STYX onstage (Photo courtesy of
Mission Viejo High School

Concert Review: Styx light up the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa

Like all firsts, my first concert was something of a celebration. It was the epitome of a Californian summer afternoon — torrid and slow, as if the Sun had crowded closer and found itself stronger than before — but as the evening fell, the temperature settled in the seventies and forgave the heat of the day.

An audience of 8,000 Styx fans excitedly anticipated the arrival of the band onstage, and at a timely 8:15 p.m. on July 24, the five-piece band made their grand entrance — emerging from the second tier of their setup and descending the stairs on either side, to the sound of the audience’s massive applause.

The set list of the night was a compilation of 16 songs, each emphasizing different points and aspects of the band’s career. Beginning with hits like “The Grand Illusion” and “Lady,” Styx kicked off the night with energy and enthusiasm.

The second tier onstage became the destination for displaying that rock star status for bassist Ricky Phillips and guitarist James “JY” Young who ran up the stairs, guitars in hand, and played copious solos and riffs.

The venue genuinely illuminated during “Light Up,” as the audience held up their cell phone flashlights in the air and sang along to join the celebration.

Around the middle of the set, lead vocalist and guitarist Tommy Shaw turned to his acoustic guitar for “Radio Silence” (a hint towards the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, as well as a nod at their most recent album, “The Mission of 2017”) and his more laid-back ballad “Crystal Ball.”

The backdrop onstage — the band logo hovering over the Earth, surrounded by the deep expanse of space and other celestial bodies — fit the occasion well.

The set was closed with a trifecta of songs headlined by lead vocalist and keyboardist, Lawrence Gowan. The first of the three, “Khedive,” is entirely a solo synthesizer piece with no lyrics. The song is reminiscent of classical piano stylings, given a Styx rock twist.

After exhibiting his keyboard savvy, Gowan spoke briefly about Freddie Mercury of Queen, and the impact he has had on the band members as a musician and a person. He promptly dove into “Bohemian Rhapsody,” inviting the crowd to sing along with him, then shifted into “Come Sail Away” with the rest of the band.

The last song found the entire audience standing and singing every word just as the band did, cheering even louder when the quintet returned to the stage for an encore of “Mr. Roboto” and “Renegade.”

There’s a first time for everything, and this concert is sure to be a favorite.