Styx Bring The Fireworks to Atlanta

Fireworks went off in Atlanta over the Memorial Day weekend. Sure, they were probably everywhere but inside of Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park is another thing. Not to lead you in the wrong direction, but the fireworks taking place on stage was thanks to Styx. I know, right?

Something told me to come down early to find a parking space. I’m glad I did. Of the hundred or thousands I have never seen anything like this outside the amphitheatre entrance. People were coming from everywhere in every direction. I sat outside people watching as my mouth hit the ground. A constant stream of people kept coming and coming. No this crowd wasn’t for Queen Bey or the likes of Elton John or Luke Bryan. They were here to see Styx and .38 Special, both bands who haven’t charted since Ronald Reagan was president.

I remember seeing Styx back in the “Mr. Roboto” era and quire frankly didn’t know what to think. It was an over the top overly polished theatrical event instead of an actual concert. It wasn’t long after that tour the band started to implode with Dennis DeYoung, the band’s lead singer – or actually co-lead singer along with Tommy Shaw leaving the band. Kilroy Was Here concept album brought to the head growing resentment between Shaw, James JY Young and DeYoung.

There were already two camps amongst Styx fans. Guys like me loved the rock side of the band – songs like “Too Much Time On My Hands” and “Blue Collar Man” for example, that were sung by Shaw. The other side that favored DeYoung loved his ballads like “Babe”, “Lady” and the progression the band took towards the theatrics, which began with albums like Paradise Theatre and Kilroy Was Here with the iconic and alienating song, “Mr. Roboto”. To me, “Mr. Roboto” typified ‘80s wanna-be arena rock and some of the bad things of the decade of great music. The video enthralled me, but it was too gimmicky for my tastes. Today, it’s almost like a punch line to a joke.

With DeYoung leaving and Shaw working with his side project, Damn Yankees not a lot was heard from the band until the late ‘90s when Lawrence Gowan filled DeYoung’s shoes.

With a renewed line up that saw Todd Sucherman taking over on drums after the passing of band co-founder John Panozzo passing away in 1996, and his brother Chuck Panozzo on bass has stepped away and only plays when his health allows on bass. Ricky Phillips, formerly of The Babys and Bad English has played bass for the band a majority of the time since 2003. With a change in band dynamics, the band seemed to return to more rock and roll roots.

As I stood outside just before show time and slightly thereafter the non-stop line coming up mesmerized me. There was no end to the line. If I got in line I would have to walk about two blocks back to get in line – if it’s even that close. It was like something out of a zombie movie with all these people coming from nowhere to see this show. At 8:15 as .38 Special already taking the stage there was finally a break in the line. Time to head in.

I haven’t heard .38 Special in years and it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Song after song, I recognized or remembered. The band was tight, Don Barnes’ vocals were right on and I even reminisced what I was doing when the songs first came on the radio. I also find it interesting when a band covers another contemporary. .38 Special covered Chicago’s “Feeling Stronger Every Day” and hit it out of the park. One of my all-time favorite songs .38 was true to the original and actually in my humble opinion gives it a run for it’s money. They ended their set with a cover of the INXS/Jimmy Barnes tune “Good Times”, giving it a run for it’s money as well. .38 Special is a quality band I should start paying attention to again.

Styx hit the stage and it was on. Their set started with “Gone Gone Gone” off of 2017’s The Mission and then it was a run down memory lane. A causal listener will forget how many hits Styx actually had and how well their albums sold. “Blue Collar Man” was next up off of Pieces of Eight with Young’s growling lead guitars setting the mood. It was followed by “The Grand Illusion” that saw Gowan’s vocals on spot. Watching the band perform it was interesting that Gowan was stationed on his raised keyboard platform while Shaw, Young and Phillips stayed mostly stage left from him the entire night – almost as there was a divide amongst the band. Of course there are two camps at a Styx concert. There is the rocking side featuring Shaw and Young and the softer, more melodic side filled with ballads performed by Gowan (originally DeYoung).

Shaw was on his game as at times it appeared to be a showcase of his flamboyant and enthusiastic guitar work and his joy was contagious as the crowd picked up on it. Shaw was all over the stage going from front of stage to a platform that saw him next to Sucherman. Young had the biggest grin on his face either that of a proud papa or a psycho killer about to get his prey. He joined Shaw on the platform as well as did Phillips from time to time.

The set was peppered with songs from their latest album like “Radio Silence” and “Khedive” mixed with classics like “Lady”, “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Come Sail Away” (along with others). The encore featured “Mr. Roboto”, despite being a universally loved song, I didn’t think they would perform because this song and the album it was on appeared to be the straw that broke the camel in relations between Shaw and the now long departed DeYoung. They put a ribbon on this presentation with a stirring rendition of “Renegade” that saw the literally packed house on their feet.

Sitting there watching the show Styx reminded me of the ad campaign for the now defunct McDLT at McDonalds with the hot side hot and the cool side cool. Shaw and company were definitely hot and on target with the rocking numbers and Gowan was cool with smooth, soaring vocals on selections such as “Come Sail Away” and “Lady”. It is a great balance for the band as well as the fans.

Styx Setlist
Gone Gone Gone
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
The Grand Illusion
Light Up
Radio Silence
Miss America
Crystal Ball
Rockin’ the Paradise
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Too Much Time on My Hands
Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen cover)
Come Sail Away

Mr. Roboto

– Dave Weinthal