Tuesday 4th June 2019
The American band Styx has been going since 1972, and as is typical of a group with this kind of longevity, has gone through several line-up changes. It was eight years ago since they last played London at the Wembley Arena in a bill that included Journey and Foreigner on precisely the same day, but tonight they’ve opted for the 2,200 seater historic grade II listed London Palladium, to a sell-out crowd with just themselves on the bill.
Unusually, their performance is divided into two parts with an interval in the middle, but when you have 22 songs in your set list, this is probably a sensible idea. Appropriately they open up with the song 'Gone, Gone, Gone' which contains the opening line “Light it up, let’s get this show on the road…” This introduces newcomers (including this reviewer) to the band and what they are about: vocal duties are shared amongst Lawrence Gowan, the keyboardist, and the two lead guitarists, Tommy Shaw and James ‘J.Y.’ Young, who intermittently take lead or harmonise together, all accompanied by an accomplished bassist in Ricky Phillips.
Everything about this Pop Prog-Rock group is Epic: the sound, the vocals, the playing, the venue, the set-list and the ambition of their latest album, 'Mission' released in 2017. The only thing that is relatively understated is the set scenery which doesn’t rely on too many pyrotechnics/ lighting effects other than a revolving keyboard stage that the keyboardist, Lawrence Gowan, energetically jumps about on and twirls around. The thing that struck me for the first three tracks, which included the classics 'Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)' and 'The Grand Illusion' was the quality of the drumming. Todd Sucherman has the musicality and fluidity of a Jazz drummer, but who still has the power required for Rock music. I wasn’t surprised later to learn in one of the conversational interludes from Tommy Shaw, that he had been voted number one Rock Drummer in the World by Modern Drummer Magazine.
On ballads like 'Lady', Lawrence Gowan can replicate the tenor of original founder member Dennis De Young, whom he stood in for when ill in 1999, and has since replaced (subject to much fall-outs and legal wrangling if you believe what you read in the music press). Shaw reminds the audience that the band was an Album-Orientated Rock group who were a staple of AOR 70’s radio stations before launching into the vocals for 'Radio Silence' a title from 'Mission', a concept album about a man-mission to Mars in 2033! Next up, James ‘J.Y.’ Young reveals the influence in 1967 of The Who and Pete Townsend, in him buying a Fender Stratocaster, before encouraging the crowd to turn on the torches of their phones (fuel lighters not allowed anymore he points out!) for the track 'Light Up' which he leads on. Shaw shows his versatility when he follows with the mood-changing 'Boat On A River', which he plays on a mandolin; a song that was number 1 in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Israel.
'Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)' provides an opportunity to bring on the original bassist Charles Panozzo, who only plays on occasional tracks (yes that’s right two leads and two bassists on stage now – told you everything they do is epic). We’re reminded of the pedigree of the bassist Ricky Phillips, who had played with The Babys, Bad English and Coverdale/Page, before they break into the upbeat 'Rockin’ the Paradise'. Then came the soaring dual lead guitars on the track 'Suite Madame Blue', whose overall effect was like witnessing one of those Rock super-groups of yore and was this reviewer’s pick of the evening and a fitting end to part one.
If this wasn’t enough part two comprised of ten more classic songs, including a crowd singalong of 'State Street Sadie'/'Bohemian Rhapsody'/Don't Look Back In Anger'. At this point, Gowan had everyone in the palm of his hand, and an encore that included the 1983 hit 'Mr Roboto' with its 80's synthesiser stylings and baroque arrangement. The only glaring omission from the set-list was the global hit 'Babe'. All in all, It was just as well Sucherman had previously drummed with “Spinal Tap” because on this night Styx had cranked up the knob to eleven!
Ivan De Mello