Tommy Shaw, who brought a hard-rock quality to Styx in 1976, left in ’88 and rejoined nine years ago, was recently quoted saying the act was designed with the intention of members coming and going — the elaborate album artwork, for example, never featured photos of the band. Shaw, though, in his reinvention of the band sans its other leading light, singer Dennis DeYoung, has shaved off the baroque textures and created a hard-rock outfit that takes a ham-fisted approach to nearly everything in their canon.
Styx’s current album, “Big Bang Theory,” is being distributed by Universal Music, their first major-label affiliation in 15 years. Driving home his point about interchangeability, the band’s last major label release, “Edge of the Century” on A&M, featured James Young of the current members. Yet its original bassist Chuck Panozzo, who plays about half of Styx’s current show, who provides a connective tissue between DeYoung and Shaw, the two songwriters who gave Styx its signature sound.
With two walls of amplifiers behind them, Styx made the usually reliable Wiltern sound atrocious. Todd Sucherman’s drumming was overbearing; he played with one level of attack, often slipped as a timekeeper and found little need for anything approaching nuance. Shaw’s co-leaders — Young and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan — bring in styles that run counter to Shaw’s blue collar approach. Gowan appears to have developed his chops playing in a Styx tribute band at a bad Las Vegas lounge, and both musicians are far too showy.
Shaw, who still has rock-star swagger at 52 and can nail some impressive solos, created room in the set to play some of the covers that fill “Big Bang Theory.” None were very impressive: The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” was over the top, Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” exposed Shaw’s weaknesses as a singer and Humble Pie’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” gave anyone who remembers the Humble Pie version newfound appreciation for Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton.
Besides a reasonable “Come Sail Away,” band had one moment when it all clicked: “Crystal Ball,” a soft number that built layer by layer without venturing into rococo excess. Unlike the rest of the 100-minute show, for four minutes this edition of Styx proved it could perform a textured song without bombast.
Styx will play the Ritz Theater in Elizabeth, N.J., on Nov. 11.