Parx Casino – Xcite Center – Bensalem, PA – May 5, 2023
Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf
In the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to have attended a number of Styx performances, the most recent being May 5th at Parx Casino. As I looked around the sold out crowd at the Xcite Center I felt a sense of amazement that a band who began creating and performing music fifty years ago continues to draw such a dedicated, enthusiastic audience. Although I’m aware Styx isn’t the only band who’s held onto a passionate fanbase, there are a limited number of classic rock acts who are still creating and perform music a half-century after their origination. While touring after five decades is extremely impressive, what raises the bar to the next level are musical artists who continue to perform with powerful energy, positive spirit and overwhelming joy. This was what Styx brought in abundance and transmitted to the Xcite Center audience during their electrifying hour and a half performance.
From the moment the band members exploded onto the vibrantly illuminated stageI became further amazed by their incredible vitality. These musicians in no way presented as “older gentlemen.” There was no indication that decades of rock and rolling slowed these performers down. Rather, they belied their age with tremendous energy, contagiously high spirits and intense devotion to the music of Styx. Their instrumental skills, vocal abilities and agility on stage rivaled that of any young rocker. The enthusiasm on stage was equaled by the exhilaration in the crowd, as audience members were on their feet from the band’s opening number “To Those,” from 2021’s Crash of the Crown, followed by the riveting Tommy Shaw penned hit “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” from 1978’s Pieces of Eight. Shaw, showcasing powerful lead vocals and guitar licks, is still a true rock and roller, with long tousled blonde hair and rock attire to match. Equally passionate in his musical execution and performance was lead guitarist James “J.Y.” Young, Styx’s lead guitar player and only continuous member since the band’s origination.
The enthusiasm remained in full-force, both on stage and in the crowd, as numbers were performed from Styx’s impressive 1970s and 1980s catalog, as well as songs from 2018’s The Mission and the chart-topping Crash of the Crown. “Lady” from 1973’s Styx II and “Lorelei” from 1975’s Equinox were performed with beautifully soaring vocals by Lawrence Gowan, lead vocalist and keyboardist with Styx since 1999. “Lady” continued to bring chills with Gowan at the helm, as audience members passionately sang along to this exquisite, heartfelt number. And, “Lorelei” brought Shaw, Young and bass player Ricky Phillips to their mics to create incredible vocal harmonies, as drummer Todd Sucherman intensely played a fiery rhythmic beat.
As enthralling as Gowan was on “Lady,” Shaw was equally mesmerizing during his acoustic guitar and vocal performance of “Crystal Ball,” the title song from the band’s 1976 album. To think this song was originally written and performed by Shaw 47 years ago is mind-boggling, considering the ongoing clarity, warmth and strength in this voice. Shaw’s extraordinary vocals were on display throughout the evening’s set including on his phenomenally written and performed “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man),” from the band’s 1977 artistic masterpiece, The Grand Illusion. Additional songs from the album included the title song, which powerfully and majestically welcomed all to “The Grand Illusion,” as well as the remarkable “Come Sail Away,” which began with soothing vocals and piano accompaniment performed by Gowan, before transforming into a rock and roll extravaganza, with Gowan standing atop his keyboard, Sucherman vigorously beating the drums and all guitar players fiercely jamming on their guitars, including newest member Will Evankovich. Added to this exceptionally joyous scene was original founding member of Styx, bass player Chuck Panozzo, who joined the band for several numbers and brought musical connection and history to the stage.
With 1981’s Paradise Theater the band’s most commercially successful album, it’s no surprise that fans were on their feet, rocking and singing along to “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Rockin’ the Paradise.” While there was momentary silence throughout the Xcite Center as Gowan showcased breathtaking keyboard skills on“Khedive,” from 2018’s The Mission, the subsequent eruption of applause brought the volume in the crowd back to an explosive level. With the audience’s enthusiasm for Crash of the Crown’s “Lost at Sea,” “Our Wonderful Lives,” and the album’s title number, there was clear indication that this band continues to deliver great new rock and roll.
It’s no surprise that the evening’s final numbers were favorites “Mr. Roboto,” from 1983’s Kilroy Was Here and “Renegade” from Pieces of Eight. There wasn’t a fan left seated nor a voice not singing in unison, as powerful energy and positive spirit traveled from the band, to the audience and back to the stage. While it’s been more than fifty years since the founding of Styx, the band remains as revered as a half-century ago. Watching the tremendous passion, immense skills and amazing stage performance of these rockers it was if the hands of time were turned back and we were all still “Rockin’ the Paradise”….. to bad it was just a “Grand Illusion.”