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Concert review: Styx lights up Scottsdale crowd

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Styx in concert, January 18, 2014, Scottsdale, AZ


When it’s the middle of January and it’s 75 degrees outside without a cloud in the sky, many would consider that paradise. And who is any better to be rockin’ in paradise than Styx? On Saturday night, January 18, 2014, at the Talking Stick Resort Grand Ballroom in Scottsdale, Styx kept a sold out crowd on their feet for just over ninety minutes with a well-received set list that included seven top 30 singles.

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It’s laughable to hear someone describe Styx as a soft rock band. Usually that opinion is based on someone who knows the band only for “Babe,” or “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” or has listened to only the first half of the song “Come Sail Away.” But seeing Styx live with the constantly screaming duel lead guitars of Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young coupled with the solid rhythm section comprised of ex Baby’s and Bad English bass player Ricky Phillips and frantic drum playing Todd Sucherman, will dispel that notion. These guys still rock and rock hard.

It’s safe to say that now into its fifteenth year, the Larry Gowan for Dennis DeYoung experiment has worked. Gowan dazzled with his finger work, whether facing his keyboard or not. When his keyboard was not in use, Gowan bounded about on stage and delivered top notch vocals. Clearly his energy meshed well with that still found in Young and Shaw. The 1600 people in attendance, which sounded more like 16,000, would certainly agree.

Added to the stage for this year’s Styx performance at Talking Stick was a panel of LED lights spread across the back of the stage which helped compliment songs. Whether it was a myriad of clocks for “Too Much Time on My Hands,” or the red, white and blue found in Old Glory, for “Miss America,” the background raised the level of concert experience to more than that normally found in standard casino shows.

From the stage setting, to the volume of the audience, to the energy of the band, although the concert was held in a smaller venue, the whole night had an arena rock feel to it.

With well-known tunes, “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “The Grand Illusion,” and “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” starting out the night, the audience was psyched up from the get go, singing, dancing and clapping along. Shaw’s vocals excelled and the harmonies you’d expect to hear from Styx were spot on.

Young and Shaw exchanged hot guitar solos while Phillips was often seen playing on the raised platform behind and above Sucherman. The energy, both onstage and in the audience was high.

It never let up. Young introduced a song Styx hadn’t performed in Arizona for over 30 years by coaxing the audience to raise their Bics if they had them, but cellphones if they didn’t, for “Light Up.” The crowd eagerly complied.

Shaw acknowledged that those on stage and in the audience had made it through their “crazy period,” although all still may have some crazy left. He then launched into a not all that crazy, but vocally stunning “Man in the Wilderness.” Shaw’s vocal range was amazing.

When it was James Young’s turn to take center stage he didn’t disappoint. The grit found in the lyrics of “Miss America” was emphasized by the anger in Young’s vocals. JY’s guitar solo was equally as maniacal.

Gowan was more than okay singing “I’m OK.” When the song reached the part where Shaw asks for “everyone sing,” the audience did. They were more than okay too.

Shaw mused that “sometimes you walk the dog and sometimes the dog walks you.” As an illustration, everyone was back up and properly doing the double hand clap for “Too Much Time On My Hands.” The audience’s singing of the chorus was almost deafening. Clearly the dog was walking the audience.

The crowd’s classic rock knowledge was put to the test with Gowan’s classic rock sing along medley. They passed with more than flying colors. Gowan could barely sing out the first line to “Sweet Dreams,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “Black Dog,” before the audience sang the follow up lyrics.

“Come Sail Away,” closed the regular set. As the song reached its epic second part, Gowan left his keyboard and danced around the stage, smoke was introduced from the side of the stage and the audience not only stood, but with arms raised, emphasized every “come sail away,” with a forward thrust of their hand.

Styx appeased the frenzied crowd by coming back for a two song encore. The band’s harmonies still held strong for “Rockin’ the Paradise,” and “Renegade.” The big arena feel of the night continued as streamers and confetti were blown into the audience. Shaw, Young and Phillips did the necessary choreography required when three guitarists get close together and rock back and forth. Everyone it seemed, had their crazy left.

If there was one omission from the set list that would have been welcomed, it was a newer Styx song, “One With Everything,” a prerecorded version which was used as background music when the band did their farewell bows and front row handshakes. Check out the video for the song on YouTube and you’ll see that Styx’s best songs are not necessarily all from the 1970’s and 80’s.

As the many people from Chicago in the audience will attest, a winter’s day in Scottsdale can be close to paradise. As the band from Chicago showed, Styx can still be rockin’ in paradise.

Set list: Blue Collar Man (Long Nights) | The Grand Illusion | Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) | Lady | Light Up | Man In the Wilderness | Miss America | I’m OK | Crystal Ball | Too Much Time on My Hands | Lawrence Gowan Classic Rock Medley (Layla/Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)/You Can’t Always Get What You Want/Black Dog/ Fat Bottomed Girls/Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) | Come Sail Away | Encore: Rockin’ the Paradise | Renegade