Domo Arigato, Mr. DeYoung! Dennis DeYoung Brings Styx Retrospective Home to Chi: A Review

(May 5, 2019).  “Where have you been all these years, I’m 72 years old?!”

That was the response former Styx maestro Dennis DeYoung gave to the thousands of fans who indicated they were seeing him live for the first time when he posed the question during his performance in Chicagoland Saturday night.

Dennis DeYoung, formerly of Styx, in 2019

It was just one part of the exquisite showmanship exhibited by the septuagenarian in a concert that rocked and rolled as if it were being fronted by a man half DeYoung’s age, not one whose earliest recordings came during the Nixon Administration.  

Styx – that venerable 1970s and ‘80s rock band that bares many labels – progressive rock, art rock, arena rock, classic rock, pop rock, grandiose rock (just don’t call them “corporate rock”) – was cofounded by DeYoung nearly half a century ago.  With his stellar keyboard and synthesizer play and shoot-for-the-rafters vocals fronting them, the Chicago-based band gave us big top-10 hits like “The Best of Times,” “Come Sail Away,” “Mr. Roboto” and “Babe,” among others, before DeYoung left the group for good in 1999. 

DeYoung – who was born (and still lives) in Chicagoland – was playing to a very appreciative hometown crowd of about 4,000 people at the Rosemont Theatre on Saturday, May 4, 2019. 

The show was officially billed as a “40th” anniversary tribute to Styx’ first platinum (and instant classic) long player The Grand Illusion, which is now in its 42nd year – released on 7/7/77 – according to the announcement that kicked off the proceedings (but what’s two years between Styx and their diehard fans anyway?). 

Illusion – one of the latest to join the list of classic albums being played live in their entirety and in their original order – made up the first half of DeYoung’s show.  The rest of the “hits” comprised the other half.

On paper, it might have seemed like a cocky move for DeYoung to take on this full-length tribute to an album that he originally sang lead on just half the album’s eight tracks (Styx members Tommy Shaw and James Young did the honors on the other half).  That is until you consider: 1) DeYoung’s phenomenal keyboard work, which was an essential element to nearly all Styx’ best recordings; and 2) current band mate, August Zadra, who took on co-lead vocals during this show and was a dead-ringer for a younger Shaw, not only in sound but even his look.

Or as DeYoung himself acknowledged, Zadra “nailed it.”

August Zadra plays guitar in the foreground for Dennis DeYoung (shown playing keyboards in the background).

And so the show kicked off just after its 8pm scheduled time with the opening and title track to Illusion, and with Dennis bearing the look and the cadence of a master magician – in keeping with the titular track’s fantasy-like theme.

Dennis DeYoung & Band performing “Fooling Yourself” on May 4, 2019 in Chicagoland

“The Grand Illusion” was followed by “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man),” the album’s second hit single and one originally written and sung by Shaw about DeYoung after the latter’s then-erratic reactions to Styx’ earlier struggles and setbacks during their fledgling years.  DeYoung may not have sung lead on either the original or the live version here, but his unique keyboard notes made the song a sonic standout on this night.

The remaining Illusion songs followed in rapid succession, with DeYoung electing to defer his excellent MC-ing skills to the show’s second half and giving us nothing but music in the first.  After “Fooling Yourself” came album track “Superstars,” then the album’s iconic first single “Come Sail Away.”

On “Sail,” fans were appropriately treated to the full six-minute album version – which somehow stretched to nearly seven on this night’s performance – not the single edit that omitted what is perhaps one or the most famous instrumental synthesizer and guitar breaks in rock music history.

DeYoung nails “Come Sail Away,” the Styx classic that is still the band’s signature tune.

DeYoung and the six-piece band accompanying him performed “Come Sail Away” and all other tracks in their original keys, impressively so, with the leader’s vocals clearly in top-notch form.  DeYoung is apparently in great physical shape, too, as he often sprinted across the stage and even playfully turned in a quick two-step here and there as the band rocked on.

The “Side 2” tracks from Illusion were performed equally well, even if the songs were not as familiar.  The standout among the four was “Man In The Wilderness,” which featured some outstanding guitar work by DeYoung’s bandmates Jimmy Leahey and August Zadra, while Zadra handled Shaw’s vocals.

But it was the second set that proved to be the more entertaining, a true coming out party for DeYoung who gave the mostly over-50 crowd what they wanted: a chance to relive their youth through “the sound and the spirit of Styx,”… or as DeYoung also put it, to relive “the best of times.”

