Dennis DeYoung, the vocalist for Styx during the band’s halcyon days, played Akron’s beautifully-restored Goodyear Theater Friday night. Although he departed for a solo career in the mid-1980s (and returned to the band for a brief stint in the 1990s) DeYoung will always be remembered as the golden-voiced creative force behind much of the band’s prodigious output.
The force behind seven of Styx’s eight Billboard-charting tunes, DeYoung was the band’s lead vocalist, keyboard player, and responsible for penning the band’s only #1 hit, “Babe” in 1979.
The love-it-or-hate-it opus “Mr. Roboto,” another DeYoung composition, peaked at #3, proving to be the outfit’s second-highest chart topper.
The seventy-year old entertainer bolted onto the stage wearing a sharp black jacket, quipping that he may have to cut tonight’s show short because “Waylon Jennings needs his coat back.” To which he received a ba-dum-bump from his drummer. The one liners came easily throughout the night.
For a man born two years after the end of the Second World War his voice and stage presence were both superb. Many of his contemporaries need to hang up the mic; their voices haven’t been strong or able to project for many years. Not DeYoung’s; he sounds almost exactly as he did in 1979, when “Babe” peaked. The set list was, of course, peppered by all of the hits he wrote during his tenure with the band. The only tune not from Styx’s discography was “Desert Moon,” originating from DeYoung’s 1984 solo album of the same name.
Starting Friday’s show with “Grand Illusion,” “Lady” and “Lorelei,” the evening jumped right into Styx’s catalog; it was an evening of “Greatest Hits” to be sure. Scribed by a wordsmith with panache and style, each song really highlighted the discography of which DeYoung was a major contributor.
He stopped the show with a stripped-down version of “Mr. Roboto,” a tune that sounded great in the caverns of the Goodyear. “Stripped down” isn’t perhaps the best way to describe the tune; it was sonically-perfect, sounding pretty much like it did off the album. The theatrics were stripped away and DeYoung stood holding a mask over his head. Not exactly Lion-King-on-Broadway style showmanship, but it worked inside the confines of the theater of the mind.
Now, I know many detractors who hate “Babe.” I still don’t get that; it’s a phenomenal love song punctuated by the intimacy of DeYoung’s vocals. Before singing the song he mentioned that he wrote it in his head and played all the parts for John and Chuck Panazzo, DeYoung’s Styx bandmates. They loved the lyrics and, especially, the instrumentation. It was demoed for the label and went on to win a bevy of awards in both 1979 and 1980. He wrote it for his wife Suzanne as a birthday present and said he “never thought it would be as successful as it was.”
Styx mainstays “Rocking the Paradise,” “Best of Times,” and “Too Much Time On My Hands” all rounded out the night. Vocal duties on “Too Much Time” were handled by backup guitar player August “Auggie” Zadra, a guitar whiz and Alaska-to-L.A. transplant.
The band encored with “Renegade” and “Come Sail Away” before ending the evening. Proving that, yes, old rockers never die.
They just go onto successful solo careers with great backing bands.