Triumph at the Big Show: Styx Debut The Mission in Full in Las Vegas
Styx play The Mission in its entirety live for the first time in front of an audience, and put on one of the best shows of their entire career in the process.
Story & photo by Mike Mettler
After more than 10 intense days of private rehearsals and mini-suite tryouts in front of other audiences on the West Coast, Styx finally played the entirety of their triumphant 2017 concept album The Mission live for the first time to a rabidly enthusiastic sold-out crowd at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas on January 20. For 44 enthralling minutes of that evening’s complete opening set, Styx took everyone lucky enough to be in the room on a journey previously unseen and unheard to the nth degree, supplemented by each song’s Mars-centric visuals on the massive screen wall behind them and beyond-spectacular light show. To borrow a line from “Locomotive,” one of the album’s most key songs, “No one else on Earth has ever been so far.” In short, the debut of The Mission in full was a show for the ages — and, as many attendees said and felt once the evening’s 65-minute hits-driven second set concluded, it was without a doubt one of the best shows of Styx’s entire 47-year career.
With Mission producer and guitarist/background vocalist Will Evankovich onstage for the full album ride — not to mention co-founding bassist Chuck Panozzo making a few significant appearances along the way — the mighty men of Styx stormed through the record’s 14 interwoven songs with fire and determination. From the elegiac liftoff of the opening “Overture” to the talk-box roll of “Hundred Million Miles From Home” to the post-prog proto-metal thrust of “Red Storm” to the joyful tongue-twisting endgame of “Mission to Mars” — plus a newly added reprise I’m calling “The Afterture” — Styx put forth their most sacred Mission like true champions of the world.
Within a few minutes of Set 1 ending at exactly 9:00 p.m. Pacific time, The Mission’s chief architect, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw, could hardly contain his excitement as we stood face to face in the dressing room hallway while the rest of the band came offstage, everyone smiling, laughing, hugging, and back-patting each other, along with enthusiastic exclamations of “Good job!” and “That was so good!” and “Those solos were f---ing awesome!” and even “Let’s do it again!” heard all around us. “Whew! The first one! It was exciting! That’s the most number of people I’ve ever seen singing along to The Mission,” Tommy noted while also sharing one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen on his face. “This show was kind of a test to see how we’d do with it, and it worked. I’m so used to listening to The Mission by myself in my car or at home and having these feelings after listening to it. To be able to see the audience having those same feelings after listening to it while seeing us doing it in front of them was really something special.”
And though no one is officially saying when or even if more Mission-in-full shows will be slated and/or announced, the band is quite aware of the #fomo factor felt by all the fans unable to attend this specific event-spectacular show. (#fomo stands for fear of missing out, for those who may not know what that particular hashtag means.) “To me, The Mission record is one for the ages, and that was no accident,” Tommy continued. “And I think we’ll stick with that, because it seems so appropriate for Styx. When we made the record, this was always a goal, to do this — to do it completely live like this. I’d like to do a few more of them, but we’ll see.” Tommy took a slight pause to exhale a loud, satisfied sigh before concluding, “Ahhh! I’m so happy!”
As Tommy headed to his dressing room to towel off and change shirts for the second set, just a few feet away, co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young was himself visibly beaming about what just went down onstage. “Whenever I see the crowd react like that, it gives me a little oomph,” he observed. “No one is out there critiquing the set like I do in real time, but I felt the performance was all there, and I didn’t make any high-volume mistakes. I really had a chance to step out front and let loose during ‘[Trouble at the] Big Show,’ and I also got to go way out front during ‘Red Storm,’ as did Tommy. And at the end of ‘The Outpost,’ I have the opportunity to do that Edge/U2 thing. It’s showbiz people — showbiz!!” he thundered with a broad smile and booming laugh.
I told JY that I liked the times where he’d bow his head and extend his right arm to point at keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan, bassist Ricky Phillips, drummer Todd Sucherman, and Tommy during particularly “heroic” performance moments. “The lead singer I had in my band in the late ’60s would do that,” he revealed. “It might have even been something [The Rolling Stones lead singer Mick] Jagger did too; I don’t know. He picked it up somewhere, but when guys like Todd and Tommy do something extraordinary, I like to point it out: ‘Pay attention, mother----ers!’ We got such a great reaction out there during that whole set, so I guess we have another couple years left.”
Back in his room, I told Tommy “Red Storm” was my favorite live performance of the first set and how I felt that whenever the band was seen in shadow in front of the massive screen imagery behind them, it reminded me of some of the most iconic visual moments of Adrian Mabey’s legendary 1972 concert film, Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii. He nodded in agreement, also concurring that “Red Storm” is “one of the heaviest things we ever did.” Agreed manager Charlie Brusco, “I had Pink Floyd dancing in my head during that set too. And this crowd — they knew the entire album. That’s why they bought the tickets.”
Tommy, clearly relieved at completing an indisputably successful Mission in Set 1, looked ahead to the next task at hand: “Now we get to do the jukebox set — the classic songs.” Charlie added, “Let’s give them a great second set! Now the crowd’s going to be even more excited!” And they sure were, especially those in it who were experiencing the full unbridled muscle of the modren, er, modern-man encore opener “Mr. Roboto” for the very first time before an elegiac ride through “Renegade” put the final stamp on such a marvelous night.
After the show was over, Tommy expressed his gratitude much like he did onstage: “We survived long enough as a band to make this record, and I’m so grateful to the crowd and the fans for sticking with us throughout this process. We’ve made some good records over our career, and this one is right up there with them.”
Without question, wherever The Mission takes both Styx and their loyal fans next, great things are sure to follow. See you there!