by Mike Mettler
photo by Jason Powell
Neither rain nor extra innings could keep Styx from delivering an exciting set following the New York Mets-San Diego Padres game during Pride Night at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens in New York this past Saturday night, August 13. The threat of inclement weather kept stadium officials from allowing fans on the field as originally planned during the band's performance, but Styx soldiered on with a power-packed 65-minute set that wowed the 25,000 quite vocal, enthusiastic, and attentive attendees who remained. (It's always a special thrill to hear a stadium crowd sing the chorus of "Too Much Time on My Hands" back to the band, let me tell you...)
It took the Mets 11 innings to topple the Padres, 3-2, and Styx didn't get to take the field until 10:57 p.m. Undeterred by cramped quarters on the centerfield stage itself and some weather-affected gear challenges (the heat index hovered close to 100 most of the day) — and even the rare occurrence of a broken guitar string — the band powered its way nonstop from set opener "The Grand Illusion" right on through to set closer "Renegade," wrapping the raucous set at 12:03 a.m. Sunday morning.
While keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan entertained the crowd with his "Bohemian Rhapsody" precursor to "Come Sail Away" — also including, naturally, a few bars of "Piano Man" in homage to local legend Billy Joel — the rest of the band came offstage to towel off and change wardrobe for the big finale. Taking a moment to catch his breath, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw told me he was having a ball. "It feels good. It's crazy, fun, and moist up there!" he exclaimed with a laugh. 'I was looking for a way to run out into the crowd during one of the solos, but I didn't think I'd be able to make it back to the stage in time."
Earlier in the evening, promptly at 6:58 p.m., Styx first took to the field and gathered around home plate to sing the National Anthem a cappella, their only accompaniment being Tommy's Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar. You can see the clip I shot of it on Styx's Facebook page. Of that special moment, drummer Todd Sucherman (who first posted the clip himself) sagely observed, "The sonic slapback delay is always the hardest thing about singing the National Anthem at a game. You can hear Mike was close enough to capture us acoustically, and then you can hear the delay coming back from the stadium’s PA system. That’s why we huddle closely together, so we can stay together and not get the timing messed up from what we hear coming back at us louder than our own voices! But it’s always an honor and a thrill."
Incidentally, the last time Styx performed the National Anthem before a sporting event was prior to the AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on January 11, 2009. (The Steelers won that game, 35-24, so perhaps Styx isn't much of a good-luck charm for San Diego-based teams...)
After the on-field Anthem rehearsal and right before the band went into catering to have dinner together around 5:10 p.m., production manager Brian Wong approached Tommy in the hallway with a suggestion about the night's upcoming set list. Initially, "Crystal Ball" had been slated to appear after "Miss America" and before "Light Up," but Wong suggested "Lights" go in there instead. Bassist Ricky Phillips then offered that the band's always electric cover of "I Am the Walrus" be slotted in its place because "that song is perfect for this crowd." Sucherman concurred, saying, "New York is a Beatles town." Everyone agreed, and the set swap was duly made.
It was a good call. As Gowan told me after the show, "That was fantastic! What a great Beatles moment to have, just a few feet from where John Lennon dragged his elbows up and down the keyboard at Shea!" Gowan is referring to the legendary night that occurred 51 years ago today, in fact, when The Beatles played Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965. Lennon clearly had a lot of fun when he put his guitar down for "I'm Down" and literally elbowed his way through some of the song on his Vox Continental stage organ. Eagle-eared listeners may have even caught Gowan tossing in a lyric or two from "I'm Down" during the back half of "Walrus." (Built in 1964, Shea Stadium was ultimately demolished to make way for additional parking for the adjacent and much more modern ballpark, Citi Field, in 2009.)
While post-game stadium shows are not something the band plans to do all the time, manager Charlie Brusco noted the Mets have now won two games with Styx in the building, so their batting average remains perfect. "We got out there and did what we wanted to do — and we're batting a thousand," Brusco observed, and who could argue with that?