Live Review: Styx and Yes Launch Summer Tour on 4th of July

Published on July 6th, 2011

July 4, 2011 – There are a few different ways to celebrate America’s birthday. You can watch a fireworks display, attend a reading of the Declaration of Independence, or rock your heart out with two of the greatest progressive rock bands in history. Styx and Yes were on tap for the latter option at 102.9 WMGK’s 11th Annual ‘Let Freedom Rock’ Festival at Camden, NJ’s Susquehanna Bank Center. Styx’s Lawrence Gowan pinned flags to his keyboard, Yes’ Benoit David draped himself in a sequin flag vest, and the crowd got to hear the American anthem “Suite Madame Blue” on the 4th of July. The founding fathers couldn’t have imagined a rock holiday so epic.

There are a lot of surprises in the Styx catalog, and the sheer amount of songs centered around America is one of them. There’s the obvious “Miss America” sung by guitar animal James “J.Y.” Young, “Man in the Wilderness” is about Tommy Shaw’s older brother serving his country in Vietnam, and last but not least the aforementioned “Suite Madame Blue”, which was pretty much written about the bicentennial celebration. Not to put any shame on Yes, but Styx was clearly born to play a gig like this.

Hosted by the DJs of Philadelphia’s classic rock station WMGK, the event was in its 11th year, but its first year transplanted inside the Susquehanna Bank Center on the New Jersey side of the river. And it’s the first year that two rock giants have been shipped in for the party.

Rest is a foreign concept to Styx. They don’t rest, they just tour. And it’s paying off for them. In the past decade, they’ve played thousands of stages in front of millions of people, becoming etched into American summer pastimes everywhere as an institution of guns blazing rock that never slows down.

Try telling 57-year-old guitarist Tommy Shaw to slow down. If you can catch him, that is. He looks, sounds, and acts as if he’s in his 20s. Whether it’s good genes, good habits, or a combination of both, the high screams of Styx anthems (especially “Man in the Wilderness”) pose no challenge at all.

He’s changing up the lyrics per usual. With a gleam in his eye, he can’t help but throw in new rhymes that sound like they should have been there all along. “We’ve been a long way together now…and we’ve still got a long way to go!” he adds after the chanting chorus of “Blue Collar Man”. Shaw lives and breathes music, and it shows in his voice; even his between-song banter sounds like a soaring verse.

But it’s not just Shaw who oozes creativity and energy on stage, it’s the entire band from hard hitting drummer Todd Sucherman to the snarling J.Y. and the unstoppable Phillips and Gowan. Logic suggests that such enthusiasm is impossible after so many nights spent on stage, but Styx defies such logic.

They kept to the hits for their 90-minute set, but they did throw in a curveball. “One With Everything” was played live in addition to on tape during the now expected swag throw. Everything from t-shirts to Gowan’s water bottle is up for grabs in this fan free-for-all.

Although Styx had been playing shows earlier in June, this was truly Yes’ first gig for the summer. But headlining over a powerhouse like Styx, there would be no time for working out the kinks.

Fortunately for the group, now led by Canadian tribute band wonder Benoit David, there weren’t many kinks – even in the new material that was tried out. “Fly from Here” is the first Yes album to be released in over a decade, bassist Chris Squire was almost embarrassed to reveal. But the Yes faithful just might forgive them for taking so long, because the title track is sounding good.

Most of the set consisted of extended glimpses into the past, however.

“Were any of you here on July 4, 1976?” asked Squire, referencing the band’s performance there 35 years ago. The epic show earned its title in a more literal fashion with several songs lasting more than 10 minutes. Guitarist Steve Howe and Squire would get caught in a jam that would seem to have no end as their frontman took to the tambourine to pass the time.

Few bands can boast a more confusing history, in fact Yes is more easily explained in eras. While Howe, Squire, and drummer Alan White are remaining pillars of the original line-up, there have been some changes behind the stack of keyboards. Original keyboardist Rick Wakeman’s son Oliver took over his dad’s duties in recent years, but now there’s been another change.

The great Geoff Downes has returned, and it made opening song “Tempus Fugit” all the more entertaining (he co-wrote it, you see). Downes is a Yes album from a brief period in 1980-81, but more commonly known as the permanent keyboardist for the spinoff Asia. Still with us? Good.

One of the main highlights of any Yes concert is without a doubt the killer jam that never fails to erupt as the show closes with “Starship Trooper”. It’s a deceiving little song that starts out slow but kicks the moment Squire grabs his bass and gives it the deepest thundering boom he can muster. According to the WMGK DJs, the stage was shaking as those notes were echoed through. And oh yes – Downes broke out his keytar to kick it into full gear. It must have been nice to break out of that keyboard cage.




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  1. Posted by Theresa on July 6th, 2011, 08:27 [Reply]

    Unfortunately I couldn’t get to Styx and Yes concert, but I celebrated the 4th of July listening the Michael Libow‘s cover band concert in El Segundo. I love rock music and I really enjoyed their show. Although I hope I’ll get to see Styx in a concert as soon is possible.

