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Live review: Styx, Yes @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Nostalgia night came to Red Rocks Tuesday, as two bands whose heydays ended in the mid-’80s brought an unlikely tour to Colorado.

On the surface of it, Yes and Styx would seem to have little in common. The former is known mainly for long, instrumentally-complex pieces with the vocals of Jon Anderson soaring on top (the band’s brief foray into short, pop-oriented songs on “90125” notwithstanding), while the latter wrote some of the pioneering power ballads, and can get peoples’ fists and lighters in the air like nothing else.

 

Styx lead guitarist Tommy Shaw did try to tie the two together at one point, noting that both bands were “album-oriented rock, prog rock and good music,” though Styx’s ties to prog rock are superficial at best. One commonality, however (aside from both band’s exceptional harmonies), is that both are touring without several original members, including their original lead singers, Yes’ Jon Anderson and Styx’s Dennis DeYoung. Both bands have opted for the “Rock Star” approach, finding singers who sound eerily similar to the one’s they have replaced; Lawrence Gowan for Styx and Benoit David for Yes. Gowan has been singing with Styx since 1999, while David joined Yes in 2008, having sung in a Yes tribute band called Close to the Edge.

Yes concentrated mostly on what could be called the “classic” Yes period. If the band occasionally seemed a little off in sections of its long songs, with the music seeming a little out of time and disjointed, Howe can still pull it together like no one else. His guitar solo in “Yours is No Disgrace” dazzled, while bassist Chris Squire anchored “Heart of the Sunrise” with blasts of bombast. The crowd seemed to not know what to make of the typical 10-minute songs, and it was sad that the best reception of the night came for the power pop ballad “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

Styx came on to some prerecorded power rock and immediately launched into “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights).” Without DeYoung’s overly-extensive theatrics and softer stylings, Shaw and guitarist James Young are free to drive Styx in a more hard-edged sound, and both looked like they were having a blast all night long. Shaw, 57, still has that high-register voice that drove Styx’s better material in the band’s heyday. The harmonies on “Grand Illusion” seemed a little lower than the album version, no doubt the attrition of age.

Much of Styx’s set was dominated by Shaw hits like “Too Much Time on My Hands” and the brilliant “Crystal Ball.” Gowan stepped up with a spot-on take on “Lady” and “Suite Madam Blue,” while Shaw and Young showed off their guitar talents on a twining guitar solo on “Man in the Wilderness.”

Original bassist Chuck Panozzo also made a couple of appearances, including on Shaw’s teen angst anthem “Fooling Yourself” and the anthem “Come Sail Away.”

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Candace Horgan is a Denver freelance writer/photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. When not writing and shooting, she plays guitar and violin in Denver band Black Postcards.

John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.