Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx
Live in Los Angeles
When this 2CD set of music got dropped on my desk, I had no doubt that Dennis would sound great and his band would play these great hits perfectly. Having seen this exact lineup four or five times now, I know what they can do. Dennis, if he has lost anything over the years, he's always found it before I've seen him. He's always got that same sweet tone, and still has great range in the high end. The only high note he seems to pass up these days is the one in "Mr. Roboto." The musicians he surrounds himself with are top notch too, as you might imagine. Guitarists August Zadra and Jimmy Leahey are excellent players with a youthful energy that translates into their playing. Drummer Tom Sharpe is an accomplished percussionist as well as a skinsman, bringing chimes, mallets, and a rain stick into the mix without getting too artsy and losing the rock edge. Bassist Craig Carter and keyboardist John Blasucci are rock solid in their accompanying roles as well. The band is great, and I knew this recording would reflect that, and I was correct. With all of that said, there has been one aspect of the band that has been a little suspect in my past experiences. It's a huge part of the classic Styx sound, and perhaps the most difficult part of recreating their music - the harmony vocals.
When I saw Dennis and this band the first time, it was blatantly obvious that they were a talented group. But, no matter how well you play the parts, if those trademark Styx harmonies aren't perfectly executed you're going to lose a lot of the effect. And, thinking back a few years to that first time seeing them, the harmonies weren't spectacular. Over the years, I've heard this group get consistently tighter with each performance. So, you can imagine my delight when I got through this recording and found all of the harmonies to be flawless. They are strong, on key, and tight for each and every track. You can bet your bottom dollar that Dennis and his employees have been working hard to improve this element over the years, and it has definitely paid off.
The other thing I was curious about was how August Zadra's vocal parts would translate onto the physical recording. He's been spectacular in the live setting each and every time I've seen him, but formal recordings have a tendency to pick up every little flaw. I just want to say that I'm not here to compare the Dennis band with the band that uses the Styx name. That's an unnecessary evil that I refuse to entertain, but I will say that I consider Tommy Shaw to be one of the greatest voices in classic rock. So, for me to compare August Zadra's vocal performance to Tommy Shaw is difficult, but I will say that Zadra does an excellent job that even Tommy Shaw himself would applaud. He does a fantastic job in capturing all the little nuances of the Shaw style. The lines like "Am I even in its mind at all" from "Crystal Ball" have to be sung in a certain way, and Zadra knows how to nail it. His performance of "Renegade" is bone-rattling here. You can feel him getting emotionally swept away toward the end of the tune, and the final line of the song is one that gave me a huge chill. Tommy Shaw's shoes are big enough to hold a small city, but Zadra tries those shoes on and gets them fitting pretty darn snug.
Dennis DeYoung's setlist covers almost every page of Styx's history. If you want songs like "Babe" and "Show Me The Way," they are included here, along with classics like "The Best Of Times" and "Mr. Roboto." We even get a great version of "Desert Moon" from Dennis' solo record of the same name. A big highlight for me is the band's rendition of "Suite Madame Blue." To hear Dennis hold the word "more" for what seems like a day and a half is something special. The heavy guitar riff that explodes out of the song near the end is one of my favorites ever recorded. The riff is changed very slightly here, and it is a bit uncomfortable for me, but it's still effective. The only song that seems to fall a little flat is "Rockin' The Paradise," as it just doesn't seem to have enough punch in the beginning, but the guitar solos in the extended portion of the track make up for it in a colossal way. This segment is actually one of the highlights of the album for me. (Oddly enough, the only track that does not appear on the DVD/Blu-Ray is "Rockin' The Paradise." Hmm.... makes me wonder.) Other highlights are "Lorelei," because of the amazing harmonies, and "The Best Of Times," which captures the nostalgic emotion of the song with a great crowd sing-along.
If you are a fan, my advice is to get this audio recording and feel the energy and emotion from it, then take a look at the Blu-Ray or DVD of the show. Get a look at the 67-year old, suave and debonaire Dennis DeYoung. Not only does he sound great, he looks great too. But you really get the full effect of these songs when you see the interaction between guitarists Jimmy Leahey and August Zadra. They trade laughs and smiles just as well as they trade guitar licks. And there might not be anybody out there that looks the part of the rockstar more than August Zadra. He has an extremely dynamic presence on the stage, and is a ton of fun to watch. You can see how comfortable and pleased Dennis is with his two talented axemen. Watching drummer Tom Sharpe is another highlight, as he artistically strikes each drum and cymbal in a way that makes every sound something special. Between the audio CD's and the visual of this show, you really get a perfect sample of Dennis DeYoung's stunning legacy and realize just how capable he is of continuing it for quite some time to come.
For info on tour dates, merch, and all things Dennis DeYoung you can visit: www.dennisdeyoung.com