Dennis DeYoung opens his Music of Styx shows with a sweeping rendition of "The Grand Illusion", the title track from one of the band's platinum-era albums.
That is entirely appropriate for DeYoung's current version of his Styx favorites show, which returned to Penn's Peak in JIm Thorpe Friday night.
With his new band, DeYoung might be in a position to pull of his grandest illusion yet when it comes to the Styx repertoire.
There's no disputing that DeYoung has written and sung lead vocals on many of Styx's most recognizable hits. During the band's commercial height, however, DeYoung was one of three principal songwriters in the group, two of whom, guitarist Tommy Shaw and James "J.Y." Young, have carried on the Styx name without him.
Performing his own songs has never been a problem for DeYoung, who still retains his amazing vocal talents and distinctive range. He remains The Voice, and he continues to sparkle on his own Styx material.
DeYoung has now revamped his backing unit, enabling him to reproduce some of the biggest hits of his former cohorts. Guitarists August Zadra and James Leahey give the DeYoung band a similar Styx-like look out front. Zadra is a vocal dead-ringer for Shaw, and the addition of high-energy takes on "Blue Collar Man", "Renegade" and "Too Much Time on My Hands" added a dimension to the set for Styx fanatics clamoring for classics from both camps.
The band proved capable of handling Styx's distinctive high harmonies on DeYoung signatures such as "Lady". Bassist Craig Carter also pitched in on the harmony end, as well as holding down the rhythmic fort.
For this show, DeYoung stuck with the Styx stuff as billed, with only "Desert Moon", his biggest solo hit, making it into the setlist. Also missing this time around were songs from his latest offering, 100 Years From Now, which may eventually work their way back into the show.
For now, DeYoung remained focused on the hit portion of the Styx catalog. He remains a masterful showman; dressed in black, he commanded the Peak stage, using dramatic hand movements and drawing from his theatrical side that often lifted Styx beyond its progressive rock brethren. His synthesizer and keyboards also added an essential element to the mix.
DeYoung also kept the packed house smiling with his amusing anecdotes and asides, and he wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself as well. At one point, he asked the crowd how many of them had seen him before, and after getting a response, quipped, "What were you waiting for? I'm 63 years old!"
There was plenty of vintage DeYoung on display. Styx was the King of the Concept Albums during its heyday, and the quirky "Mr. Roboto" still provides a kick live, as does "Rocking the Paradise" from Paradise Theater.
While DeYoung demonstrated he can rock, some of the evening's highlights were on the softer side. Working with Leahey, an acoustic version of "Don't Let It End" had an added poignancy. DeYoung remains a skilled balladeer; "Babe", which was written for his wife, Suzanne (who was on hand as back-up singer), and "Show Me The Way" still hold up well, especially removed from their days of radio overkill.
The current line-up is still working out some bugs; a mix-up on the setlist caused a flip-flop with "Fooling Yourself" when DeYoung had introduced "Suite Madame Blue", although the stirring performance of the latter more than made up for the slight order miscue.
DeYoung avoided leaving the stage near the conclusion of the set and instead incorporated encores "Renegade" and "Come Sail Away" into the end of it, but the crowd didn't seem to mind, singing along with both songs on cue without missing a beat.
Where DeYoung goes from here remains to be seen, but one thing is clear; when it comes to the Styx songbook, he intends to continue to explore all of the chapters, and he now appears to have the means to do so.