Songs from The Mission make their unannounced live debuts with help from featured guest Will Evankovich in the band’s beyond-exhilarating first live show of 2019. 

Story & photo by Mike Mettler

Styx kicked off 2019 in fine fashion during the first of two nights on the rotating stage at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona on January 11 by debuting a pack of song from their triumphant 2017 studio release The Mission with a special, surprise guest — guitarist/background vocalist Will Evankovich — joining them onstage for a key portion of the second set of the evening.

Evankovich, who also produced The Mission, played on five songs culled from the album over the course of 17 minutes in Set 2 (some of which were being played live in front of an audience for the first time ever): “Time May Bend,” “Ten Thousand Ways,” “Red Storm,” “Khedive,” and “The Outpost.” (Styx guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw handled the space-lock vocal duties for “All Systems Stable,” the super-brief transitionary piece between “Red Storm” and “Khedive,” by himself.) “Red Storm” was most especially thrilling, as Evankovich played mandolin during the first half of the song and then switched to electric guitar for the “heavy prog” section that’s fueled by drummer Todd Sucherman, not to mention his joining the four-man guitar army — which also included Shaw, co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young, and bassist/vocalist Ricky Phillips playing a sea-foam green guitar — during the showcase piece for keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan, “Khedive.” (“Onward, soldiers” indeed!)

“How did it feel? It felt right,” Tommy Shaw told me backstage just a few minutes after the show came to a close right before 11 p.m. Mountain time. “And it made perfect sense having Will join us onstage tonight, because he was there every step of the way for the making of The Mission. Everyone in the band agreed we needed him there with us tonight, so I’m really happy we made that decision. There was so much energy out there coming back to us, and the fans seemed to love it too!”

For his part, Evankovich was both honored and humbled by his virgin experience as a featured performer with Styx. “These guys are my heroes. Not only was it an honor to make this record with them, but to be able to be a part of it myself by sharing the stage with all the talent that worked on it was really something special,” Will told me in his dressing room a few minutes after coming offstage as the band soldiered on upstairs with “Suite Madame Blue” to carry them into the home-stretch of the evening. “What words would I use to describe the whole experience? Exhilarating, musical, and accepting. These guys are like family to me, so it’s been a dream come true.”

Evankovich was originally on hand in Phoenix to partake in two full days of the meticulous, detail-oriented Mission rehearsals in preparation for the full album’s live debut at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas on January 20. To their credit, Styx recognized early on in the proceedings that they needed Will in tow for more than just these rehearsals to keep the Mission-prep momentum going. And but a mere 4 hours before Friday evening’s show itself, the band collectively decided which Mission songs would be swapped out with other, more vintage tracks initially slated for Set 2 in order to, as Tommy likes to put it, “get the stank off of them.” (To see the complete play-by-play of exactly how that decision process went down in real time, you can read this coming Monday’s Styxology post if you’re a member of the Styx Lounge. If you haven’t joined us yet, you can do so here.)

What will Styx and Evankovich pull out of their collective hats next? Well, there may still be a few tickets left for the second show slated for tonight, January 12, at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, and choice live Mission selections could surface during the remainder of this January run leading up to Vegas — see our TOUR page for a link to find out what might be available for all of these upcoming gigs — and possibly beyond, but who knows? Regardless of what Styx choose to do next on the live stage, one thing’s for sure: The Mission has entered its next phase in the most exciting way possible. Come on out and see what’s happening for yourself, won’t you?