It's easy for music nerds to cry foul about the kinds of concerts that our area tends to attract. After all, there's always some too-hip-for-you-to-have-heard-of indie rock band out there that's never played Western New York or Southern Ontario. But there's at least one niche of the concert-going population that has absolutely nothing to complain about -- fans of big, dumb arena rock from the '70s and '80s.
As I settled into my seat in Niagara Fallsview Casino's Avalon Theatre on Thursday night, getting ready to take in the first show of a two-night stand from Styx, I wondered if fans of this type of band are more religiously devout than the rest of us. God has certainly answered their prayers lately -- it's been less than a year since the last pair of Styx shows at Fallsview; REO Speedwagon played there in April; Journey performed at Darien Lake a few weeks ago. But when Tommy Shaw & Co. hit the stage to a cacophony of worshipful cheers, it became clear that the answer to my cheese-rock quandary wasn't of a spiritual nature. These guys just rake it in when they hit our neck of the woods.
While I'm not going to pretend I don't find Styx's concepts corny and their approach to hard rock laboriously polished, it would be ridiculous to bash them unmercifully. Because even though original lead singer Dennis DeYoung left the group awhile back, the quintet sounds excellent, re-creating the shameless bombast of their most popular recordings with energy and flair.
A lot of Styx's seamless live sound has to do with two relatively newer additions to the lineup -- keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan and drummer Todd Sucherman. Gowan is a rock star in his own right, whose Canadian Top 10 singles include the 1985 smash "A Criminal Mind." As he shared his classically trained piano chops and John Lennon-esque voice, his countrymen in the crowd showed their appreciation. Sucherman's drum kit was a massive thing, and he used every inch of it on his wild, commanding fills.
The group was firing on all cylinders, and it was a shame that such synergy was wasted on junk like "Lady" (I've never thought a girl would be smitten by a guy that calls her "lady," but whatever). And for the folks who saw their last tour, it's too bad that they haven't changed things up all that much. Their "Styx-ified" cover of "I Am the Walrus" was pretty impressive the first time around, but it felt like old news Thursday, and the story Shaw told leading into "Crystal Ball" was pretty much identical as the one he told in '08.
The positives -- "Too Much Time on My Hands" was as catchy as ever; the watered-down Who riffage of "Grand Illusion" was silly in a good way, and "Suite Madame Blue" was performed beautifully, even though it's a complete rip-off of Zeppelin's "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You."
And if you're a sucker for cliched rock star moves like guitarists showing you their instrument while they solo, screams of "Are you ready to rock!" and gratuitous pick tossing, Styx's schtick would have you begging for more.
Thursday and Friday night in the Fallsview Casino Resort, Niagara Falls, Ont.