There’s been a growing trend in recent years of bands eschewing the traditional hit-packed concert format in favor of playing an album in its entirety. It’s a marketing strategy that’s as brilliant (“Hey fans, come hear songs you haven’t heard live in decades—if ever!”) as it is dangerous (“Oh, shit, do we know what we’re doing here?”) That danger quotient is multiplied when the set list features not one, but two albums. It’s multiplied yet again when three-fifths of the band’s current lineup wasn’t around when the original tracks were slapped on vinyl decades ago.
Needless to say, before Styx took the stage to perform The Grand Illusion (1977) and Pieces of Eight (1978)—breaking from their regular tour routine to do so—I was a little curious. And by that I mean rubber-necking-a-car-crash curious. Looking back, I should’ve known longtime members Tommy Shaw and James “J.Y.” Young never would’ve attempted this if they weren’t certain they could pull it off. And pull it off they did, not only nailing the usual classics (think “Fooling Yourself,” “Come Sail Away” and “Miss America” from The Grand Illusion and “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade” from Pieces of Eight) but also scoring high marks with such lesser-known songs as “Superstars,” “Great White Hope” and “Queen of Spades.” (Had any of the band’s trio of lead singers forgotten the words to these obscure tunes, the hard-core fans in the first several rows surely would’ve saved them.)
Perhaps the best part of the two-hour show was that Shaw, Young and the rest of the band—which included occasional appearances by original bassist Chuck Panozzo—genuinely seemed to enjoy the experience as much as those hard-core fans. Makes you hope Styx digs into their deep catalog and tries this again next time they roll through town—that is, as long as the atrocity that was the “Mr. Roboto”-anchored Killroy Was Here isn’t among the offerings … ★★★★☆