Music Park: Styx @ Strathmore Music Center — 11/10/15

Styx with New Horizons Team (201507010002HQ)
Lawrence Gowan (left), Todd Sucherman, and Tommy Shaw of Styx and Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, chat at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., on July 1, 2015. (Photo courtesy NASA)

Styx lead singer Lawrence Gowan reflected on the band’s previous visit to the DC-metro area in July during a quiet moment at a Styx concert at the Strathmore Music Center last week.

Someone at NASA invited Styx to witness the reconnaissance flyby of Pluto and its moons by the probe New Horizons, which documented a previously unknown fifth moon around the dwarf planet. Researchers at NASA of course dubbed the new moon Styx after the visiting progressive rock band.

This inspired the start of a solo medley Lawrence played while the rest of the band took a brief break during the very full show in Bethesda on Tuesday, Nov. 10, and Lawrence took the opportunity to tip his hat to Elton John with a cover of “Rocket Man.”

The talented keyboardist is a natural showman, and he and Styx founder Tommy Shaw already got the audience to their feet and singing along to many classic Styx songs. Now Lawrence led us through a singalong of “Rocket Man,” followed by a verse of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding.

I had the opportunity to interview Lawrence prior to the show (and you can read that interview here), but seeing the fellow live confirmed the love that he and his bandmates have for a good audience. Lawrence, Tommy, and guitarist James “JY” Young, all of whom took turns singing and chatting, were just personable, magnetic people who clearly love what they do.

After the melodic interlude, Tommy and JY returned to the stage with Styx bassist Ricky Phillips and drummer Todd Sucherman and blasted their way into “Come Sail Away,” perhaps Styx’s most durable and beloved single number — a song originating from the 1977 album “The Grand Illusion,” a favorite of Styx for this tour.

Watch Styx perform “Come Sail Away” live on July 14, 2015, at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre in Toronto via a fan video on YouTube:

Styx made their local tour stop last week in support of Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children (CSAAC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to education and assistance to autistic people in Montgomery County, Md. For the past 36 years, CSAAC has served as a lifespan service provider for individuals and families impacted by autism. The proceeds of the Styx show went toward CSAAC initiatives, ranging from assistive technology to recreation to best buddy programs to teaching families how best to provide early intervention for their newly diagnosed toddlers.

Tommy Shaw in particular acknowledged the pride Styx took in performing to support CSAAC, but he and the band didn’t forget they were their first and foremost to provide a thundering rock and roll show. And that’s what they proceeded to do.

“Come Sail Away” serves as a great showcase for the band’s dynamics. Lawrence starts the song quietly on his keyboard, and as the full band joins in, it rises to a full-blown musical tidal wave of a song. Lawrence spins his famous keyboard, struts around the stage, and even sings perched from atop the keyboard at various points. Stalking the stage or standing united in the center together, Tommy, JY, and Ricky rain down prog rock chords upon the audience, who bask in the triumphant number.

Styx revisited other popular favorites as well, opening the show with “The Grand Illusion,” really hitting their stride with “Too Much Time on My Hands” (from 1981’s Paradise Theatre), delighting with a hard rock cover of The Beatles’ “I am the Walrus” (first developed for a performance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival), and ending their encore with “Renegade” (from 1979 album Pieces of Eight, another record favored by today’s live show).

Watch modern Styx perform highlights from “The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight – Live” DVD concert available from Eagle Rock Entertainment:

The singing voices of Lawrence, Tommy, and JY were all in top shape, and our local audience was particularly excited to hear Tommy’s vocals for “Blue Collar Man,” “Renegade,” and other selections.

Styx have been touring nonstop for decades, and when you see them live you understand why. They love what they do. And the chemistry between the players in the band’s current lineup is authentic and charming. Styx continue to tour tonight, Saturday, Nov. 14, with a show in Ontario, Canada, and they return to the United States for a lot more shows starting in December. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to throw yourself into some absorbing and entertaining classic rock when Styx perform near you.

Styx with New Horizons Team (201507010008HQ)
Lawrence Gowan, Tommy Shaw, and Todd Sucherman of Styx pose for a picture with Mark Showalter, who discovered Pluto’s moon Styx at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., on July 1, 2015. (Photo courtesy NASA)

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