The Best of Times: Dennis DeYoung and the music of Styx at Ruth Eckerd Hall
At what point do you give up childhood dreams and resign yourself to the realities of adulthood, the melodrama of growing old, the cruel harshness of our economic woes? Answer: Long, long, LONG after spending a night listening to Dennis DeYoung sing the timeless tunes of Styx.
At Friday night's show at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall, DeYoung and the Florida Orchestra gave a sold-out crowd of 2,000-plus a reason to believe again. It felt like a 2 1/2 hour reawakening of the spirit as he rolled through tunes like Suite Madame Blue, Lady, Babe, Grand Illusion and more. The crowd was on its feet early and often -- "Testify, Dennis!" -- and it was impossible to even consider anything but the moment we were in.
Dennis just turned 65, but carries himself on stage with the energy of a 25-year-old. His voice still in tip-top condition, he didn't shy away from any high notes. (In fact, he's a stickler for nailing them. After missing the first exploding note of Rockin' the Paradise, he quickly resang the line for us after the tune, blaming the missed note on the "amazing cookies" backstage during intermission. Yes, the crowd adored that.)
Here are some other thoughts about Friday's show and the afternoon I spent with the orchestra during its rehearsal.
PERFECTION IS THE STANDARD: With both Dennis and the Florida Orchestra, nothing less than excellence is expected. During soundcheck, Dennis climbed into the seats in the middle of the venue so that he could hear the show as the audience would later hear it. He was incredibly friendly with the orchestra's musicians and poured on the praise for them (rightfully so, because they're one of Tampa Bay's greatest treasures) during the concert. Guest conductor Arnie Roth deserves tons of credit for being the conduit between the hard-rocking guitarists and drummers from DeYoung's band and the orchestra.
THE SOBBING MOMENTS: Sure, I've been known to tear up from time to time, especially at concerts. I needed a bucket though after the hard-thumping Suite Madame Blue, which had me bouncing off my chair. And Best of Times? Wow. Dennis intro'd it by asking how many of us went to high school between 1976 and 1983. (Practically all of us!) So he let us sing most of the song, which we gladly did. Normally, I'm not a fan of letting the crowd sing, but he couldn't have stopped me from crooning if he tried. It's a beautiful song, and it never grows old.
THE ROBOTO MOMENT: Mr. Roboto came unusually early in the setlist. It sounds great with orchestration, but when Dennis uncovers the Roboto mask from behind the drumset (not the original roboto mask, he later told me, which is under glass back home), the crowd went nuts. The final words -- "I'm Kilroy! Kilroy! Kilroy!" -- became a hammering, anthemic punctuation point. I found myself yelling "KILROY" at everyone sitting around me. And they yelled it back. It was pure joy.
THE SONGS BY THAT OTHER GUY: The orchestra took a rest for a few tunes that were handled vocally by August Zadra, a guitarist that Dennis' son actually discovered on YouTube playing in a Styx tribute band. Zadra tackled Blue Collar Man, Too Much Time on My Hands and Fooling Yourself with near perfection. If you've been paying money to see the other band that calls itself Styx these days, on Friday you would have realized that the real Styx was on stage here. This is the band and the music that we feel in love with decades ago.
THE ENCORES: Of course, Renegade made a perfect first encore. Again, Zadra handled the singing, and the song tore through the venue thanks to the drumming of Tom Sharpe, the guitar work of Jimmy Leahey and the bass playing of Craig Carter. Dennis told me weeks ago that this is the band he should have had all along in his solo career, and after Friday night, it was obvious why. The finale -- Come Sail Away -- was everything you wanted and needed it to be: an affirmation of Styx, Dennis and their impact on each one of us. Though I've heard the song a few hundred times, it never grows old. Maybe that's the secret of the youthfulness of Dennis and his music. If you simply allow yourself to believe in, it can take you anywhere.
- Grand Illusion
- Blue Collar Man
- Mr. Roboto
- Don't Let It End
- Suite Madame Blue
- Rockin' the Paradise
- Too Much Time on My Hands
- Desert Moon
- Fooling Yourself
- The Best of Times
- Come Sail Away