Styx, the veteran rock band that turned too much time on its hands into a massive hit, made the most of every moment June 29 when it rocked the Sands Bethlehem Event Center at the Sands Casino Resort. Onstage, singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw described the group as a “pre-Internet” entity, and the same is true for the casino grounds that are situated on the former site of the Bethlehem Steel Co. in Lehigh Valley, Pa. The location and Styx have endured many changes through time, and in this decade, both are vital creatures that are delighting crowds of all ages.
Shaw and singer/guitarist James “JY” Young have done the most time in the band since it bowed in the 1970s, but you wouldn’t have guessed that pianist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan, bassist Ricky Phillips and drummer Todd Sucherman weren’t playing with them back in their earliest days. The quintet was in unified command of the act’s classic material, dedicating much of its set to playing songs from “The Grand Illusion,” such as the title track; “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”; the bombastic, metal-kissed “Miss America”; and journeying semi-ballad “Come Sail Away.” Styx preferred to feed the audience progressive rock instead of softer tunes like “Babe” or parts of the robotic concept piece “Kilroy Was Here,” and there were no complaints from the packed house. It was clear when the group closed the night with the foot-stomping “Renegade” that the crowd would have gladly stayed for another hour.
While the smiles on Styx’s faces were gracious and mellow, supporting act Ted Nugent’s ear-to-ear grin conveyed a rabid exuberance that hasn’t dimmed in his 60s. The venue was essentially filled when he arrived onstage, showing that pairing him with Styx was a smart move, and with Nugent and Shaw playing together in Damn Yankees once upon a time, fans of that outfit got to see them vicariously united.
Nugent barely stopped for breath between songs — or throughout his renowned Uncle Ted patter that punctuated each tune. Per usual, he didn’t censor his conservative viewpoint, repeatedly crying “Freedom ain’t free!” and urging the audience to vote the “constitution-violating” politicians out of the government come November. But it’s hard not to chuckle when the avid hunter makes declarations like, “People who don’t like to kill shit, don’t worry. I got you covered. I kill enough shit for everybody!”
The singer/guitarist whipped and wailed through his repertoire as if it were for the first time. He played for casual and longtime followers alike by doling out his greatest hits, like “Just What the Doctor Ordered,” “Wango Tango,” “Stranglehold” and “Cat Scratch Fever,” and following an unexpected diversion during “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” to meander into Jimi Hendrix’s 12-bar blues jewel “Red House.” His frenetic energy soon returned as he paid tribute to “the black founding fathers of the best music in the world,” giving shout-outs to the spirit of such mavericks as Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. With his own repetitive grooves, attention to detail, lock-step backing performers and unflagging vigor, do we dare call Nugent the James Brown of rock ‘n’ roll? (We do — minus the shuffling.)
Review and photos by Christa Titus.