By Adam Waldman
Forty years ago, I sat with a childhood friend in his older sister’s room, mesmerized by the magic of The Grand Illusion. That afternoon, I became a Styx fan. The band has been a part of my life ever since.
Twenty years later, in 1997, I had the chance to meet the band when they were visiting their record label. There’s always a risk in meeting your childhood heroes that they won’t live up to expectations, but that wasn’t the case at all when I met Styx.
Having seen them perform live on a number of occasions, I hatched a plan to fly across the country to propose to my (then) girlfriend on stage during the song “Paradise.” The request was politely declined by the band, but I understood that adding elements to a precision show is not something that is easily done. Still, my wife and I danced to the song as one of our first dances when we were married a few years later.
Styx has not only been a major part of the soundtrack of my youth, but my adulthood as well.
There aren’t many bands that my wife and I are both passionate enough about to see under any circumstance, but Styx is certainly one of them. To say that seeing their recent show (with REO Speedwagon and Don Felder on the “United We Rock” tour) took place in less-than-ideal conditions would be an understatement.
After dealing with a day’s worth of personal drama leading up to the show, we then had to deal with heavy rain at Bethel Woods (a place that is not only one of my favorite venues, but one of favorite places to be in general).
With no umbrella or raincoat, I stood on line in the rain, drenched to the bone, but I just smiled because I was about to see one of my favorite bands perform for the first time in a handful of years. All of the day’s drama, and the uncomfortable feeling of wet clothes, washed away long before Styx even took the stage.
Having seen the “History of the Eagles” tour in the same venue a few years back, my expectations for Don Felder were fairly low. Felder was a pleasant surprise, with a totally different type of show than the Eagles. Many of the songs that he played were also played during the aforementioned tour, but with little energy.
Felder, and his outstanding band, reminded me just how good Eagles music can be when performed with passion. With a more lighthearted, fun stage presence than the Eagles, Felder’s set seemed to breeze by quickly. The audience appreciated his lively performance, which set the tone perfectly for Styx.
Although I’ve seen Styx a number of times through the years, this was the first time seeing the band with Lawrence Gowan in Dennis DeYoung’s role. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine seeing the band without DeYoung, but Gowan is so talented, that you instantly forget that he hasn’t always been a part of the band.
In fact, you can argue Gowan’s boundless energy has infused Styx with a shot of adrenaline that helps to fuel their high-energy brand of rock and roll. The chemistry couldn’t have been better between Gowan and the rest of the band; neither could the pristine vocal harmonies.
With a treasure trove of hits in their catalog, Styx chose to open their show with “Gone Gone Gone” off of The Mission, the first studio album from the band in 14 years. Gowan looked like a man possessed, oozing showmanship and charisma, proving that age is nothing more than a number. His infectious stage presence never waned from the opening song to the final encore.
Gowan alone would have been worth the price of admission, but he’s only part of the Styx equation. Tommy Shaw, who never seems to age, was as brilliant as ever, both as a guitar player and as a singer.
Shaw took the crowd on a journey back in time to his childhood, describing how he wrote his first song at the age of five. After a bit of self-deprecating humor, Shaw launched into “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).”
All of the songs from the band’s heyday took the audience on a beautifully nostalgic journey to a time and place when life was simpler and (often times) more fun.
When you’re among a crowd of thousands kindred spirits, many of whom grew up with Styx, you might expect only the classics to get an enthusiastic reaction. However, because the band is so good in a live setting, even the new songs were met with fervor.
One of the unexpected highlights of the evening was hearing Styx performing their latest single, “Radio Silence.” Released in 2017, the song sounds like it could have been a lost track off of The Grand Illusion.
Another shining moment from the evening was Gowan’s medley of “Kehdive” (off of The Mission), Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the Beatles’ classic, “Golden Slumbers,” before delving into an inspired version of “Come Sail Away” to close the show.
It can be risky when the band turns the mic to the crowd, but the crowd singing “Come Sail Away” in unison was something to behold. No amount of rain could dampen the spirits of a passionate audience in one of the best, most historic, venues in the world.
As the saying goes…all good things must come to an end. Styx returned for a spirited rendition of “Rockin’ The Paradise” as the first encore. Then, in one of the most impressive and dynamic segues that I’ve ever experienced during a concert, the band transitioned from an upbeat tempo right into the slower, moodier vocal intro of “Renegade,” which eventually brought the house down when it kicked into high gear.
Aside from wanting to hear more (as I always do during a Styx show), the band delivered everything that any fan could possibly want. They are simply as good as they have ever been, and that is no small feat.
Needless to say, following Styx is not an enviable position to be in. REO Speedwagon had some shining moments, especially towards the end of their set, but on this evening, Styx stole the show.