Monday, May 06, 2019

Welcome to the Grand Illusion: Dennis DeYoung & Co. Pay Fine Tribute to Broken Styx -- Chicago Theater Review

Concert Review

Dennis DeYoung
(formerly of Styx)
The Grand Illusion 40th Anniversary Tour
Rosemont Theatre
May 4, 2019

I can suggest that it was the popular kids in my early teen years who decreed liking Styx to be unhip, much as they had with Journey and REO Speedwagon.

But I think with the release of 1983's Kilroy Was Here concept album and "Mr. Roboto" single--even though both hit #3 on the charts--the Chicago band that had risen to be one of the most popular in the world largely did themselves in.

Although almost any band would relish so successful an album, after four straight triple platinum smashes, the platinum Kilroy Was Here was seen as an overblown flop and led to the band's breakup.

And while "The Grand Illusion," "Come Sail Away," "Renegade" and "Rockin' the Paradise" have never failed to bring a smile to my ears, my acute interest in Styx was largely quelled way back when.

If you care and are unaware, refer to Wikipedia for the chronology of Styx origins, breakups, reunions, personnel changes, lawsuits, animosity, etc.

But Styx now again tours regularly, featuring two key members from their heyday: Tommy Shaw and James Young, both guitarists and singers.

But their other main--and to my mind, primary--singer and songwriter, Dennis DeYoung, has not been in the brand-name fold since 1999. (Again, refer to Wikipedia and Google for more details on the split.)

I have never seen Styx--which has long toured with a Lawrence Gowan singing & playing the DDY vocal & keyboard parts--and just once had seen DeYoung, at a free suburban festival show in 2008.

On Saturday, Dennis DeYoung--who had founded Styx in Chicago in 1972, with origins dating back to 1961--played the Rosemont Theatre under his own name, with six bandmates including his longtime wife, Suzanne.

And largely to his credit, but also making for strange parallel universes, DeYoung isn't just seeking to remind of his own essence within Styx.

On what continues to be The Grand Illusion 40th Anniversary Album Tour even though it's now 42 years on, DDY's band features rather strong replicants of Tommy Shaw and James Young.

Hence, after Dennis led "The Grand Illusion" with his 72-year-old voice in good stead--though some phrasing was slightly adjusted--guitarist August Zadra sang a strong version of Shaw's "Superstars," while Jimmy Leahey later handled JY's "Miss America."

Although DDY is seemingly legally precluded from referencing Styx in promoting his shows or selling t-shirts, somebody waking up from 1982 and attending this show without knowledge of the intervening years could--without seeing closeups of Zadra and Leahey on the video screens--reasonably believe they were watching an older but credible version of Styx.

As, I imagine, could people seeing "Styx" sans Dennis DeYoung.

In fairness to the band's history, let me note that original drummer John Panozzo passed in 1996, while his bassist brother Chuck--both grew up near DeYoung in Chicago's Roseland neighborhood--only intermittently appears with Shaw/JY's Styx.

Of course, in rock and roll, latter day duality isn't that unusual, as we've had competing ELO, Yes, CCR and Pink Floyd (i.e. David Gilmour and Roger Waters) entities. Likely others, too.

No offense to Zadra, Leahey or the rest of DDY's current band, all of whom performed quite well in Rosemont, but the whole thing unavoidably felt like "Dennis DeYoung's tribute to Styx, featuring Dennis DeYoung."

Without pretending to know what really went down, I continue to hold him in higher regard than Shaw or Young. But geez, it seems the guys should just get together one last time.

Yet that doesn't seem likely, and though it was a bit weird to hear it come early in the evening as part of The Grand Illusion playthrough--it's song #4--I relished hearing Dennis DeYoung sing "Come Sail Away."

And later, as a "greatest hits set," also "Lorelai," "Lady," "Suite Madame Blue" and more.

Not so much "Mr. Roboto," for which I would've easily substituted "Rockin' the Paradise," but many Styx diehards around me seemed to love it.

DeYoung's solo tune, "Desert Moon," came off as a nice treat, while Zadra continued to make a great ersatz Shaw on "Too Much Time on My Hands and "Renegade." (See the setlist here.)

Being back in the Chicago area, DeYoung spoke appreciatively about being able to sleep in his own bed that night, his 49-year marriage to Suzanne (who serves as a backup vocalist) and Styx's playing many Catholic high school dances in their formative years.

In drawing a loud cheer from audience members who were "seeing me for the first time," DDY cheekily asked, "Where have you been? I'm 72 years old."

As a showman, DeYoung straddles the line between theatrical, cheesy and egomaniacal, which in part--and I've been watching old clips--may be why Styx was deemed uncool by the junior high intelligentsia.

And whomever's too blame, it seems truly a shame that he can't fix his rift with Shaw & Young and resurrect Styx. Though he didn't say so on Saturday, it seems clear he would like to.

But with a long, happy marriage and an even longer musical career, no one need shed any tears for Dennis DeYoung.

He still has a strong, compelling voice, and with his Styxish bandmates, he puts on a fun show that brings one presently back to the past.

As a concert experience, I can't quite say it was "The Best of Times," but--especially for just $23 via Goldstar--it was certainly a "Grand Illusion."

Sorry for my crooning and croaking, but here's "Come Sail Away":

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