Monday, September 15, 2014

Dennis DeYoung concert review: Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Dennis DeYoung was nearing the end of his show at Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. on Friday when he thanked the audience for spending their hard-earned money here.

“We know you have a lot of choices, including some band playing about 10 miles away from us.”

A few people in my section of the audience looked puzzled. One guy shouted “Styx!” Yes, DeYoung’s former band had a gig at LA County Fair’s horse racing track in Pomona that same night. But these fans’ dollars were better spent.

Every seat at the intimate 536-capacity playhouse was relatively close to the stage and provided great sightlines. DeYoung - a true showman who had no trouble belting out the 1970s hits - often injected humor into his performance and made everyone feel welcome. 

The top-notch, five-piece group (plus wife Suzanne on backing vocals) he assembled in 2010 does justice to the Styx catalog.

Those who say the current incarnation of Styx is better because it has more original members need to take a closer look. The reality is guitarist James Young is the only one (bassist Chuck Panozzo just appears with Styx on selected shows and then only for a handful of songs; singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw actually joined for Styx’s sixth LP in 1976). They do a decent job live too, but if I have a choice, the original voice always wins out. An added bonus: with DeYoung, you get to hear selections that Styx no longer plays these days.

Clad in a tasteful vest, DeYoung helped kick off the playhouse’s ninth season with an invigorating set that clocked in just under two hours. He admired the venue and said, “I want to come back here every year.”  There was also a running joke throughout the evening where the singer playfully pronounced Cucamonga in different ways. 

Opening in high-flying fashion with “The Grand Illusion,” grandiose keyboard flourishes from John Blasucci and DeYoung led the way. Electric guitarist/vocalist August Zadra acquitted himself well on tunes originally sung by Shaw, such as “Blue Collar Man,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)” and “Renegade.”

Both Zadra and electric guitarist Jimmy Leahey seemed to be having a blast and the numerous solos didn’t come off as indulgent. There was plenty of camaraderie between the axe men and their leader too.

Before power ballad “Show Me the Way,” DeYoung talked about how it served a salve for servicemen serving in the first Persian Gulf War and their families. Later, another dramatic number, “Babe,” saw DeYoung relay how he initially wrote it for his wife without intending for Styx to record it. The band eventually did and the result was a chart topping smash.

Concert highlights included the fun, futuristic (for 1983) “Mr. Roboto,” where fans sang along loudly, the raucous “Rocking the Paradise,” enrapturing rock opus “Suite: Madame Blue,” life affirming “The Best of Times” and heartwarming solo hit "Desert Moon."

Finally, the band finished with exhilarating signature song, “Come Sail Away” (before doors opened, a female Lewis Family Playhouse usher said it was the only Styx song she was familiar with and sang the title to the other female ushers, who nodded approvingly).

I'm sure most patrons left DeYoung's show happy after hearing that song.

Next performance: Sept. 27, Niswonger Performing Arts Center, Greeneville, TN. 

"The Music of Styx: Live in Los Angeles" will be released on CD, DVD and Blu-ray on Oct. 21 (see details elsewhere on this blog). The concert film airs on AXS-TV the day before. 

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