"I just love to say Sugar Land!" Tommy Shaw proclaimed to a chorus of cheers from a packed Smart Financial Centre. The strange sentiment came after the Styx guitarist and frontman crammed the word about a dozen times into a 30-second span.
Over the course of a two and a half hour set with no openers, an intermission, and two encores, Shaw and company probably said "Sugar Land" no less than 50 times. That's not entirely relevant to the quality of the performance, but interesting nonetheless.
As for their performance, the 47-year-old band with a mix of original and replacement members put on a roughly 150-minute clinic on shredding — guitars, vocal chords, drum heads and keys. The collection of aging legends rocked the hell out of Sugar Land's premiere concert venue with the intensity and stage presence of 20-year-old Coachella headliners.
A 66-year-old Shaw, whose been front-manning the iconic Chicago prog-rock band since 1975, wailed lead vocals on hits like "Blue Collar Man" and "Too Much Time on my Hands" with a vocal range and delivery that seemed to turn back the hands of time.
Guitarist and vocalist James "JY" Young, an original band member, delivered lead vocals on the classic anthem "Light Up", as well as shattering solos throughout the night. Meanwhile, Lawrence Gowan, who took over keys and vocals from founding member Dennis DeYoung in 1999, continued to fill the role with the same tenacity and showmanship he's displayed for the last 20 years.
Gowan's spinning keyboard became both prop and instrument as the 62-year-old Scotish-Canadian danced around it, often playing one handed solos behind his back like a pianist impersonation of a Jimi Hendrix bit.
Though no longer able to play full shows due to his deteriorating health, original bassist and founding member Chuck Panozzo was brought on, to an enthusiastic round of applause, for the 1977 hit "Fooling Yourself".
The band's extended set was lengthened by a 20-minute intermission — something more acts should consider implementing — and ended suddenly after a masterful performance of the quintessential Styx ballad "Come Sail Away" (for which Panozzo once again came on stage). Having yet to play their two other biggest hits, "Mr. Roboto" and "Renegade", an encore was to be expected.
Fans didn't wait long, as less than two minutes later the lights came back on to the familiar sound of 1980s robot noises and the opening notes of "Mr. Roboto". The nostalgic and theatrically brilliant performance shifted, without pause, to the hard rocking anthem, "Renegade", ending the show in earnest with the head ringing sounds of multiple guitar solos and a masterful drum performance by Todd Sucherman.
The band that once dominated the charts with four consecutive platinum albums and dozens of top 40 songs, showed they still have what it takes to bring down the house in one of the nation's top concert venues. A bucket list rock and roll experience for some, a visceral trip back in time for others. On a Thursday night in Sugar Land, Styx brought the past to life, if only or a moment.
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