ATLANTIC CITY, NJ—I say this respectfully and for all the right reasons: Seeing Styx at The Borgata was like seeing a promising young band at a high school talent show, but without that sinking this-might-be-hard-to-watch feeling in my gut. Not to equate the prog-lite hitmakers with teens still ambitious enough to log off and rock on, but the comparison has stayed with me since their show on Aug. 30. Especially after their performance at Syracuse’s New York State Fair to an estimated 25,000, catching a show at The Borgata’s intimate 1,000-seat Music Box auditorium was nothing short of incredible.
But honestly, what can I possibly write about a set that’s been road-worn for the last 14 years, averaging 110 shows a year, as guitarist Tommy Shaw calculates? As if being musically flawless weren’t enough, Shaw, James Young and Lawrence Gowan entertained expertly between songs with stories full of endearing humor while drummer Todd Sucherman, bassist Ricky Phillips and co-founder and part-time bassist Chuck Panozzo brought their best and then some to songs from a setlist as fresh as ever and as carefully guarded as an NSA transcriptionist. If you know one Styx song—oh, and I think you do—it was played well enough to send grown pension-collecting men into fits of air guitaring bliss to a happy place where their hair was as full as their egos and they still had plenty of time (clap, clap) on their hands, leaving no room for criticism worth anything from me.
At this point, Styx are some sort of delightful rare breed in the entertainment industry. Their ability to string together so many immediately recognizable and loved hits is a testament not only to the group’s combined talents and songwriting, but also to their hard-won and deserved success. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying newer bands aren’t working as hard to make their music last beyond 2050; I am suggesting in terms of longevity and sustaining an energetic two-hour performance, some acts today might want to take notes in their iPad/Pod/Phone. Styx’s story spans time, changing lineups, solo careers and fluid industry trends like few others, with no indication of losing momentum or relevancy. Their obvious success—not celebrity, not fame—has been earned by doing more than riding the coattails of some flash-in-the-pan fad, landing a reality show trophy, or twerking and tongue waggling in an awards show performance that will be as musically significant in five years as a hiccup on a Wednesday. True artists are the ones who can elicit joy and emotion from an audience and are, like Styx, deserving of everything their fans can give. Any others who can’t tell the difference between a career to be proud of and one to run from would be wise to have a Plan B.
For more on Styx and their worthwhile charity, Rock To The Rescue, visit styxworld.com or Facebook.com/rocktotherescue.