First Council Hotel & Casino
By Jeb Wright
Photo by K.C. Wright
The Grand Illusion | Too Much Time on My Hands | Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) | Lady | Light Up | Man in the Wilderness | Miss America | Hallelujah | Crystal Ball | I Am the Walrus | Suite Madame Blue | Blue Collar Man (Long Nights) | Medley: You Can’t Always Get What You Want/Bohemian Rhapsody/ Golden Slumbers/Come Said Away
Rockin’ the Paradise | Renegade
STYX is one of those bands… you know, the kind of band that has way more hits than most bands can handle. There is no way any venue could afford to pay them to play long enough to get them all in. They are also one of those bands who are missing a very key member… in this case it is Dennis DeYoung. The split between DDY and the rest of STYX is very well documented. If you don’t know what went down then go watch the Behind the Music episode and catch up with the rest of the world. Just know, for the last decade and half or so Lawrence Gowan has been in the band on keyboard and vocals and he does a great job. In fact, he is pretty much the focal point for much of the show.
STYX is also one of those bands that plays, and does not play, what they want, or don’t want to play. In this version of the band that means massive hits like “Babe,” “Mr. Roboto” and “Show Me the Way” do not make an appearance. It also means epic album cuts like “Man in the Wilderness” and “Suite Madame Blue” get trotted out. It means that the band also throws in “I Am the Walrus” by the Beatles and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or snippets of classics by Queen and the Rolling Stones. In other words, in 2017, STYX does what they want… yet they do so with their many legions of fans in mind.
They craft a set that starts high, dips down a bit, allows for some fun and then rocks your ass off and leaves you smiling. “The Grand Illusion” is a powerful classic that introduces Gowan in a big way to any STYX fan still living under a rock in the 1970s. Right away one realizes this band is a harder rocking band than the 1980s may want one to remember. They also have pop-friendly tunes as Tommy Shaw delivers on “Too Much Time on My Hands.” This one see the blonde-haired cutie-pie play the original solo note perfect and then add some harder licks as the song ends. “Fooling Yourself” is just a damn fine song that I never tire of hearing or seeing performed live. Shaw and Gowan own this song.
“Lady” was the first hit tune for STYX and they perform it well. JY Young and Shaw play the two simple, but separate guitar parts while Gowan struts his stuff on his spinning keyboard stand. The vocals are impeccable as Shaw still hits the high note that got him his job in the band. STYX entire performance is a testament to their talent. While no one will walk away thinking they have seen the best technical players in the world, they will walk away knowing the vocal skills this band possesses are pretty amazing. The songwriting skills, whether by the men on stage, or DeYoung, are top notch and range from ballad, to pop, to hard rock epic. STYX is a band that can back up anything they ever did and then some while on stage. They look the part, they perform the part and they drive the energy of the room to wherever they want it to be.
“Light Up,” “Man in the Wilderness” and “Miss America” are throwbacks to the hardcore STYX fans, who appreciate being remembered in a set list that covers 40+ years. Gowan and Shaw did a vocally impressive take on the classic Leonard Cohn song “Hallelujah” followed by Shaw pumping out the song that made him a fan favorite for the first time in the band “Crystal Ball.” After a very impressive Beatles remake of “The Walrus”, described by Gowan as perhaps the “first prog rock song recorded” the band went into the musical highlight of the evening, “Suite Madame Blue.” This song, on a political front, is very apropos right now. This song is a classic from the album Equinox, which pre-dates Shaw’s time in the band. Considering only Young remains from this classic album, STYX really nailed the tune. The spotlight went from Gowan on vocals and keyboards to Young and Shaw on guitars as the crowd dug the ‘70s rocker vibe.
The main set ended with Shaw’s hardest rocking tune “Blue Collar Man” followed by Gowan teasing the crowd with a few classic rock staples before playing the intro to STYX most iconic song “Come Sail Away.” Even those who say they hate this song are guilty of cranking this one up in the car and singing along when no one is looking! The hook on this sucker is infectious. The keyboard and guitar interplay is outstanding and when Tommy and JY kick it up at the end the crowd can’t help but go wild. It is the perfect way to end a main set!
After a bit of coaxing from the sold out crowd, who were giving STYX a standing ovation, the band returned for a two-song punch that left the crowd energized. “Rocking the Paradise” from 1981’s Paradise Theater got ‘em dancing in the aisles while “Renegade” got the 50-something’s thinking it was 1978 all over again as they sang along with the acapella opening.
At the end of the day, STYX came to a small town casino and earned their paycheck. They are very professional performers. One would not be able to easily detect if they were passionate or just going through the motions, but on this night, there were plenty of smiles on stage. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. Musically, the only time they didn’t sound like the recorded version was when they were adding extra guitar solos.
Were the qualities of Dennis DeYoung’s original voice missed and his theatrical presence? Of course they were. Does Gowan do an amazing job in his place? Hell yeah… he is a solid rock performer in a rock band. The bottom line here is that this is STYX in the modern day and the hardcore fans pissing and moaning about what once was does little good. Accept that this is the way it is and leave it at that. The chemistry of this band is spot-on. If DeYoung brings his band close I will be there as well, as he is just as strong in a live setting, but in a different way. Dennis was, however, not the man on the marquee this night. Tonight it said “STYX.” I don’t need to judge it… I just need to sit back and listen.
I would be doing a disservice to this band to state that STYX is a really good band…The truth is more like the band STYX is STILL a really good band. The fellas on this stage played their asses off and I suppose that is all that matters.