  2. Posted by MrBig on July 6th, 2011, 11:05 [Reply]

    You forgot to mention that Benoit David lost his voice during the 2nd song, “Hearts Of the Sunrise”. When he try to hit the second, “Sharp” his voice hit the floor.And stayed there all night. So as a long time YES fan, who was sitting first row when they toured, “Close To The Edge”, lets not ever forget Jon Anderson and how much better they would be with him there ! I said it once & i’ll say it again, A bad day seeing YES is still better than a good day at work.

  3. Posted by diamond dave on July 9th, 2011, 10:13 [Reply]

    I’m a huge YES fan …..I couldn’t get past David Hasseloff replacing Jon Anderson…..he can sing in high pitch….but sorry….he is no Jon….not even close….his stage presence was nothing short of annoying and he looks like a cruise ship activities director that just came out of the closet……I recently saw Jon at BB KINGS…..this is an absolute travestie … Then Styx comes on after……innkeeper. faux YES……and completly level the stage…the depth of talent in this band is huge…three front men all with vocal and musical talent to front there own band.. Tommy Shaw….isamazing….when JY Young and the keyboard player hit there o wn vocal pieces….you realize this is one power house band…they ROCKED…. in every sense of the word…..YES…is the musical equivalent…of ketchup on pasta with out Jon…

  4. Posted by Tamra J on July 10th, 2011, 18:32 [Reply]

    Saw Styx and Yes at Canandaigua, NY on 7/7/11. Styx was first (thank goodness) and absolutely hands down rocked the house!! So sweet! Such a personable band, really enjoying themselves up there, appreciating the fans – it was awesome. But then Yes….well, we stayed for three songs….just awful. Sorry but we said No to Yes and had to leave. But I’ll see Styx again anytime, anywhere. Good God Tommy – you are soooo sexy!!

  5. Posted by JF on July 13th, 2011, 21:34 [Reply]

    I love both bands. That said, you could tell Styx has done nothing but tour for the past decade. They are so tight and LOVE what they do!
    YES was worth seeing, but they have stuffy personalities and acted like the audience was lucky to be seeing them. They all seemed angry with each other. They sounded ok.

    Overall a great concert!

  6. Posted by p.s. Buck on July 17th, 2011, 00:40 [Reply]

    Loved Yes, but would someone please tell the yacht guy with moves that belong more on Broadway than a rock stage to at least look like a rocker. Hard to get passed his obviously odd presence. Styx was rockin.

  7. Posted by MrMikie on July 31st, 2011, 21:18 [Reply]

    Just saw the Yes/Styx show at Winstar Casino in Okla. It was a shame that Yes had to follow Styx. Not that Yes was bad, they were very good. But for a group of gentlemen that appeared more like Grandfathers than rockers to follow the high energy in your face rock of Styx was unfortunate. Althouh the replacement singer for Jon Anderson is younger and quite good, he still lacks the stage savvy and energy required to follow Styx. Would have been better received by the audience had they opened.

  8. Posted by StyxRox on September 22nd, 2011, 09:12 [Reply]

    Self confessed Styx nut, I have seen Styx this year 3 times and tomorrow going to our last one this year. Every co-liner band that Styx plays with does not even compare in energy, sound and presence. We seen the Styx/Yes in Red Rocks CO about midtour. Yes was “ok”. Steve Howe started it off right with a hissy fit about the drizzling rain. He was told (reading lips) to “get his a$$ out there” by the stage manager from Styx. Still can’t figure out why Steve Howe is a “guitar god”. Yawnnnnnnnn. His guitar work was flat out boring. Chris Squire’s playing and singing was dead on but just walked the stage with minimal energy. Benoit David singing was also dead one but his lil dancing bouts were distracting. The only one that appeared to have fun or not in their own world was Geoff Downes. We spent the majority of the show watching him and his interaction with the crowd made the set bearable.

    Now for Styx, pure energy! There is not enough space for their review, I could go on forever. Just going to say, Go see them and you wont be disappointed. Even if you never really cared for them in their heyday. You will be converted.

  9. Posted by Greytouk on October 1st, 2011, 21:02 [Reply]

    AS a veteran of a dozen Styx shows, including the last tour with Rick Phillips and Lawrence Gowan, I can say with no reservation that they are at their best in the current day. However, something must have happened recently with Yes, to judge by the pans from respondents here. I saw Yes on the early leg of their tour at the Fillmore in Charlotte, and I have to say that Steve Howe turned in the most virtuousic guitar performance I have ever seen. Oliver was on keyboards and did a passable job, but ANYONE would appear merely passable following in Rick Wakemans footsteps. David Benoit also did a pretty good job, definitely was able to hit the high notes with more consistency than Jon can anymore. A shame that they couldn’t seemingly keep it going for the second half of the tour.


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