Even though it was on short-notice and Traci had to meet me directly from work, we managed to arrive early so we grabbed a bite to eat at Sugar’s Ribs in downtown Chattanooga on the corner of 5th and Broad Street. We found out that this particular location had only been open for a few days, but we were happy it was there because neither of us had eaten and we both love Sugar’s! (Sugar’s Ribs is truly a Chattanooga institution, by the way.) After we ate, we headed to the Tivoli, which is about a two or three block walk down Broad Street from where we were.
I must start out by saying that if you have never seen a show at The Tivoli Theater in Chattanooga, you simply MUST put that on your bucket list of things to do. If you’ve ever enjoyed shows at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, GA (and being originally from Atlanta, I’ve seen many a show there) then imagine a smaller, more intimate version of the Fox. Home to the Chattanooga Symphony & Orchestra, The Tivoli Theater is nearly one hundred years old and is on the National Register of Historic Places. From its ornate decor (high ceilings, crystal chandeliers, balconies and velvet curtains everywhere) to its pitch-perfect acoustics, The Tivoli offers up a divine ambiance that one can eagerly savor. I believe “stunning” captures it best. I saw my first show at the Tivoli in 1997 and fell in love with the place immediately.
We reported to the Will-Call booth and picked up our tickets. We had no idea where we were to be sitting so we stopped to ask one of the ushers where to go. This lovely lady just smiled (after all, we’re known for our Southern hospitality in these parts) and walked us down the aisle towards the stage. She continued walking and walking. We were getting really close to the front and at one point I turned around to look at Traci and mouthed the words “OH MY GOSH!” Finally we arrived at our seats which were about the 5th row on the left side facing the stage almost in front of Lawrence Gowan’s keyboard! We might as well have been sitting on the stage. We got seated and waited for our hearts to stop racing. I’d seen Styx a number of times over the years but I’ve never in my life been this close to them!
“Welcome to the Grand Illusion…Come on in and see what’s happening…Pay the price get your tickets for the show…”
With those lyrics would be the start of one of the most spectacular evenings I’ve enjoyed in a very long time. Suddenly I was transported back to being a 12 year-old girl on Christmas morning unwrapping my copy of “The Grand Illusion” and literally running, SQUEALING down the hall to play it on our huge stereo that looked like a giant piece of furniture. My mind wandered back in time as they progressed on to “Fooling Yourself/The Angry Young Man” and I was immersed in another dimension of my thoughts altogether. The combination of videos appearing on the giant screen behind them (each scene relating directly to each part of the song in perfect synchronization) and the flawless guitar / vocal harmonies and consummate showmanship that emanates from this quintessential arena rock band just had me captivated. As they progressed on through “Superstars” then “Come Sail Away,” I became unaware of where I was or even WHO I was – I was lost in the music and didn’t think (or want) to ever be dragged back into reality. Alas, we were at the end of “Side One…” so the guys in the band asked the audience what happens when you get to the end of the first side of a record album… The audience excitedly screamed “FLIP IT OVER!!!!” Cut to the jumbo-tron where you see the boy flipping the album over and placing the needle at the start of side two…the band immediately ripped into “Miss America,” “Man in the Wilderness,” “Castle Walls,” and ending with “The Grand Finale.” They graciously thanked the crowd and then a large graphic depicting all of the guys in Styx with the words “Intermission” came up on the big screen. The lights came up. The concert was half over. NO! It seemed as if it had just begun. We sat down and began to discuss just how incredible the first half had been. Truly remarkable. These guys, if it is humanly possible, only seem to get BETTER as they age. What’s in the water that they’re drinking anyway?
After what seemed to be a long intermission, the lights flickered which meant only one thing: the second half of the show was about to begin! Once again, the video rolls and shows the album “Pieces of Eight” being placed upon the turntable and as the needle is dropped the band leaps into their performance with the first song on Side One: “Great White Hope.” I recalled to a woman sitting next to me who I’d chatted briefly with that I’d actually originally owned this album on (are you ready for this) 8-Track Cassette! We both giggled with an unspoken understanding of just how far technology had progressed over the years. They worked their way through “I’m O.K.,” then on to “Sing For The Day.” I admittedly let out a little squeal here because I really do love this song. The guys gave a stellar performance of it and then on to “The Message,” and “Lords of The Ring.”
