is always crisp and clear. The rotating stage allows more people to feel closer to the front of the stage. The novelty wears off at times when the stage is facing away during a favorite song, but Styx did a pretty good job of running around the stage when they weren’t stationed to a microphone. One notable exception was on the song “Red Storm”, when the stage stopped rotating for the whole song, presumably because Phillips was perched up high on a riser behind the drum set (author’s note – of course, they were facing the other direction from me for this whole song).

As the stage got its groove back, JY stepped up to the mic to introduce the next song. He reminisced about the old days of lighting lighters for certain songs, but conceded that there were dangers. “We can approximate that with the cell phone camera light…” he said, “…Let’s approximate the way those stars might look and LIGHT IT UP EVERYBODY!” It was exhilarating to be immersed in a sea of LED lights throughout the entire theater as the band broke into “Light Up,” one of only two songs played from the Equinox album from 1975 (the other one was “Suite Madame Blue” to top off the first set).

James “JY” Young (Guitar, Vocals, Keys), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Chuck Panozzo made his first appearance on stage during “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).” He had played the powerful yet simple quarter notes on this Tommy Shaw anthem from The Grand Illusion Album released on 7-7-77. The crowd gave a very warm welcome as Shaw introduced him as “Our original bass player, Mr. Charles Panozzo,” and he stepped into the stage lights looking dapper in a navy blue sports jacket and wielding a black Rickenbacker bass. Instead of leaving the stage, Phillips picked up a double-necked guitar with a 12-string and a 6-string neck and joined in on the massive sound.

Ricky Phillips (Bass, Guitar, Vocals), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

There was a brief 20-minute break before the second set. There was a fundraiser with a giveaway guitar benefiting Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation that was introduced by Tim and NeanderPaul from KSLX radio station.

The second set contained some of the usual suspects from the vault of hit songs, including “Come Sail Away,” “Too Much Time On My Hands,” “Miss America,” and the definitive power ballad “Crystal Ball.” There were also brief reminders to pick up the newest album, which featured “The Outpost” and “Khedive,” but the song that was a pleasant surprise for the evening was the title track from Pieces of Eight. This song is a fan favorite, but was overshadowed by “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” from that album and was not released as a single. Noticeably absent from the setlist was anything from the Cornerstone album, including their only number one single, “Babe” nor anything from Edge of the Century (“Love is the Ritual” nor “Show Me The Way”, which charted at number three).

Tommy Shaw (Guitar, Vocals), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The song “Mr. Roboto” had been absent from the setlist for many years although it also charted at number 3. This wasn’t surprising since it may be the defining song that put a rift in the band dynamic. More importantly, it polarized fans into either the rocker camp that thought of Styx in terms of “Renegade” and “Miss America,” or the pop music camp that thought of Styx in terms of “Babe” and “Best of Times.” Fortunately, there is a lot of crossover (or at least no hostilities that lead to disowning the band). What caused more controversy was when the song returned to the setlist a little over a year ago, even though DeYoung wasn’t there to petition for it. The live version is a little amped up, and the good news is that it was well received by fans, finding its way into the coveted encore position.

However, there was still one song left that even “Mr. Roboto” couldn’t upstage and that was the aforementioned “Renegade.” This is the song that starts with soft and haunting vocal by Shaw: “Oh mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law.” At this point, everyone’s hand raised to their chest as they mimicked the heart beats that still echo to this day from John Panozzo’s kick drum. There was even a wash of red light over the massive drum set that kept time with these beats. Another line. More heartbeats. Silky three-part harmony for the next line. More heart beats as more of the crowd joined in. More harmonies. One beastial scream and the crowd was in the proverbial palm of their hands as the hardest rocking song of the Styx catalog closed the show.

Styx was flawless. The talent in the band is simply overwhelming. It is so hard for a band that is branded a “classic” rock band to be relevant in a world where “classic rock” stations won’t play anything new from their “classic rock” artist roster. Meanwhile, new rock stations tend to ignore new music from bands that are considered classics. Yet Styx has maintained a growing fan base by continuing to be road warriors and taking the music to every corner of the planet, continuing to write and record music that is true to their roots and diverse style. 

