Music Review

Styx – In Concert – Live and Unzoomed. Duluth, Minnesota.

Styx Live at Amsoil Arena (From Left: Lawrence Gowan, Ricky Phillips, Will Evankovich [hidden], Chuck Panozzo, Todd Sucherman, James Young, Tommy Shaw

Duluth, Minnesota’s Amsoil Arena hosted a three-way throwback to the days of classic FM radio and MTV. Loverboy, Styx and REO Speedwagon took the stage Saturday, September 3rd, playing to a sold-out house. Billed as the “Live and Unzoomed Tour,” it was clear that each band and its members were overjoyed to be playing live music again, and the crowd responded in kind, song after song after song.

Beginning with Loverboy, followed by Styx and ending with REO Speedwagon, the crowd was treated to hit after hit. Whether it was Loverboy’s Mike Reno bringing the crowd into the chorus of “Lovin’ Every Minute Of It,” “Turn Me Loose” and “Working For The Weekend” or REO’s Kevin Cronin belting out “Take It On The Run,” “Ridin’ The Storm Out” and “Roll With The Changes,” the music and memories poured forth through the night.

Although Styx was the middle act, they proved a tough one to follow. Between the sound, lights, fog, song selection and pacing – and performances – the band was in top form. Considering the age of the members, they tore it up with an energy and vibe that made time seem irrelevant.

The band’s current lineup features founding member and guitarist James “J.Y.” Young, guitarist Tommy Shaw, bassist Ricky Phillips, guitarist Will Evankovich, drummer Todd Sucherman and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan. Although Shaw and Gowan handle most of the lead vocals, everyone chimes in on backing vocals from song to song. And it’s this mix of voices and guitar/keyboard arrangements that are the foundation of the Styx sound.

Opening with the vocal-rich and never-give-in message of “The Fight Of Our Lives,” they soon kicked into the Pieces Of Eight classic, “Blue Collar Man.” Its dense organ-driven chords, Shaw’s vocals and J.Y.’s guitar work made it one of the band’s several showstoppers.

“Lady” was another tune that pressed all the right buttons. Lawrence Gowan does an incredible job of singing Dennis DeYoung’s original lead parts. But it’s his irrepressible stage presence that really stands out. He never stops moving – whether singing, bounding around stage or spinning his keyboard stand. Gowan is a true showman in the style of Freddie Mercury and a huge asset to the band.

Styx at Amsoil Arena (From left: Lawrence Gowan, Ricky Phillips, Chuck Panozzo)

The guitar tones of Tommy Shaw and J.Y. are such an integral part of the Styx sound that it can be easy to take them for granted. Chunky, loud, in your face and sometimes just ferocious. They make songs such as “Blue Collar Man” and “The Grand Illusion” rock with such intensity. Young’s Fender-based leads and rhythms complemented perfectly Shaw’s Gibson-heavy sound.

Bassist Ricky Phillips is another high-energy performer who has been with the band nearly 20 years now, splitting bass duties here and there with original Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo. Before joining Styx, Phillips had stints with The Babys, Bad English and Coverdale-Page. The man knows rhythm and fits the band like a glove.

But, I did mention Chuck Panozzo.

About halfway into the set, Chuck took the stage and shared rhythm duties with Phillips. It was an unexpected surprise and one of the evening’s many great moments. It was really great to see him play, and I think it was Tommy Shaw who referred to him as “Sir Charles!”

But bass needs drums. And Styx is spoiled with the man wielding the sticks.

Drummer Todd Sucherman is a force of nature behind the kit. As a fellow drummer, it was a joy to watch him run through these songs with precision and power. Original Styx drummer John Panozzo created his share of memorable drum parts (“Come Sail Away” outro for example), and Sucherman kept the magic alive from start to finish. He is a whirlwind and one of the best.

Last but not least is the newest member of Styx, guitarist/vocalist Will Evankovich. His connections to the band go back many years when he toured with Tommy Shaw’s and Night Ranger’s Jack Blades, Shaw/Blades project. He has since produced Styx’ last two albums, The Mission and Crash Of The Crown, and became an official band member in 2021.

Back to the music…

Overall it was a well chosen set, with excellent pacing and contrast between songs. There were plenty of expected classics such as “Lady,” “Fooling Yourself” and “Come Sail Away,” along with a few tunes from the last two albums to give fans an idea of what the band has been up to. “Light Up,” from 1975’s Equinox album was a cool addition, as it was the last record to feature guitarist John Curulewski – Tommy Shaw would join the following year, and the rest is history. I only wish they had featured one of James Young’s gritty lead vocal tunes such as “Miss America” or “Great White Hope.” Maybe next time?

The band’s first encore – “Mr. Roboto” was met with thunderous applause. As the familiar lyric “Domo origato…” kicked in, the instruments and voices created a massive wall of sound while Japanese scripts lit up the lower stage lights. As many times as I’ve heard this song on LP, it pales to experiencing it live. It felt like being swept up into a “Thank You” vortex and gave me a taste of what the track must have sounded like when it was being recorded in the studio. Very powerful.

Styx Performing “Mr. Roboto” at Amsoil Arena: (From left: Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman, James Young, Tommy Shaw

And the evening’s closer “Renegade” had everyone on their feet, fists and beverages in the air, singing and celebrating. It was a scene I wouldn’t have guessed possible 45 years ago.

Styx (From left: Will Evankovich, Ricky Phillips, Chuck Panozzo, James Young, Tommy Shaw)

Bands that have held on as long as Styx are often accused of holding on too long. But this band’s trajectory is straight and strong. They recapture a golden age, yet still sound fresh. The smiles on their faces – and those in the audience – said it all. Rock music is back. Live and Unzoomed. Thank you Styx. Thank you Loverboy. Thank you REO Speedwagon. Or should I say, “Domo origato?” It’s been too long.

Setlist (9/3/2022)

  1. The Fight of Our Lives
  2. Blue Collar Man
  3. The Grand Illusion
  4. Lady
  5. Crash Of The Crown
  6. Light Up
  7. Sound The Alarm
  8. Rockin’ The Paradise
  9. Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
  10. Too Much Time On My Hands
  11. Khedive
  12. Lost At Sea
  13. Come Sail Away
  14. Mr. Roboto
  15. Renegade

Visit the official Styx website to keep up with all the band’s happenings.

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