It seems like one of the requirements for being a professional music critic these days is to have a professed loathing of such bands as Styx, Journey, Kansas, and the rest of the classic AOR pantheon. Screw that! I'm certainly no professional music critic, but I'll take Styx over most of the current crop of critic's darlings any day of the week. I grew up on most of the great arena rock bands of the 70's and 80's, and their music will always be welcome in my home - no matter how bad some of their later stuff got.
In 1978, while in junior high school, and still formulating my musical tastes, I was given my first Styx album, Pieces Of Eight, as a Christmas present. Fueled by the power of such arena rock anthems as "Blue Collar Man" and "Renegade", the album quickly became one of my favorites. Unfortunately, the following year's disappointing Cornerstone album quickly dampened my enthusiasm, so I settled on earlier Styx classics like The Grand Illusion and Crystal Ball, and eventually absorbed some of their earliest, more progressive albums like The Serpent Is Rising.
I first heard about this DVD when Tommy Shaw announced its forthcoming release during a Styx concert I attended this summer in Fairfax, Virginia. Styx drew a monstrous crowd for this outdoor festival, and they put on a killer show. The band's current lineup consists of sole founding member James "JY" Young (guitar & vocals), 30-year veteran Tommy Shaw (guitar & vocals), and relative newcomers Ricky Phillips (bass and guitar), Lawrence Gowan (keyboards & vocals), and Todd Sucherman (drums). Founding bassist Chuck Panozzo still occasionally performs with the band, but has not been a regular touring member since being diagnosed with AIDS in 2001.
Last year, Liza Grossman, who conducts the Contemporary Youth Orchestra of Cleveland, personally contacted Styx's management about joining forces with the band for this unique concert experience that we are fortunate enough to now have on DVD. The rock band meets orchestra thing has been a popular trend lately and has produced some mixed results. If you want to see just how good it can work, check out Collective Soul's magnificent Home concert DVD, which was released earlier this year, and features The Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. I must admit that I was not expecting it, but Styx's One With Everything is damn-near as good.
The Contemporary Youth Orchestra, or CYO, is a 115-piece orchestra and 60-voice chorus, made up entirely of teenagers ranging in age from 13-19. It was refreshing to see this group of kids, who were not even born yet when Styx was at the pinnacle of their career, play this music with the enthusiasm of lifelong fans. The show was one non-stop party with all of the kids dancing and singing between each of their parts, barely able to stay in their seats as they played, and constantly cheering on their orchestra mates and the band. Liza Grossman, who looks remarkably like Tony Soprano's sister Janice, was also into the performance like she had spent many a night partying to some Grand Illusion back in the day.