Show Review: Styx with Yes at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, 8/3/2011

by Jonathan Pirro on August 4, 2011

It's hard to believe such a calamity

It's hard to believe such a calamity

The definition of “arena rock” has changed shape a great deal in this modern era of music. While it’s mostly connected to which genres of music or artists can sell enough seats to fill an amphitheater with up to 22,000 people, it is also evocative of a time when a band’s show and stage set were so extravagant, flamboyant, and over-the-top that only a massive stadium could even hope to provide ample real estate for the performance. Thus, it is always quite amazing to see both of these factors fall into place, especially when the bands in question are of a somewhat-bygone era. This isn’t the 1970s, or the 1980s, but you would never have been aware that time had passed since that era, judging from the explosive response that greeted the two biggest acts of the Shoreline Amphitheatre’s KIHNCERT 2011: Chicago rockers Styx and English progressive godfathers Yes.

Steve Howe of Yes

Steve Howe of Yes

If it seems puzzling to our readers that Styx was headlining, and Yes was a support act (albeit with an encore), you aren’t the only ones confused. With a legacy stretching back to the early 1970s, not to mention intricately-crafted masterpieces that stretch on for impressive durations, it was a bit puzzling to see the quintet emerge with a few of the last rays of sunshine that trickled into the Shoreline Amphitheatre. However, the band gave no sign of displeasure in regard to their schedule, and instead leaped right into their set with supreme gusto. While guitarist Steve Howe didn’t initially carry the same fun-brimming energy that bassist Chris Squire exhibited onstage, his stoic concentration led to an impeccable performance, and he tore away at his guitar with all the grace and abandon that had been present as far as 40 years ago.

Benoît David, Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes

Benoît David, Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes

While not possessed of their entire original lineup — singer Jon Anderson had left in 2008 due to health concerns, and keyboardist Geoff Downes was with the band for the first time since 1981 — the remaining founding members of Yes showed almost no signs that their age had affected their skill or ability. Chris Squire was easily the most active and jubilant of the group, and played off of the dancey antics of singer Benoît David, while Steve Howe spent most of the set playing with incredible care and precision. To say that drummer Alan White was anything but animated would be a bald-faced lie, as he knocked out a truly dynamite performance behind his monstrous kit. The band spent little time interacting with the crowd, instead taking the time to fit as much detail and musicianship as possible into their set, so that the final note of each was an absolute catharsis at the end of a thundering jam.

Yes' set

Yes' setlist

To balance out the scale of a band that was colorful, astonishingly skillful, and devotedly spot-on in their performance, Styx arrived 30 minutes after Yes’ performance of “Roundabout” to deliver what had been missing from the earlier half of the evening: a big rock show. With the stage covered in amplifier cabinets and faux-stone pillars and staircases, not to mention keyboardist Lawrence Gowan’s light-up, rotating keyboard mount, Styx was far more about the spectacle than trying to play the world’s greatest guitar solo. This is not to say that the group’s performance was poor, by any means; however, it was an interesting paradigm shift between a band that managed to fit some fun in between their solo sections, and a band that put fun and wild stage antics first and foremost, devoting their hour and a half to giving the crowd what they had come for.

Ricky Phillips, James Young, Todd Sucherman and Tommy Shaw of Styx

Ricky Phillips, James Young, Todd Sucherman and Tommy Shaw of Styx

Despite all of the fun that Tommy, JY and the rest of Styx claimed to be having onstage, it did seem that they were more excited to be on the last leg of their American tour than to be performing in front of over 10,000 people. While guitarist Tommy Shaw got off a few impressive leaps in the first few songs of the set, and Ricky Phillips and James Young traded licks back and forth for a few light-emblazoned solos, the band’s enthusiasm and energy level weren’t quite in sync. Lest our readers think that the band appeared bored, or annoyed at being there, it was definitely not the case; however, the routines and notes seemed slightly contrived and without the same bombast that they were no doubt possessed of when the tour began. Tired or not, however, the band DID seem to be extremely happy to attract such a magnificent crowd, and talked extensively to them between songs.

James "J.Y." Young of Styx

James "J.Y." Young of Styx

Styx, similarly to Yes, was not comprised of its original lineup, but drummer Todd Sucherman was definitely the ecstatic backbone of the band this evening, and seemed keen on stuffing in as many extra hits and rolls as he possibly could between songs. Lead vocal duties were traded up between Shaw and Young for most of the set, with keyboardist Lawrence Gowan departing from his pedestal a few times throughout the evening to belt out the ballads of the evening, such as “Lady” and “Suite Madam Blue”. As with their English cohorts from a few hours earlier, Styx was magnificently received by their onlookers, who looked on with shining eyes and knew the words to every single song of the set; however, by the end of the set, even the crowd — except for the frenzied screamers at the front barricade — appeared a bit tired and ready for the show to be over. No doubt wishing to end the evening in style, Styx’ performance of “Come Sail Away” was paired with a billowing fog machine and a massive explosion of confetti and streamers to mark the final notes of the song. There was only a short pause until the band returned for an encore performance of “Renegade”, and thus the night was brought to a close.

Ricky Phillips and Tommy Shaw of Styx

Ricky Phillips and Tommy Shaw of Styx

While not a particular fan of Styx, I could definitely appreciate the staying power that the quintet possessed, and the overjoyed roar of the crowd when their heroes of yesteryear took over the stage with the intention of rocking just as hard as they had 30 years ago. I was personally more excited to see Yes, a band whose musicianship and songwriting skill have truly stood the test of time; while their new pieces from their 2011 record Fly From Here did not possess the same daring and experimental nature that such classics as “Starship Trooper” or “Roundabout” had, they were definitely, distinctly, utterly Yes. In addition, it was quite a treat to see two of the biggest bands of their respective eras with most of their original members present, as opposed to slightly-classic bands that held only one original member within their ranks. No doubt Styx will continue on to excite and enthrall their fans the world over; for me, I am simply grateful to be able to witness the spectacle of an arena rock show, even when I wasn’t born in the era of their legacy.

Styx's setlist

Styx's setlist

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

More Posts - Twitter - Facebook

Read Also:

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Vaelsung August 7, 2011 at 11:41 am

Jonathan, are you sure you actually WENT to this event? Your review is puzzling at best. Styx and Yes are my 2 favorite bands and to see them together in one night was something I thought I’d never see. I saw Yes with 4 out of their current 5 members and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was even w/o Jon. But their performance that you reviewed was indeed “anything but animated”. Out of the 10 plus times I’ve seen Yes, this was BY FAR their most sluggish, sloth-like, and dirgish performance, 3 words I never could have equated to a Yes show before and other reviews of their current tour with Styx is blasted all over the Internet. STYX and their exquisite combo of talent, musicianship, and showmanship won the night by a HUGE landslide and practically everyone I saw was on their feet while Yes had many in the lawn section taking a nap on their sleeping bags, which as a massive fan of Yes really saddened me. But hey, despite your very odd and misfired review that failed on almost every level, “yours is no disgrace”.

Reply

Jeff Hinkel August 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Dude!…You got this backwards.Styx owned that that concert! Saw Yes quite a few years ago on the reunion tour and the excitement of that show was far greater than what I witnessed the other night;..And ,also saw Styx quite a few years ago in the Filmore(a very small but famous venue here in the Bay Area).Performances in these venues typically produce the most excitement because of the intimacy but the show I saw the other night was stronger despite the shorter set and the fact they are without Denise De Young,their original singer.Were you really their? Do you even live in California?Have you ever been anywhere near the Shoreline Ampitheater?

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: