Sunday, August 4, 2013

Styx concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

My review originally appeared at Photos by Kelly Swift. 

A couple hours before Styx's sold-out Pacific Amphitheatre show Friday night, people at different areas of the OC Fair could be overheard asking whether original lead vocalist Dennis DeYoung was still a member.

His acrimonious split from the band actually came in 1999.

Since then, longtime guitarist Tommy Shaw has fronted the band, alongside founding axe man and fellow singer James "J.Y." Young and others.

Earlier this year, Styx released the top-notch home video The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live via Eagle Rock Entertainment. Filmed in Memphis and shot in high-definition, it was culled from a 2010 tour during which they played both highly successful '70s LPs front to back. Highly recommended for diehard fans.

Last month, the group got some unintended publicity after the International Astronomical Union discovered and assigned a moon orbiting Pluto with the moniker Styx. (The name is derived from the river in Greek mythology separating Earth from Hades.)

How did the classic rock band fare in Costa Mesa? Really well, despite an initially loud, muddled mix that took several songs to adjust.

The bulk of the invigorating 95-minute set was culled from those aforementioned albums and performed with plenty of gusto. Shaw, Young and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan (above) all had a blast onstage, constantly interacted with one another, climbed atop a ramp behind the drums and shared lead vocal duties.

Styx launched its set in powerful style with "Blue Collar Man," while the calliope-style progressive rock melody of "The Grand Illusion," for which Gowan put his spinning instrument to good use, was a perfect fit for the fair. Original bassist Chuck Panozzo made a guest appearance on "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)" and returned toward the concert's end.

Group harmonies were supple as ever during the power ballad "Lady" and "Light Up" – the latter's lyrics about "sweet sounds will fill the air" and "being happy" proved particularly relevant this evening – as fans held illuminated cell phones aloft. Shaw espoused the old-school wonders of listening to vinyl before the hypnotic highlight "Man in the Wilderness."

Much of the audience sat down whenever a ballad appeared on the horizon, but they quickly stood again, since Styx's music often contains multiple tempo changes. Shaw also shared some interesting history behind the electrifying folk-rocker "Crystal Ball."

Gowan's talent really shined during the positivity of "I'm OK." Later, he prefaced the exhilarating main-set closer "Come Sail Away" with a solo medley comprising snatches of Eurythmics, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Queen and Pink Floyd.

Quite the showman, he stood on the keys, played them behind his back and strutted around in pure rock star fashion.

Meanwhile, Young and Shaw continued their dazzling fretwork displays. Come encore time, the brawny selections "Rockin' the Paradise" and "Renegade" were accompanied by smoke and confetti plumes.

Set list: Styx at Pacific Amphitheatre
Main set: Blue Collar Man / The Grand Illusion / Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) / Lady / Light Up / Man in the Wilderness / Miss America / I'm OK / Crystal Ball / Pieces of Eight / Too Much Time on My Hands / Lawrence Gowan solo rock medley > Come Sail Away
Encore: Rockin' the Paradise / Renegade

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