He told stories – jokes even – while narrating this part of the show.  For instance, after getting an enthusiastic applause for noting that he’d completed his first “marathon” last October, he dropped the punchline that it was “12-straight hours of ‘Law and Order’ on Netflix,” later adding that it was the SVU series, or the harder variety.

Right on cue, the band played a dead-on snippet of the long-running TV show’s theme music.

DeYoung, who is no stranger to the theatre (actual theatre, not just Paradise Theatre), started the set with a dramatic rendering of “Lorelei,” with the singer prancing about while the crowd sang along, again displaying the energy of a much younger man. 

He later wistfully recalled the beginnings of ballads like 1973’s “Lady,” the first tune he ever wrote, and ‘79’s “Babe,” his former band’s only No. 1 song and one DeYoung penned for his wife of 48 years, Suzanne Feusi.

Feusi was also along for this ride, providing background vocals on all the songs.  DeYoung even introduced his “Babe” midway through the second set, giving her the microphone for a short monologue where she promptly thanked the couple’s son – and stage lighting engineer – Matthew for the show’s effects (and presenting her in a good light). She then let the crowd in on a few anecdotes about DeYoung’s Facebook obsession.

DeYoung also recalled the early days – before Styx – when he was influenced by none other than the Beatles, whose job of making hit records he understandably coveted.

The south side Chicagoan also fast-forwarded to the present day, where he and fellow resident (and former Ides of March and Survivor member) Jim Peterik are hard at work making a new album (DeYoung was just featured in Billboard about the new effort).

Meanwhile, the old hits kept on rolling.  After “Lorelei” came Shaw’s “Blue Collar Man,” then DeYoung’s “Lady” – all huge crowd pleasers generating enormous audience response.  

DeYoung performs “Mr. Roboto” at Styx retrospective on May 4, 2019, at Rosemont Theatre near Chicago.

Later, as the dreamy opening sequence to “Mr. Roboto” followed, the audience didn’t give the same roar of approval that had accompanied other Styx hits.  The song was the band’s only other million-seller (besides “Babe”), but remains one of its most derided tunes by rock purists. 

Still it was fun – even if only from a distance – to watch drummer Mike Morales don a “Kilroy” mask while beating the hell out of his kit, and later watching DeYoung parade the mask around the stage while concluding the tune, which ultimately received the thunderous applause it deserved.

Some surprises included DeYoung holding a particular note for what seemed like an eternity during “Suite Madame Blue,” and his inclusion of his biggest solo hit, “Desert Moon,” a top-tenner in 1984.  The song, which Dennis and Co. stretched to an eight-minute epic, had not been included in other recent show’s set lists available online.

He also tagged a cover of the Beatles’ “The End” to “The Best of Times”/“A.D. 1958” and spared the audience the hassle of him and his bandmates leaving the stage, pretending not to come back, and then returning for the encore.

He told us to pretend that had already happened as the band launched into 1979’s rocker “Renegade” (which has seen new life as a Pittsburgh Steelers theme song during games) before closing with a reprise of “Come Sail Away.”

The kind, non-encore gesture merited a “Domo Arigato” from those of us weary of bands making faux exits before the predictable re-entry.

All in all, Dennis DeYoung put on an outstanding show – his fourth, he said, at the Rosemont, a venue he was on hand for as a consultant when it was built two decades ago.

And the best part about playing there? 

Said DeYoung, “I get to sleep in my own bed tonight.”

For his performance on May 4 we say, “Thank you very much, Mr. DeYoung.”  Your fellow Chicagoans hope you play here again real soon!

DJRob 

Dennis DeYoung holds the famous Kilroy mask (made famous by Styx’s Kilroy Was Here album in 1983).

Dennis DeYoung’s Rosemont Theatre Setlist – May 4, 2019

  1. The Grand Illusion
  2. Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
  3. Superstars
  4. Come Sail Away
  5. Miss America
  6. Man In The Wilderness
  7. Castle Walls
  8. The Grand Finale
  9. Lorelei
  10. Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
  11. Lady
  12. Mr. Roboto
  13. Too Much Time On My Hands
  14. Desert Moon
  15. Babe
  16. Suite Madame Blue
  17. The Best of Times
  18. A.D. 1958
  19. The End (Beatles cover)
  20. Renegade
  21. Come Sail Away (Reprise)
Dennis DeYoung performs Styx’s “Too Much Time On My Hands” with August Zadra in Chicagoland On May 4, 2019.
A Spotify playlist of Dennis DeYoung’s May 4, 2019 set list.

DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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