May 9, 2014
Grove of Anaheim
Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Maria Younghans
You have to consider the irony of Dennis DeYoung and the band he co-founded, Styx, both out on the road, playing “The Grand Illusion.” I caught Styx in 2013 at the Pacific Amphitheatre playing the title track from the band’s 1977 break-out album without its original singer, Dennis DeYoung. Tonight, DeYoung and his band opened with the song at their Grove of Anaheim appearance — without the original band, Styx. Which begs the question: which is real and which is the Grand Illusion?
Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s not uncommon for departing members to still perform songs made famous by the band they left (or were fired from), even as the band itself carries on. Roger Waters and Pink Floyd are probably the best example of this, but there are many others. Essentially, you get two sides of the same coin instead of one — not necessarily a bad thing if you care less about who’s playing instead of what’s playing. The situation with Dennis DeYoung and Styx plays out in a similar fashion. DeYoung, as co-founder of Styx, has expressed a desire to still be with Styx. But Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young, who head up Styx these days, are firmly unreceptive to that idea. Clearly, it goes deeper than just musical differences, but you’d never know it by how much DeYoung and his band rocked the room tonight.
I hadn’t seen DeYoung live in over 30 years, since 1983 when Styx performed Kilroy Was Here at the Pantages Theater. Now, at 67, his frizzy mane was a shorter crop of gray, giving him a look somewhere between Charlie Pride and Carl Perkins in his later years. He actually cut a dapper figure in his three-piece — far more dignified and well-mannered than the two wild long-hairs on guitars who saddled up on either side of DeYoung. It would be easy to say that guitarists August Zadra and Jimmy Leahey bring a rockin’ edge to the show — which they most certainly do — but they do so much more than that.
Hearing DeYoung on “Lady” and “Lorelei” made clear that the differences he has with the current leadership of Styx have nothing to do with his voice, because it sounded as full and effervescent as ever. With that in mind, the key to the whole night was hearing DeYoung sing those songs Styx no longer perform, like “Mr. Roboto” and “Babe,” the band’s one and only Number One hit that, because of its light and airy delivery, drove a wedge between DeYoung and Shaw.
Throughout the night, DeYoung wasn’t afraid to engage the audience and even poke fun at himself. “How was dinner?” he asked at one point. “Where have you been? I’m 67…” The band, which features Zadra, Leahey, drummer Tom Sharpe, bassist Craig Carter, keyboardist John Blasucci and DeYoung’s wife Suzanne on background vocals, fulfilled everyone’s expectations and then some. I was both mildly surprised and impressed with Zadra stepping up and taking the lead vocals on “Blue Collar Man,” “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and “Renegade” — parts Tommy Shaw sings. Apparently, if Styx can do Dennis DeYoung songs with Lawrence Gowan, then Dennis DeYoung can do Tommy Shaw songs with August Zadra. It’s all part and parcel when it comes to bringing the music to the masses.
Even so, with DeYoung out in front, a purveying sense of authenticity flows through songs like the elegant “Crystal Ball” and “Rockin' The Paradise.” All classics aside, there was also room for DeYoung’s 1984 hit, “Desert Moon,” as well as the 1990 power ballad, “Show Me The Way,” the last song recorded by Styx to enter the Top 10 singles chart. You’ll never hear this one at Styx shows because Tommy Shaw didn’t play on it.
The show concluded with “Come Sail Away,” one of DeYoung’s most well-known songs for Styx (and one that consistently appears on both parties’ setlists). Even though some of the singer’s moves are little hokey, there’s no denying the power of the voice and the band behind it. If tonight’s performance was a Grand Illusion
, then the line between what’s real and what’s merely an incredible simulation just blurred.