By Resident Styxologist - Mike Mettler
Photos by Jason Powell
If there’s one thing that can be said of Styx, the uber-popular multiplatinum-selling rock band born and bred in Chicago, it’s that they never give less than 100 percent during their live shows — even during the soundchecks. And it was quite evident the band was already firing on all cylinders during the soundcheck they did at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark on September 22, which commenced promptly at 5:09 p.m., less than 2½ hours before showtime later that evening.
Styx ultimately performed two full hour-long sets to an enthusiastic crowd at the NJPAC that night, comprised of both mega hits (“Renegade,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Come Sail Away”) and deep cuts (“Man in the Wilderness,” “Pieces of Eight,” “Snowblind”) alike.
The aforementioned soundcheck started with the always galvanizing set opener “The Grand Illusion,” with keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan leading the charge as guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw galloped up the riser steps located behind powerhouse drummer Todd Sucherman. Bassist/vocalist Ricky Phillips anchored the beat as co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young took an incendiary solo at the lip of the stage on his green Stratocaster, a fairly recent addition to his guitar arsenal. There were fewer than 10 people in the hall at that time, but the band played on as if they were in front of a full house. It’s an admirable display of pre-gig gusto, especially considering Styx has averaged more than 100 live shows per year, every year, since 1999.
That’s not to say the band doesn’t have its fair share of moments of levity. Before running through one of Shaw’s signature tunes, “Crystal Ball,” Styx punctuated the end of “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” with a shuffle that could best be described as how a Vaudevillian lounge act wearing rumpled tuxedos might end every song they play. It’s somewhat of a signature song-coda wink/nudge maneuver during many a Styx soundcheck, in fact, but it’s also one you’d never hear during an actual show...
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