Check out The Mission to form your own opinion if you haven’t heard it yet. Here’s to great new music from them in 2020, and hopefully yet another return trip to the Valley of the Sun to see them again.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Styx – Celebrity Theatre 1-10-20


    Set 1

  • Gone, Gone, Gone
  • Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
  • The Grand Illusion
  • Lady
  • Radio Silence
  • Snowblind
  • Red Storm
  • Light Up
  • Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
  • Rockin’ the Paradise
  • Suite Madame Blue
  • Set 2

  • Miss America
  • Crystal Ball
  • Pieces of Eight
  • The Outpost
  • Too Much Time On My Hands
  • Khedive
  • Limelight (Piano/Vocal Tribute To Neil Peart)
  • Come Sail Away
  • Encore:

  • Mr. Roboto
  • Renegade

Photography © Mark Greenawalt
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Styx Rocking In The Round, Their First Night at Celebrity Theatre (1-11-19)

PHOENIX — Celebrity Theatre was a fitting venue for the return of Styx to the Valley for a two night engagement on January 11th and 12th. Located at 32nd Street and Fillmore, the legendary theatre in the round has hosted the cream of music royalty since it first opened as the Phoenix Star Theatre in 1964. The unique circular, rotating stage and intimate atmosphere have made the Celebrity a staple music hall in Phoenix for nearly six decades. Not one seat in the venue is more than 70 feet from the stage.

The show on January 11th started a little late, most likely a result of the parking delays. The line of cars snaking southbound down the right lane of 32nd street moved at a snail’s pace leading up to the entrance. Folks of all stripes were milling around the theater, ordering drinks and chatting excitedly under the catwalk above the stage. Others lingered outside, chain smoking or vaping, listening for a sign to run back inside for the start of the concert.

From their humble Chicago beginnings in the early 1970’s, to their outlandish high production theatrical arena shows of the 80’s, Styx has been a familiar voice on the radio for generations, with a career spanning over half a century. As the first band to have four triple platinum albums in a row, they are an integral part of the soundtrack of many people’s lives. Their importance to rock music as a whole has been unfairly marginalized for years, and in the words of Julian ‘Frankenstein’ McGrath from Big Daddy (1999), only catching “a bad rap because most critics are cynical assholes.”

The current lineup includes veteran Tommy Shaw on lead guitar, with founding members James “J.Y.” Young and Chuck Panozzo on guitar and bass respectively, with Chuck performing on a more limited basis. Chuck’s twin brother and co-founding member of Styx, John Panozzo, originally played drums, but sadly died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1996. Since then, Todd Sucherman has been the band’s drummer. Playing backing guitar, bass, and vocals is Ricky Phillips of Bad English and The Babys, who joined the band in 2003. Vocalist and keyboard virtuoso Lawrence Gowan is a high-energy showman, but you would have to be in order to replace estranged former frontman Dennis DeYoung, as he did in 1999. A band with a history as rich as Styx merits such a historic venue as Celebrity Theatre.

The house lights suddenly dimmed, eliciting hoots and cheers from the audience. As soon as the spotlights kicked on, the band flew right into “Gone Gone Gone from their latest album The Mission, released in mid-2017. From the first frenzied notes played on the dueling guitars, the crowd was on their feet. Fans young and old danced in the aisles while others rushed to their seats, full beers in hand. The song does not sound at all unlike the old Styx — high-energy and fun.

Not a moment after the first tune ended, the iconic organ riff of “Blue Collar Man” sternly commanded the grateful crowd’s attention.  Each band member’s precision assured the crowd that Styx had not lost a step from their golden age.

Lawrence Gowan (Vocalist) and Ricky Phillips (Bassist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

Next was their hit “The Grand Illusion”, the title track from their 1977 album. Every flawless note rang out true to the recording, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that: Styx is a band that is perpetually on tour. According to the band themselves, they only take occasional breaks for short periods. Anybody touring that frequently is going to perform their catalogue masterfully.

After performing “Fooling Yourself,” Gowan spoke: “What a wonderful way to ring in the new year!” Standing at the foot of the stage, he remarked, “My, you’re all so close,” as he addressed the theater’s intimate layout.

The spotlight settled on him at the keyboard as and an iconic piano riff pierced the crowd, igniting their collective nostalgia. “Lady” is one of those songs that everyone imagines will be playing in the background when they lay their eyes on their soulmate for the first time. Again, it’s eerie how well Gowan embodies Dennis DeYoung, both vocally and instrumentally. It was not the first song the whole theater sang in unison, nor would it be the last.

Lawrence Gowan (Vocalist, Keyboardist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

When Shaw approached the mic, he explained the origins of their 16th album, The Mission, before introducing “Radio Silence” for the waiting ears of all in attendance. The opening synth has that instantly recognizable Styx DNA. That this was not a radio single is baffling. In fact, Shaw himself has expressed frustration with the neglect that great classic rock bands experience in the new age of the music industry. It is almost prophetic of the band that you cannot hear a song called “Radio Silence” on the radio. It is a fantastic track and deserves more attention.

The next tune was off of 1975’s Equinox. “Lorelei” seems like one of those songs that everyone knows but has no idea what it is called or who sings it, like an old friend you ate lunch with at work, but never learned their name. Young absolutely nails the lead vocals in place of DeYoung’s  studio recording. Another striking revelation was that the bands harmonies were pristine. These are men in their early to late sixties, the oldest being founding member Panozzo at seventy years old.

Ricky Phillips (Bassist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

Shortly after “Lorelei”, Shaw recalled a conversation he had with Young in 1975, and explained how he came to join the band. Taking Young up on his offer to come to Chicago, Shaw brought a song he had been working on. It was a great song, but “it wasn’t a Styx song” according to Young, who Shaw calls “The Godfather of Styx”. From that story, the audience learned how “Crystal Ball” was written, and Shaw was only too happy to demonstrate how beautiful his two-tone sunburst Fender 12-string acoustic sounds. With impeccable timing, a roadie hopped up onto the stage to hand over a Les Paul for the solo before swapping the Jumbo back for the outro.

As expected, the band played a couple more hits with “Light Up” and “Man in the Wilderness” before closing out the first half of the show with another anthem from the Paradise Theater album, “Rockin’ the Paradise.” It wasn’t long before the house lights came back up for a short intermission, when Young promised another hour of music after they returned.

The second half of the show kicked off with another Young-led hit from The Grand Illusion, “Miss America.” Styx is currently rehearsing for a special show in Las Vegas where they will play the entire The Mission album from start to finish. Fans attending this show were treated to a sampling of what is to come when they debuted six of those songs in order from the second half of the album. The suite of songs began with “Time May Bend” and continued through “The Outpost” and this night was the first time they had ever been performed live. They even welcomed the album’s producer and co-writer, Will Evankovich on stage to contribute to the instrumentation and vocals.

Tommy Shaw (Guitarist, Vocalist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

Eventually a roadie produced Shaw’s vintage Fender Electric XII and it’s a dead giveaway to the guitar-savvy fans that “Suite Madame Blue” was coming, and it was impeccably played from start to finish. Immediately after, the fans were finally treated to what many were waiting for… “Too Much Time On My Hands” (watch the Paul Rudd and Jimmy Fallon shot-for-shot remake) from 1981’s Paradise Theater. The maniacal keyboard part of the song is indicative of the genius that Dennis DeYoung endowed upon the group; however, this does not imply they are lacking anything from his departure. This band is so well-oiled that his absence is hardly noticeable.

As the applause died down, most of the band left the stage, but Gowan remained and took the spotlight to turn the venue into a “piano bar” with a pair of fantastic covers. The first was a phenomenally accurate rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” for the appreciative audience. The second cover was a beautiful recitation of the intricate operatic section of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and the entire crowd once again sang along to every word. They are truly a fortunate group to have stumbled across such a talented frontman. Gowan alone should be a major factor for anyone even considering going to a Styx show. He alone is absolutely worth the cost of admission.

Still alone on stage, Gowen started into the piano intro to possibly their most famous hit, Come Sail Away, which was also featured on The Grand Illusion. The band shuffled back out to bring it home and it seemed to be the perfect crescendo to end the show with, guitars blazing and fans jumping up and down. As the last note is struck from the guitars, and the last cymbal smashed, the band removed their straps and handed off their instruments to the roadies while they made their way off the stage before turning around amid the raucous applause and walking right back out for an encore.

To thunderous applause, they opened back up with “Mr. Roboto,” the drum fills echoing throughout the small space with noticeably fewer audience members, many of whom ran out to their vehicles when they believed the show was over. This is a big deal for one simple reason: They had never performed this song on stage with the full band before this tour. Previously, Dennis DeYoung had always sung a version of it with pre-recorded tracks. Once he left, the band abandoned it for the following decades. The fact that they are playing it as an encore now is kind of ironic.

James “J.Y.” Young (Guitarist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

The fitting final number of the evening was the signature rocker song “Renegade”, Shaw’s self-penned hit from 1979’s Pieces of Eight.

“Oh, mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law…”

The acapella opening lines beckoned the crowd once more to accompany the band, offering a fitting and crowd-unifying conclusion to a consistently powerful and nostalgic evening with a gargantuan pillar of classic rock. As any great performers are wont to do, Styx left the Phoenix audience delighted and fulfilled, yet eager for more. Fans might have had their thirst satiated if they bought tickets to the show the following night at the same venue. And if the rock gods will it, perhaps Arizona will be graced with a future performance from the legendary American musical mainstay.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Styx – Celebrity Theatre 1-11-19

Photography © Mark Greenawalt. All Rights Reserved