Toronto, Canada – Ahhhhhh…. The 1970s and 1980s!!!! I challenge you to convince me that any other 2 decade span was better. Since this is a concert review, let me focus on the music. I’m sure there is some real fondness to the 1960s, but the classic rock of the 70s is hands down some of the greatest music of all time. Roll it all over into the 80s, witness the emergence of Heavy Metal, Punk and Hip Hop, and you’ve got a veritable “Big Bang” of ear candy.
Time travel is real folks! On August 16, 2022, during the dog days of a Toronto summer, I travelled back in time some 40 or 50 years. The night was hot and humid. The purpose of the trip was to see a group that arose from this insane era of music in 1972, out of Chicago, Illinois. With 17 studio albums under their belt, Styx took their “Live and UnZoomed” tour into Toronto’s Budweiser Stage. Clearly, an “F-YOU” to the past 2 plus years of lock downs and forced online entertainment.
Opening their set with “The Fight of Our Lives”, the lead track from their most recent album Crash of the Crown, the band greeted a packed house. In fact, there was even an extra row of seats at the front of the venue which resulted in a photo pit that was vastly narrower than what I’ve been used to at this Amphitheatre. There was very little room for us photographers to maneuver around, but it’s a great idea to help get some fans a little closer to their idols.
With Lead Singer and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan being a Canadian himself (us Canadians are a proud bunch), the evening brought a few Canadian references from the band. Namely about the venue itself. Back in the 1980s, Budweiser Stage was known as the Ontario Place Forum. When the Styx frontman mentioned this, it brought some additional memories to an already nostalgic evening.
In case we needed some additional Canadian references, the 6th track in the set was introduced by guitarist James “JY” Young. He explained that some things that were once illegal, are now decriminalized (but of course here, totally legal), so “Light Up”, a song from their 1975 release Equinox!
Lead Vocalist/Keyboardist Lawrence Gowan introduced the band with a little story for each:
The man who gives his heart and soul, Lead Vocals/Guitar – Tommy Shaw
The newest member of the band, who has played with bands like The Guess Who, Night Ranger and Ted Nugent, Guitarist – Willie Evankovich
Playing with bands such as The Babys, Bad English and Coverdale-Page, Bassist – Ricky Phillips
Modern Drummers Reader Poll winner on Drums – Todd Sucherman
Band member for 50 years, Guitarist – James “JY” Young
In addition to the lineup, a special guest was on hand ahead of Styx’s 9th track, “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”. Tommy Shaw shared a bit of history, explaining that a set of fraternal twins in the south side of Chicago started playing drums and bass guitar in their basement. Soon, word started getting around town, and eventually, the band Styx was born. The guest musician was none other than one of the founding members, bass guitarist Chuck Panozzo. Chuck joined the fray with his bass guitar during the track.
In 1985, a Canadian artist by the name of Gowan hit it big in this country with his breakthrough hit “A Criminal Mind”. Considering the location on this night, Gowan performed his hit song in front of his hometown faithful. It may not seem like a very big deal, but I thought it was cool of the band to allow their Lead Singer/Keyboardist to play his solo track, despite Gowan being with the band for 20 years now.
I have a pet peeve that I’ve mentioned in other show reviews, and that is a crowd that sits through the whole show. The band was spot on this night, but it took the fans a little while to match the energy. After our 3-song photo pit excursion, I headed to my seat to take in the rest of the show. Other than a smattering of fans who were standing here and there, everybody was in their seats. One lady close by was trying to urge people to GET UP and dance. Unfortunately, she did not have much luck. I get it, it’s an older crowd, and aches and pains start to take their toll, but come on people!! Give a little here! To be fair, it’s not like it was a dead crowd. They were singing and clapping, but I can tell you, the band wants you on your feet dancing!
Fortunately, as the show progressed, more and more people started standing. By the time Styx introduced their 11th track of the evening “Too Much Time on My Hands”, a song that Tommy Shaw noted was played in the first hour of MTV’s launch, the crowd was all up on their feet. They were dancing in their seats, and they were dancing in the aisles. And boy were they singing! During the absolute classic “Come Sail Away”, the crowd was singing at the top of their lungs!
With super cool spinning keyboard platforms for lead singer Lawrence Gowan (or, as we Canadians fondly know him, Gowan), guitarists climbing atop platforms behind drummer Todd Sucherman, and rainbow-colored jackets, Styx has a great stage presence. These guys were really fun to watch.
Earlier I mentioned that I traveled back in time. Not because the band only played their music from the 1970s and 80s, but because they sounded as though they may be 40 or 50 years younger than they are. It’s unusual for a band to be together for 50 years and still tour. What’s even rarer is for these bands to sound as good as Styx did on this night … and quite frankly, these guys looked fantastic too. Unfortunately, as we age, things just aren’t as they were even one decade prior. With musicians from this period, it’s honestly a crap shoot. You just don’t know what you are going to get at a live concert. I’ve seen some shows that made me feel a sense of empathy for the musicians, but not Styx. They definitely brought the goods! But don’t take my word for it! Digital Beat Mag’s very own Annette Holloway caught the tour in Virginia Beach on August 5. You may see that she agrees with me with her review of the full lineup.
The 1980s were a coming of age for me. My age hit double digits, and my love of music started to blossom. Amongst my growth, was music from a band that everybody knew and loved. This band was so influential at the time that we paid homage to them by naming the rock band we formed in Grade 8 after them. That Junior Highschool band was called “Split Styxx”. Funny enough, our band never even ended up playing one song together, but the memories will last a lifetime, as will the music from this era.
A trip through time on August 16, 2022… and I left a happy man!
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
show date: 08/16/22