Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dennis DeYoung: Music of Styx concert review

My review originally appeared on the Orange County Register's Soundcheck blog and can be viewed at:

Nothing compares to the genuine article. 

For the past decade, Styx has featured singer/guitarists Tommy Shaw, James “J.Y.” Young and recurring bassist Chuck Panozzo. Those members were a big part of the Album Oriented Rock band’s late ‘70s/early ‘80s heyday, when five consecutive albums went platinum or beyond.

Yet their current concerts – like the Ontario one I caught at Citizen’s Business Bank Arena in ‘09 with REO Speedwagon and Kansas – are typically shaky at best. At some point, diehard fans that enjoy all facets of Styx’s career inevitably think about founding lead vocalist/keyboardist/principal songwriter Dennis DeYoung, who exited acrimoniously in 1999.

Having concentrated on Broadway (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 101 Dalmatians) and classical-oriented music projects (the ambitious Music of Styx: Live with Symphony Orchestra album, tour and popular PBS Soundstage program) in the interim, DeYoung recently returned to his rock roots with latest studio effort
One Hundred Years From Now. Among DeYoung’s best solo releases, the highlights include topical tunes (“I Don’t Believe in Anything,” “Private Jones,” “Turn off CNN”) and a love song to his wife (“Breathe Again”).

During an impressive, nearly two-hour show at the mostly-filled City National Grove of Anaheim, DeYoung proved he really does the Styx catalog justice these days.   

Last year, DeYoung recruited new players for his regular touring band. Key among them was amazing guitarist/vocalist August Zadra, known in SoCal for stints in Styx and Journey cover bands (he is still part of Lights: The Premiere Tribute to Journey, the opening act on Saturday night in Orange County). Several tracks originally handled by Shaw on record (“Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Renegade”) were added to the set once Zadra - and his remarkably similar vocal timbre - joined.

The tight six-piece band basically stuck to the Styx classics. They performed in a front of a large backdrop of “Moonlit Merry-Go-Round,” a serigraph by late Chicago realist painter Robert Addison, which adorns One Hundred (Addison also created another visual work familiar to Styx fans: “Paradise Theater”).

Right from the start, DeYoung provided a keen theatrical flair with dramatic gestures and vibrant singing amid the galloping synths of “The Grand Illusion.” Except for various turns at the keyboards, he never stayed in one place too long. On the percolating, driving pace of “Lorelei,” DeYoung climbed up near the drums and mimed air guitar between Zadra and equally adept axe man Jimmy Leahey. The group falsettos were a wonder to behold. Zadra acquitted himself well on the first Shaw spotlight “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” fingering the frets so vigorously, a string broke. 

Despite the often grandiose nature of Styx music, DeYoung doesn’t take himself too seriously. “Nobody goes from sublime to ridiculous like this band,” he quipped. There were jokes about Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and aging (the veteran performer just turned 64 and briefly broke into The Beatles’ “When I’m 64” after a story about first listening to Sgt. Pepper with Styx’s Panozzo Brothers at Chicago State University).

Mr. Roboto” might be dominated by '80s electronic sounds, but the Kilroy Was Here selection didn’t really seem dated. In fact, lyrics such as “the problem’s plain to see/too much technology” could easily apply today. In Anaheim, it was just plain fun. DeYoung did robotic movements, moved his head in unison with the guitar guys and even brought out the Kilroy mask as a prop.

Inviting ballads like “Desert Moon” (a solo top 10 hit from 1984), an acoustic “Don’t Let it End” and high flying “Babe” (prefaced by a story about how it was written) put the focus on DeYoung’s still supple pipes.

As the band reached the final stretch, a majority of the Grove crowd in the first two tiers were standing and cheering loudly. A mesmerizing, ultra dramatic “Suite Madame Blue” saw DeYoung hold a long sustained note and “The Best of Times” was a true celebration. 

After the quick farewell-themed “A.D. 1958,” and another Beatles nod in “The End,” and the group closed with a truly exalting, fan singalong, “Come Sail Away.”

Dennis DeYoung, City National Grove of Anaheim, Feb. 19. 2011

Setlist: The Grand Illusion/Lady/Lorelei/Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)/Show Me the Way/Mr. Roboto/Desert Moon/Don’t Let It End/Too Much Time on My Hands/Rockin’ the Paradise/Babe/Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)/Suite Madame Blue/The Best of Times/A.D. 1958/The End/Renegade/Come Sail Away

Pictured L-R: August Zadra, Dennis DeYoung, Jimmy Leahey. Live photo courtesy of

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