Concert review: An evening with Styx at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater (with photos)

Classic soft prog rock group Styx brought back the retro sounds of the 1970s and '80s one note at a time this past Saturday, October 23, at Ruth Eckerd Hall. And they weren't just playing their hits. On this tour, the band presented a two-part show that fans had could really get behind: two sets featuring the band's beloved LPs, “A Grand Illusion” and “Pieces of Eight.” To introduce the fans to this whole thing, a Star-Wars like video intro played describing the formation and rise of the great band we all know as Styx.

Ruth Eckerd was full with Styx super-fans, some of whom even brought their children. Without an opening band, Styx took the stage promptly at 7:30pm and the crowd went crazy. They were all there: Tommy Shaw, James "JY" Young, Lawrence Gowan, Todd Sucherman, Ricky Phillips, and even their original bassist Chuck Panozzo came out to play on a few songs. They all looked like they walked right out of the late 70’s and it seemed their hair hasn’t changed much since the 80’s.

Tommy rocked the guitar and Lawrence had a keyboard stand that rotated so he could rock any which way he pleased. Todd played an intimidating-looking drum set like a pro and wowed his fans with each beat. JY and Ricky shredded some sweet solos and kept the hits rollin’ throughout the set and when you added in Chuck they had quite the guitar arsenal to blow the crowd away.

Although I’ll admit I didn’t know every song, it didn’t seem like most of the audience knew them verbatim either, but Styx made it possible for you to enjoy the show no matter what fan status you held. You could feel the bass in every song and the vocals and harmonies sounded as clear as they did on disc. When they played “Come Sail Away,” the entire audience was up singing, rocking and amped up for the rest of the albums.

The great thing about these two albums is that they were reminiscent of an 80’s rock opera or psychedelic trip, but was still completely unique. There were these strange, yet fun, hidden stories in each tune, and the members of Styx were just so committed to their music that it made for an epic performance.

They had video interludes of flipping each side of the album, graphics to go along with each song and even some pictures and footage from the late 70’s to keep the crowd’s attention. Between the two albums they had an intermission so fans could keep the beer flowing and so Styx could rest and do some wardrobe modifications.

The crowd was definitely ready for part two when Styx reappeared. There was one woman in a sequined, disco-ball-looking shirt that didn’t sit the entire evening. She danced and sang the entire night. Air-guitarists were everywhere!

Although the super-fan right next to me claimed that I could never understand the greatness of Styx and why this night was so cool, and also said I was too young to deserve to be there, it was a great experience to be had. Since Styx has pretty much hit 80’s icon status, it’s nice to see that they’ve earned the right to do what they want. On this tour, all they wanted was to give the fans what they’d been asking for all along. They ended up doing even more than that.

After they played both albums they rocked us with a Beatles cover of “I am the Walrus” and closed out with “Too Much Time on My Hands.” Sadly they did not rock “Mr. Roboto” but I guess a tour such as this has given them the right to choose not to play that. “The Grand Illusion” and “Pieces of Eight” are great albums and hearing them back to back, seeing them performed live with such enthusiasm for the work made Saturday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall an Awesome 80’s night!

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