We caught Styx live for the third time this decade when the “Can’t Stop Rockin” Tour with REO Speedwagon and .38 Special – presented by VH1 Classic and Rock Band – rolled into Holmdel, New Jersey on June 24, 2009 for their much anticipated show at the PNC Arts Center. What quickly became apparent is that Styx – now a year shy of their fortieth anniversary – are a rock band still hitting on all cylinders and still winning over new fans.
The old guard and the new guys keep Styx going strong in 2009.
On this night Styx was headlining the rotating top spot they’ve been sharing with REO throughout the tour. The once competing acts both hail from the heartland state of Illinois and both pioneered a part of the multi-platinum A.O.R. rock sound that ruled the airwaves in the 70’s and 80’s. The former rivals first paired for their Arch Allies Tour in 2000 and again during the Classic Rock’s Main Event outing in 2003.
Now, for this occasion, Styx’s Tommy Shaw and REO’s Kevin Cronin have teamed up to provide a tour theme song of the same name that they have been playing as the show-stopping encore on every date of the road show so far. During the final number all the members of Styx and REO Speedwagon converge on stage for a rollicking and rockin’ tribute to rock and roll and their life on the road.
“Both bands have always tried to keep our ticket prices low so that none of our fans get left out,” Shaw said of the thousands of specially-priced tickets that have been made available for these concerts before adding, “It’s our own personal Rock ‘n’ Roll Stimulus package.”
The three-act concert was certainly stimulating and pleasing to all the senses and there was sights and sounds aplenty and a palpable energy was in the air as fans waited for Styx – Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, Lawrence Gowan, Todd Sucherman and Ricky Phillips – to take the stage.
When the lights went down the band came out strong with J.Y. leading a tight version of “Miss America” that was followed by a timeless take on Tommy’s “Too Much Time On My Hands”.
The de facto leaders of the modern day Styx traded off on lead vocals for “Grand Illusion” and “Lorelei” before yielding to “new guy” Lawrence Gowan for a Styx-ified version of the Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus”. Gowan is the member of Styx who has had the daunting task of taking the spot once held by Styx’s Dennis DeYoung – a fan favorite who left the band to pursue a solo career in the 90’s.
“Lawrence Gowan was someone that we had met and performed with in Montreal in 1996 – he had opened a show for us all by himself on piano and he was so good,” Styx’s Tommy Shaw reported to Kweevak’s Rockin’ Rich Lynch during a 2007 interview with Kweevak Radio. “He was getting the same kind of responses by himself that we were going to be getting a few moments later all by ourselves.”
Lawrence is a veritable solo star in his Canadian homeland and his considerable chops and charisma were on display for much of the evening as he was all over the stage – sharing backing vocal duties and fronting some numbers from his unique Styx-emblazoned rotating keyboard.
James “J.Y.” Young and Tommy Shaw on stage in Holmdel, New Jersey.
The other “new guys” in the band each brought their own unique talents to the high-paced show. Todd Sucherman on drums has been a sturdy force behind the kit and was recently recognized as best drummer in a reader’s poll by Modern Drummer magazine and was also acknowledged for his top-rated instructional DVD by the same publication. Ricky Phillips was steady on bass, vocals and guitar. Styx founder Chuck Panozzo – an AIDS activist and author in addition to four string – was also on hand for the final four numbers of the evening.
The “Can’t Stop Rockin” Tour was characterized by its professionalism and efficiency. Bands shared the same stage set up, drum riser, matching staircases and bass and guitar amp racking systems – making for a smooth and seamless transition from act to act. Each group shared the high-tech LED screens which wrapped the stage and allowed for the display of videos, photos and memories from all eras of their individual histories.
“We have had a long and illustrious career and to our credit it’s still moving along, and actually, we’re playing better than ever,” Shaw commented to Lynch during their radio interview. “The band is still on fire. We’ve always been driven to do our best. Since 1999, since we got the band back together, it’s like the fire’s got re-lit and it’s all about making it as good as we can every night.”
Just how serious does the band take the motto of their most recent tour?
“We got over that hump of wondering how long it will last. I think it will last until we say it isn’t there any more,” Shaw remarked concerning the band’s longevity and ongoing activity. “Our fans keep coming, we’ll ride this thing to our graves.”
What accounts for Styx’s continued success as a touring unit?
“The platinum albums and the friends that we made by going and playing everywhere in America that had electricity, you know, we made an impression on people that still resounds today,” Tommy continued acknowledging the rampant Styx fan base that still follows the band with great interest. “That’s why you and I are talking because the band is still vital and we still touch those pressure points with our fans.”
On this night, we brought our long-time friend, associate, musician and rock musicologist Ken with us to the show. Ken – a progressive rock specialist had never seen Styx before in a live setting and he reported that they were “great” and how he was “blown away” by the show.
It’s clear that the great band Styx “Can’t Stop Rockin” and we can only hope that they don’t stop rockin’ anytime soon!
Styx Set List:
“Too Much Time On My Hands”
“I Am The Walrus”
“Blue Collar Man”
“Suite Madame Blue”
“Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”
“Come Sail Away”
“Can’t Stop Rockin” (with REO Speedwagon)
Tommy Shaw talked to Kweevak Radio in 2007.