Lightning Strikes Twice for Styx in Carmel, CA

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Styx

It was a dark and stormy night along the California Coast last Wednesday evening and no one could predict how events would unfold. If you were in Carmel seeing classic rock icons Styx two years ago, however, you might have had an idea. Back then the band had to cut their set short after playing only their first 6 songs due to a power outage. They ended up jamming out a number of the remaining tunes acoustically for their remaining fans. Rain, wind, and lightning were to blame for the mayhem that night, but being the professionals they are, the band played on!

Styx returned to the venue almost two years to the day that the lights went out on them at the beautiful Sunset Center. And with a storm brewing off the coast we were all hoping for a solid night of music to keep our minds at ease. As I slipped into the venue for the first time, I noticed how remarkable the theater was. I had grown up near this area, and never knew it was here. What a gem!! Our drive down was dry and uneventful, but as they began seating everyone around 7:30 pm the rain and wind began. Once inside, as with most shows, you forget what is in the outside world and begin preparing for the excitement ahead. I took my place at the side of the stage as the fans piled in and took their seats. It was a very full crowd.

Photo by Ken McCain

Having covered them last year in San Jose, CA I recalled a song that was playing on the speakers above me. Just as I realized it was THAT song, the lights went down and crowd roared behind me. Showtime! Just after 8:00 pm the legendary powerhouse that is Styx took to the stage for what would be a two set evening of songs from the past and the present. They opened the evening with the first two songs “Overture” and “Gone, Gone, Gone” from their latest album “The Mission”. This album, which seamlessly melds into their deep catalog, was recorded without the use of todays digital technology. According to lead singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw, it was a way to recreate the “feel of 1979”. They even used reel-to-reel tape to record it. And after speaking with their drumming virtuoso, Todd Sucherman, vinyl is THE best way to hear this album.

They would play at least three more from the new album, but a great deal of fans came to listen to their back-catalog of hits. They are an extremely generous group that love to play for their fans. And they got right to it with a string of hits starting with “Blue Collar Man”, then on to “The Grand Illusion”, “Fooling Yourself”, and “Lady”. By this time, all in attendance had forgotten the raging storm outside, but between songs Shaw and James Young made reference to the show two years ago. They went so far as to let us all know that they had a piano on stand-by behind the stage “just in case”. Then another string of favorites came one after another. The ended the first half with the soaring “Man in the Wilderness” and the show-stopper “Rockin’ the Paradise” from the 1981 megahit and chart-topping album “Paradise Theater”. Lead singer/pianist Lawrence Gowan donned a fedora and a sequin jacket for this tune, while running around on stage and playing piano he became the Master of Ceremony and the Sunset Center became the Paradise Theater. The crowd cheered and sang along as the guys brought it to an end. They left the stage vowing to return after a brief intermission.

Many took the time to get a drink or hit the restroom before returning to their seats. I stayed in the theater and thought nothing of the stormy weather outside, until the house lights began to flicker and the house music cut out. Those around me began to check their phones to find out how severe the storm was hitting, however, we all knew something was wrong when the tour manager walked on stage. No way. I couldn’t happen twice, right? After a few in the crowd calmed down the reality hit us when he announced that there was a power outage and that PG&E would be in contact soon, but no promises. He also said that they would set up for an acoustic set, but that we’d have to be very quiet to hear. Quiet? At a rock show?!?! Not everyone saw this as a good thing and some decided to leave as the stage crew set up the grand piano and guitars.

A short while later the band emerged to a great deal of applause. The band was in shock before coming out, scrambling to put a set together that they could play acoustically. And could Todd Sucherman play a small drum kit without drowning out the vocals? Well, they are professionals and they are Styx. Quickly they put together 9 or 10 songs and pizza box. The songs were for us, the pizza box for Sucherman. There would be no Mr. Roboto on this night, but they did manage to do a lovely rendition of “Boat on the River” and “The Greater Good” as well as “Can You Take Me High Enough” from Shaw’s endeavors with the Damn Yankees. Playing without amplification is one thing, but singing without it is another much tougher thing. We were all encouraged to sing along with them, most knew the words. Allowing Shaw and Gowan to rest their vocal chords a bit they broke out with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Gowan’s piano playing is excellent and the song is beloved by many, so it was a great fit for the night. Audience participation was at an all-time high, some  singing the lead, others singing backup. Ending the set with “Come Sail Away” had the crowd singing away, too.

Talking with Todd Sucherman after the show we were amazed to find out that they neither have a list of songs, nor do they practice for acoustic songs. They did it totally on the fly, pulling it off fantastically. I think that they possibly should do a formal acoustic set, though with powered up microphones for vocals, guitars and pizza box. BTW- the pizza box had a whole pizza inside.

Styx has only a few dates left on this current tour ending on January 20th in Las Vegas at the Pearl (Palms Resort). They’ll be playing the entire album “The Mission” for all their fans. Should be a special show. Catch them there or on their next time out!

For more information on Styx, please visit:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/styxtheband/

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