Saturday, July 30, 2011

Styx / Yes - Live 2011.07.24 Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Maryland Heights, Missouri

I've seen some local shows around St. Louis, which I suppose I could be reviewing, but I haven't seen a big-name rock band in quite a while. But when I heard that Styx and Yes were touring – together! – for sixteen dollars! – it was too hard to say no.

Artists: Styx and Yes
Venue: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Location: Maryland Heights, Missouri
Date: 24 July 2011

Yes' setlist:
01. Tempus Fugit
02. Yours Is No Disgrace
03. Heart of the Sunrise
04. I've Seen All Good People
05. Fly from Here Pt. 1 – We Can Fly
06. And You and I
07. Owner of a Lonely Heart
08. Starship Trooper

09. Roundabout

Styx' setlist:
01. Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
02. Grand Illusion
03. One with Everything
04. Too Much Time on My Hands
05. Lady
06. Lorelei
07. Man in the Wilderness
08. Suite Madame Blue
09. Crystal Ball
10. Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
11. Miss America
12. Come Sail Away

13. Renegade

Yes are perhaps *the* prototypical progressive rock band. They've been around for decades and they still haven't stopped making music. Their current line-up features mostly long-standing members of the band. The only recent newcomer to the band is singer Benoît David, filling in for Jon Anderson, who is apparently absent for health reasons. For a group aged mostly in the 60s, it's impressive that the others are still trucking along. Steve Howe may look skeletal, but he can play the guitar like nobody I've seen.

The band were in good form. I couldn't help but notice some faltering harmonies and missed bass notes, but they kept their act together. Although they mostly stayed with songs that are tried and true, and well beloved, they didn't hide their dramatic extended instrumental passages. They allowed their songs to grow and fill the space, so their nine songs lasted well over an hour. A couple songs may have been noticeably simpler and poppier ("Only of a Lonely Heart"), but these were still quality performances, and I was pleased to see a song from their newest album, Fly from Here. It might not have held up quite as strongly as the classic pieces, and I might be a bit surprised that they didn't play more from the album, but I suppose they were out to please their audience.

Styx might have had their progressive moments, but they wouldn't be the first band I would think of to be headlining a "Progressive U.S. Tour", as it was billed. They've always struck me as being more focused on the classic rock and the pop, but maybe I missed the memo. Their performance, however, confirmed my beliefs: they know how to rock, but they are more interested in wild guitar solos and dancing around stage than in constructing an expansive, multilayered soundscape. That's fine, it's just that they didn't really put on a "progressive" performance.

Their show was a lot of fun, but it's almost hard to take seriously. Only one original member (James Young) remains, and although Tommy Shaw may have been around for a long time, the other members had no part in writing most of the songs that were performed. Styx also didn't stray far from comfortable territory; they stayed close to the heart and only played popular singles and classic album cuts (including over half of The Grand Illusion), with the sole exception of 2006's "One with Everything". James and Tommy both had plenty of stage time for their hypermasculine guitar jams, but keyboardist Lawrence Gowan may have taken the cake with his theatrics. He spent more time dancing around stage, jumping on his keyboard stand, and playing his instrument from around his back than he did actually focusing on playing any seriously complicated parts.

The further the set went, the more ridiculous the themes and the backdrop got. "Miss America" may have been written about the dark side of the pageant, but you wouldn't have known it from all the patriotic Americana and the stills of pageant participants. The glories of this nation were extolled many a time, and by the time they closed with "Renegade", the backdrop mostly featured strange cowboy-themed images and shoddy graphics of rotating sheriff's badges. The band certainly has a high level of energy, and if you're willing to join them on their ride, it is hard to stop laughing and enjoying it all.

Fun as it was, there is no doubt which band has the greater artistic sincerity. When I heard about the concert, I assumed that Yes would headline based on their continued presence, the high quality of their output, and their deep impact on modern music. However, I forgot to ask myself which band sold more records. Even if Styx does have more fans, Yes writes better music. The way they weave pieces and parts together, the way they layer instruments and vocals, the less showman-based nature of their solos, and the variety of their total sound output are all unarguably superior. And when they did decide to dance around a bit and start to rock hard, they didn't hold back. When Howe and bassist Chris Squire locked parts together in a powerful jam, suddenly keyboardist Geoff Downes appeared out of nowhere next to them with a keytar! Incredible. That's the way into this writer's heart.

Yes: B+
Styx: B-