A trip down Sentimental Street
I'm all set up and ready to blog from my customized dressing room, complete with my own personalized sign. It's four-star service for Stuck in the 80s.
Any bets on what Night Ranger will open up with tonight? Still Rock in America? When You Close Your Eyes? I should have stopped Jack Blades and asked when he passed by my door a few minutes ago.
7:45 p.m. -- Just about 10 minutes until I take the stage and try to avoid having a heart attack. I'm betting all my money that NR will open with "Rock in America."
Just got the rundown of tonight's events. Night Ranger will play for about an hour. Dennis DeYoung gets nearly two hours. I'll be back between sets to fill you in.
7:55 p.m. -- Stage announcements are over. I got a few laughs on my Ron White joke . (He's playing here on Valentine's Day ... nothing says 'I love you' like a bourbon-guzzling comic from Texas.) I passed Night Ranger on the way back to my dressing room and wished them luck. Guitarist Brad Gillis smiled and said thanks for the intro.
9:15 p.m. -- Night Ranger just finished up. Great set. And to settle all the bets, they opened with "This Boy Needs to Rock."(I think. I was still racing to my seat when they took the stage.) They didn't play "Rock in America" at all. The last two songs were "When You Close Your Eyes" and, of course, "Sister Christian."
One revelation: Guitarist Brad Gillis has guns the size of Jose Canseco and is easily one of the most under-appreciated hard-rock guitarists. Amazing show. I think the majority of the crowd, though, was there primarily to see Dennis DeYoung, so NR didn't get the full adoration they deserved. Still, it was the first time I've seen NR in concert. And I left impressed.
9:30 p.m. -- Five minutes to Dennis, so I'm back to the auditorium. The stage is set up with a huge backdrop, resembling the facade of Paradise Theater.
11:15 p.m. -- Holy crap. Dennis DeYoung is 60 years old and his voice is as strong and pure today as it was when I saw him with Styx back during the Mr. Roboto tour. He can still hit 99.97 percent of the notes -- leaving only the the most voice-shredding ones alone these days.
Dennis was dressed in what looked like a black velvet suit, his hair still short and white. As a performer, he's really got his act down, teasing the crowd with little dance moves, great quips and a playful showmanship -- waxing his eyebrows before doing some air-guitar windmills -- rarely seen in rock circles.
He opened with "Grand Illusion" and then it was hit after hit after hit. "Paradise Theater," "Lady," "Castle Walls," "Suite Madame Blue" -- all classic renditions. Close your eyes, and it's Styx you hear on stage.
There was only one song in the set, I think, from his solo career -- "100 Years From Now." That tune hit No. 1 on the charts in Quebec last year. DeYoung has enjoyed a lot of success in Canada -- as has Styx both then and now.
He ended the show with "Don't Let It End" and, of course, "Come Sail Away" -- showing once again why it's one of the greatest rock anthems of any decade. Times pop critic Sean Daly, who's over in Tampa tonight covering the George Strait concert, called my cell phone during "Come Sail Away" and listened for a while. (I got the better end of the concert review assignments tonight. No question.)
11:35 p.m. -- Just had a short one-on-one chat with Dennis. I told him I hadn't seen him live since the Roboto tour, and I asked him why we didn't get to hear "Desert Moon" tonight. "Because they booked Night Ranger to open!" Dennis said with a serious face before breaking into a great laugh.
Any rumors that DDY is a bit of a curmudgeon should be put to rest now. He's as personable as they come and has a great sense of humor -- both on stage and in person.
Dennis' wife Suzanne (photo left) made the trip with him to Clearwater (she's also a background singer). Yesterday was their 38th wedding anniversary. As most Styx fans know, two of the bands biggest hits were written by Dennis for her -- "Lady" and "Babe." He sang them both on Saturday night, looking over to her often.
11:40 p.m. -- Here's some interesting news. Jack Blades of Night Ranger is due to fly to Cuba tomorrow for that big GTMO show, but he forgot his passport in L.A.! So it's being flown -- by itself -- on a plane so that he can still leave as scheduled tomorrow morning.
[Photos by Marina Spears]