As Styx rolled into town with their 2016 Tour, and as all the bikers were gassing up their hogs for the long weekend of Rock-N-Roll at the inlet and pretty much everywhere else in town, I was putting air in my bicycle tires, (yes, bicycle and air) so I could pedal my way down the boardwalk to the concert. Damn, it’s nice to have some great entertainment right here in our town and especially the inlet and looking out at the amazing Atlantic ocean on a Harvest Moon weekend. I have been to other Bikefests here over the years but this was the most people I have ever seen at any. The entertainment tent was packed, they had video screens hanging outside the tent so the people in the lot could see from all over and the picnic table area on the beach was packed. I'm sure the Styx headlining concert was a huge draw. The only bad thing was that for all those thousands of people out there, they did not accommodate for the restroom facilities. The lines were brutal and I wouldn't have wanted to wait and miss any of the show. I sure hope they bring in more for our "Sunfest" this weekend.
As the bright red Harvest Moon started to rise over the ocean, Styx took the stage with Todd Sucherman on drums coming on first followed by James "JY" Young and Tommy Shaw on guitar and vocals, Lawrence Gowan on keyboards and vocals and Ricky Philips on bass as the band opened with "The Grand Illusion", "Too Much Time on My Hands" and "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”, after which James, Tommy and Ricky gathered at the front of the drum riser and slowly walked to the front of the stage where they gave a great photo-op for the fans and threw guitar picks to the crowd. And Lawrence, on his custom rotating kit, spun the keyboard around as he played it frontwards and backwards which he did throughout the evening. After a "Hello Ocean City Maryland" from Tommy, the next song, "Lady", is instantly recognized from the crowd and is an instant sing-a-long as pretty much the rest of the set was through the night. James now addresses the crowd by saying, "I know everybody has a cell phone so get them out and "Light Up", before it’s Tommy's turn on an acoustic guitar for a blistering "Man in the Wilderness".
Now, time for James customary song as he takes over on lead vocals on "Miss America" where Ricky climbs a few stairs that are located on each side of the stage that lead to a platform that goes from side to side behind Todd's drum kit. Here Ricky enjoys the spotlight from a different perspective, also visited by Young and Shaw at times. For the first time I have ever seen the band do this, Tommy honored David Bowie by playing "Space Oddity", before morphing into one of my all-time favorites "Crystal Ball". Wow! A band like Styx that has enough hits to play a three-plus-hour show took on another cover with Lawrence's incredibly powerful vocals on the Beatles "I Am the Walrus", another song I've never seen them play but was so close to the original it was amazing. Next, another one of my favorites, "Snowblind", with James starting the song in a strong baritone voice, followed by "Lights" and "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)". As James addressed the crowd earlier about their cell phones, I can only think back to the early days when it was lighters that the crowd used; to now, as the show goes on, that's all I see and I wonder how many will end up on you-tube.
To close out their first set, like most shows, Lawrence takes over on keyboard duty and talks about past heroes he grew up with and admiring Elton John with a snippet of "Rocket Man", Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and says, since we are here looking out at that beautiful ocean, why not a little Otis Redding "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" before launching into "Come Sail Away". Everyone in the crowd is singing along and toasting and cheering one another, as the band walks off the stage. Looking around, I'm thinking beer sales are up. Funny but when I hear and think of that song I always think that I saw Styx on that "Grand Illusion Tour" in 1977 opening up for Aerosmith at the now demolished, but with so many concert memories, Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pa.
As the crowd begins to chant “Styx”, the band returns to give them a little more of what they want, As the opening chords to "Rockin' the Paradise" begin, James, Tommy and Ricky once again strut to the front of the stage for that rock-star pose and more guitar picks begin to fly to the crowd. For the closer, it’s the bass drum beat and the band hand claps that launch into the vocals of "Renegade", where James and Tommy get into a little guitar duel to finish their set.
One little disappointment is that at this show original bassist Chuck Panozzo did not make the show. He's been part time in the band since 2001 due to health problems but I have seen him play at a few shows over the years and to see him again on stage would have been a nice treat. But I respect his health and wish him nothing but the best in the future.
Styx is on tour through 2016 with some dates close to us; so if you have the time and can catch them, go and treat yourself to a concert that won’t disappoint. They are an example of why the older bands are still around and playing as long as they have. The band just seems to have fun onstage interacting and feeding off each other. I know I always look forward to seeing them live. Check out their website for more info at styxworld.com
– Gary Crouthamel, concert photojournalist