Styx at Artpark (2014)


One thing we learned during Styx’s latest stopover in Lewiston is that not even the great and powerful Tommy Shaw is immune to the pressures of a 24-hour news cycle.  He admitted as much when he took a moment to let everyone in on his recent foray into the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a social media sensation which has garnered as much attention for its self-promotional possibilities as it has for the cause itself.

Now, I’m all for donating and drawing awareness to a condition as devastating as ALS, but wouldn’t a quiet contribution via the USPS be just as effective?  Do we really need a litter of publicity hounds clogging up news feeds just so they can prove to the world that they’re not afraid of a short-lived body shock?

I’ll be sending money minus all the fanfare, but I can see why celebrities have capitalized on the movement’s momentum.  It gives them a cost-effective platform for spreading the word about whatever projects they have on the horizon as well as demonstrating how much they care for those afflicted with the disease.

The thing with Shaw is that we didn’t require any further evidence to support his character, because it’s right there in the music.  His magnetic demeanor and everyman songwriting have endeared us since he joined Styx back in 1975, so everything else he does is simply part of a late-career victory lap.

Shaw and the rest of his bandmates stopped at Artpark on the way last Tuesday night for a sold-out show mirroring the energized environment of their 2006 triumph which memorably coincided with the manhunt for convicted murderer Ralph “Bucky” Phillips.  I didn’t attend that show, but, having seen them last fall inside the Niagara Fallsview Casino, I can say with confidence that the 2014 incarnation of Styx is as talented and driven to excellence as any previous era.

“The Grand Illusion,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” lit the fuse early on by teasing the individual talents of each member just enough to get the crowd’s appetite whetted before the set’s main course was served.

By that, I mean the smorgasbord of ‘70s and ‘80s classics responsible for making Styx beloved by fans and loathed by a critical establishment often known for wearing misguided elitism on its sleeve.  I’m talking about “Man in the Wilderness,” “Crystal Ball,” and “Suite Madame Blue,” seismic compositions that even the haters can admit are worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as other gems from the era.

Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young thrust themselves into these arrangements with infinite stamina night after night, while Lawrence Gowan continues to prove why he was the ideal replacement following Dennis DeYoung’s departure in 1999.  His vocals are spot-on and he possesses analogous operatic instincts which have seamlessly crossed over into the Styx universe.

I wish he would’ve graced us with “A Criminal Mind,” a chilling confessional from his 1982 solo release “Strange Animal,” but that’s really the only quibble I have regarding what went down along the banks of the Niagara Gorge.

Bassist Ricky Phillips and drummer Todd Sucherman are fully entrenched in the fold by this point and comprise a ripping rhythm section able to hold the pieces together through every change of key.  Being the unsung faces of the group hasn’t impeded their ability to make an impression, especially when Phillips joins Shaw and Young for a few center stage photo-ops.

Styx knows what the fans want and do their best to meet all expectations with few surprises, so how much you derive from the experience depends on your level of affection for the band’s legacy going in.

What I will say about Artpark’s 2014 season overall is that not even a stellar, soft-ticketed lineup can weed out those choice concertgoers for whom being in the presence of various musical legends provides nothing more than a soundtrack for their own meandering, not-so-private conversations.  If you’re early enough to position yourself within the lower bowl, it’s an outdoor vibe difficult to top, but, if you’re on the pavement or beyond, the performance is no longer the sole force vying for everyone’s attention.








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