Styx takes to Hollywood to kick off the first leg of their 2016 tour, with a certain legendary Starman very much in mind.

by Mike Mettler

photo by Jason Powell

“It felt good getting back out there onstage with everyone. I enjoy watching how the show unfolds, and I’m in it!” —Tommy Shaw

“The Styx calendar has begun here tonight!” exclaimed guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw before introducing original Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo, who joined the band onstage for 2016’s first public run-through of “Fooling Yourself,” thus kicking the new year into high gear on just the right note. Get back on your feet, indeed!

The band’s energetic 100-minute set at the Saban Theatre in Hollywood, California on January 14 was a harbinger of many good 2016 shows to come, including — spoiler alert! — the re-emergence of the Paradise Theater favorite “Snowblind,” sung with a clear vengeance by co-founding vocalist/guitarist James “JY” Young (on the verses) and Shaw (on the choruses). “This is a song we haven’t played in California for a very, very long time,” JY said before diving into the track that will likely be part of many full-length Styx sets this year.

The tour continues tonight at 9 p.m. PST at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino, Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage, California.

Looming large over the evening’s proceedings was the band’s ongoing reverence for the late David Bowie. Their love for the Thin White Duke found its way into the set in three spots, beginning with keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan singing a few verses of “Starman” before launching into “Lady,” and then later tackling a piece of “Life on Mars?” as part of the medley before “Come Sail Away.” But the biggest surprise — and current YouTube favorite — was Shaw and Gowan’s unannounced and very much heartfelt run through Bowie’s seminal classic 1969 single “Space Oddity” before “Crystal Ball.”

“It was great watching Tommy and Lawrence backstage last night rehearsing their tribute to David Bowie,” Chuck Panozzo told me in the lobby here at Agua Caliente just a few short hours ago.“What a wonderful addition to the show. I’ll never forget playing with David Bowie on his first tour of the United States [at Performance Hall in Kansas City on October 15, 1972], and the impact he had on this band. This was a guy who was so far ahead of his time, and he was able to continually re-invent himself all throughout his career.”

Backstage in the dressing room area less than an hour prior to the Saban Theatre show, Shaw was conferring with FOH (Front of House) engineer Michelle Pettinato about how he should introduce “Space Oddity” to the crowd. “Should I talk before I go into it, or just start playing it?” he asked. “I think it’s a good idea to just play it and not introduce it,” Michelle responded. The two consulted the evening’s setlist, which was taped up on the wall in production manager Jeff Heintz’s room at the end of the hall, to see where it would be more appropriate for Shaw to do one of his pre-song “talks” (as he calls them), and the space before the mid-set favorite Grand Illusion deep track “Man in the Wilderness” got the nod for the now-shifted speaking spot.

From there, Shaw took his acoustic guitar over to where production manager Brian Wong was sitting in front of his MacBook Pro laptop. Wong had printed out a few “Space Oddity” lyric sheets for Shaw to consult to make sure had had all the words down pat, and Lawrence popped over to harmonize lightly with Shaw on the chorus, calling out the key changes as they went: “A… now C…” Check ignition, and may God’s love be with you…

More show reports live from the road from yr. humble Styxologist to come in the days ahead!