Once again the time came for more audience participation as we were to the end of Side One. The guys pointed to the crowd and everyone yelled “FLIP IT OVER!!!!” Sure enough, the video shows the album being turned over and the band hammers out “Blue Collar Man.” At the end of this song, James Young and Tommy Shaw were talking to the audience about how ironic it was that when they originally wrote this song they had no idea of hard times to come and just HOW this song might parallel with events in our country’s future. People can really relate to its lyrics today in times of such economic uncertainty and high unemployment. A very poignant moment indeed. True to fashion, the show keeps moving along with the album side’s contents and they proceed to play “Queen of Spades,” “Renegade,” “Pieces of Eight,” and ending with “Aku-Aku.”
Sure enough, a few minutes later the guys emerged. Lawrence Gowan began to talk about how this year would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday and that maybe he wouldn’t mind if they borrowed one of his tunes… then something amazing happened. They broke into “I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles. I was delightfully shocked. They did one of the most amazing renditions of this song that I have ever heard – all the way down to the background vocals, sounds… and they had the audience participate as well. It was a sight to behold! All the while, the big screen behind them showed psychedelic-looking footage of the guys in Styx with their faces morphing and crazy-looking colors and I found myself really glad that I was not a child of the 60’s on hallucinogens at this very moment. The video certainly went hand-in-hand with the music. They got a roaring response from the crowd after it was over and then they jumped into their own “Too Much Time On My Hands” which was a definite crowd-pleaser.
The guys began to throw some Styx “goodies” out into the audience. Frisbees, beach balls, guitar picks, etc… I actually caught a beach ball and was jumping up and down in triumphant jubilation! Tommy Shaw had held it in his hands and Todd Sucherman had batted it out into the crowd. It took a bounce off of someone and landed in my hands! Finally, the guys in Styx: Lawrence Gowan, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman, James Young, and Tommy Shaw all came out front and took a bow and that was that. And then…it was over. The end. Finished. I had a hard time believing it was actually time to go, but it was. It was a night that I didn’t want to come to an end, but all good things surely must and this was no exception. The only thing I would have liked to have seen at this show would have been Chuck Panozzo coming out onto the stage and joining them for a song or two. Other than that, it was everything I had dreamed of and more!
We made our way through the sea of people out of the Tivoli onto the sidewalk along Broad Street and were greeted by a gentle Autumn rain. It was a few blocks to the car and we didn’t have umbrellas but we just didn’t care. We had just seen STYX. Not only had we seen them, but we had EXPERIENCED them. There’s a big difference between just GOING to a show, and going to a show and also feeling as if you’ve somehow been made a part of it. It was as if a giant hand had grabbed you and pulled you in, not letting you exhale until the final curtain call. That’s what the evening’s events had done to me. I was spent.
Traci and I decided, however, that we would stop at a Waffle House on the way home and grab a cup of hot coffee and discuss the show because neither of us were quite ready to just go to our respective homes, crawl in bed and call it a night. How could we possibly come down from this natural high so quickly? No, we would make a stop. We stopped at the East Ridge, TN location and ended up running into a few other Styx fans who we chatted with for awhile. They all seemed to share the same passion and reaction we had to the night’s event. Traci summed it up well when she said that the show was “nostalgic, but relevant…” meaning that although it was super nostalgic to most of us from the most prevalent age group in attendance, the songs were still oh-so relevant to things that were going on in current times. It was eerily ironic. It was more than a concert. It was more like time-transport back to the late 70’s which enabled us to see this long-beloved band play two of their most popular LP’s right in our laps – and then shuttled us back to 2010 and the real world. We all felt it. We all experienced it. We all felt better for it. It was a slice of rock & roll Americana that will stick with this rocker forever.