On a genuine summer night – perfectly balmy and not a trace of autumnal vibes that have been lurking about as of late – classic rock band Styx headlined the second-last Artpark Tuesdays in the Park concert. It was sold out.
So many Tuesdays, so many storm clouds this concert season. But this night was a perfect confluence of well-preserved classic rock, an elated crowd and a glowing venue.
The crowd went berserk at the first sighting of guitarists/vocalists Tommy Shaw and James Young, dressed in outfits one only sees on rock stars: skinny jeans and spangled jackets. Shaw surveyed the throng before him, as if searching for a lost love. Young pointed intently here and there.
Set opener “The Grand Illusion,” with recognizable marching drum beat and heraldic synthesizer, was met with screams of recognition. The title track on its 1977 release, the song is one of the band’s famed story-songs, heavy on topical earnestness. The lyrics “don’t be fooled by the radio, TV or magazines,” are poignant for the reality show and infotainment currents of today.
One song down and already guitar picks were being flung with great frequency from the stage; this continued throughout the 90-minute set. Even keyboardist and vocalist Lawrence Gowan grabbed picks taped and at-the-ready on the guitarists’ mic stands to get in on the flicking.
Leading into “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” from the band’s other mega-hit “Too Much Time On My Hands,” Shaw, who switched to an acoustic guitar, paused to address fans.
“Hello friends, what a beautiful night for a rock show. You sound so good singing, let’s sing some more!” Shaw removed his sparkling black jacket, revealing a long-sleeved black and white shirt. He changed shirt again later – a rare mid-set rock ’n’ roll costume change.
Gowan also commented on the beauty of the night and venue as the band began “Lady,” its premier radio hit. He added praise for the audience: “This is an awfully good-looking crowd, is it a mixture of the American-Canadian thing? I’m all for cross-border shopping.” Canadian-born Gowan then flicked another pick.
Young conjured the Gerald Ford presidency and former hard-partying days to place the next song on a collective timeline. “In the old days we would hold up lighters, the modern-day equivalent is the cell phone camera light. I’m looking for a special effect, light up everybody.” The dusky amphitheater was then with firefly light from the phones of a quarter of the crowd for the stoner song “Light Up.” “Congratulations, you survived your own crazy,” Shaw said at song’s end.
Mid-set Styx played a faithful Beatles cover, “I Am the Walrus.” “It’s sacred ground we’re stepping on here, but you New York Staters and visiting dignitaries can handle it,” Gowan said. The audience, charged with intermittent “Whoo” parts, met the challenge con brio.
The band dipped into cover song terrain again after “Blue Collar Man” (another lively sing-along) with a Stones/McCartney/Queen medley. Demonstrating that any rock moment can be transformed into mighty theater, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Live and Let Die” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” got Styx tribute/luster.
The encore, performed amid enveloping clouds of dry ice, also featured generous tossing of band merch into the crowd. Styx paired “Rockin’ the Paradise” with the rouser “Renegade” for a delightful finish.
Opening the show in the sunny early slot was local and long-running band A Potter’s Field, playing guitar-rich originals. Lead guitarist Tony Christiano’s kids were spotted on stage snapping images with a smartphone and sitting on the Styx drum riser. Elegant lead singer Mai Lien Chichester, rocking black velvet pants with deep slits up the legs announced each song.
They ended with “Undertaker,” “We’ll end on a sad, depressing note,” she said but the song was belied by its jaunty beat and lyrics about someone who will “pick fights with anyone who’ll listen.”