I must tell you that I was a little wary of this one at first. No disrespect to talented kids out there, but while you hear of well known bands playing with well known orchestras, I wasn’t sure what to think when I saw the name Contemporary Youth Orchestra.
I needn’t have worried. Styx knew exactly what they were doing. This is great listening! Often you have to listen to a new CD several times before it really grabs you. This one was great from the start. Much credit to Liza Grossman, Musical Director of the CYO and to those talented kids in the orchestra and choir. Oh, and a pat on the back to Styx for doing it.
Dive RIght In
With no messing around, they open with classic rocker "Blue Collar Man" and wow, what a start! I love this song, but it has a whole new element with the orchestra, especially as they open the album and then the band joins in, BOOM!
Tommy Shaw. What a classy guy. He greets everyone with his usual friendly greeting. “Hello, friends! Styx is in Cleveland tonight! You may have noticed we’ve grown a bit tonight!” Nice touch, as he introduces the C.Y.O!
They launch into what Tommy describes as, "the theme song for this little excursion," "One, With Everything." This song contains so many elements of rock, especially when the keyboards take the lead in the solo section, you’d be forgiven if you thought you might be listening to Emerson Lake and Palmer. And with the orchestra? Wow!
Next up is a track from the last Styx CD, Big Bang Theory -- the Willie Dixon track, "It Don’t Make Sense (If You Can’t Make Peace)" with James “JY” Young taking the lead.
"I Am The Walrus" is next. Yes, the Beatles classic, another cover from the B.B.T. CD. I have to say that perhaps in its presentation -- with the full orchestra, choral section and the fact that Styx have totally nailed the vocal -- this is probably the masterpiece here! The song itself, while not my favorite song of all time, is just so well presented. I kid you not, listen for yourself and tell me you don’t agree!
One Small Bump
A bit of a bump is next, as Styx threw in a brand new studio track to interrupt the evening’s events. It’s called "Just Be" and the song itself is, in my opinion, totally Pink Floyd. "Comfortably Numb" rings a bell somewhere here. It’s good stuff. Perhaps they thought if they put it on the end of the live CD, people might not give it a chance. Who knows?
Back to the main event, with some orchestral introduction to the classic, "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)". Once again, the addition of a full choral section really enhances things. When they’re performing live, Styx always like to bring out original bassist Chuck Panazzo, but due to being diagnosed with AIDS a few years back, he can no longer commit to playing the full live shows anymore.
For those of you that don’t know (been living on Mars long?) Dennis DeYoung is no longer with Styx. He was replaced by Lawrence Gowan who, although born in Scotland, became a Canadian citizen and achieved both Gold and Platinum albums sales there for his solo work. I guess Styx recognizes this and thus the next track is Gowan’s, "A Criminal Mind". It becomes an even bigger track than it already is with the addition of the orchestra.
"Everything, All The Time" is another new song, but gets its baptism here live rather than as another studio recording, as "Just Be" was. It rocks in rather like "Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting" before easing down for the song’s bridge, then rocking out at the end.
It Doesn't Get Much Better Than This
"Too Much Time On My Hands" is next, and Tommy adds his usual funny lines as he changes around some of the words in the verse.
Can you believe that "Crystal Ball" was released in 1976? It just doesn’t become dated, though, and has matured very well indeed. It is truly a classic.
JY takes the helm next for "Miss America". CYO again takes it to new heights. It’s a shame Styx couldn’t take them on the road, but I know that events like these are really expensive to put together.
They bring things down next with the folksy "Boat On A River," which loses none of the quality and just comes across as well as the more rocking tracks.
They close the CD with another ageless classic, "Renegade," which more than emphasizes this band’s great songwriting ability and great live presentation.
Tommy Shaw said early on, after they’d played "Blue Collar Man," "One word: AWESOME!" He’s right. This was a great night, a good recording, and I can’t wait to see the DVD version.
This CD doesn’t have the whole show, and it’s a shame they didn’t release the whole performance as a double CD. It all deserves to be heard. Even so, it’s a great album that I couldn’t recommend more. Five stars our of five. Really!