Performing before a large canvas circus sideshow banner with his name floating above a curious crown/wagon-wheel hybrid decked out with stag horns, Dennis DeYoung and band headlined a gig at Gratwick Park in North Tonawanda on Sunday night. It was billed as “The Music of Styx.” He penned a number of the band’s hits.
Vocalist and keyboardist DeYoung had a well-publicized – and very acrimonious – split with his former bandmates about a decade ago. The former DeYoung colleagues, who still tour as Styx, recently played Artpark for a sold-out Tuesday night gig. The split was about artistic differences: DeYoung favored the high-concept synth-rock path, his bandmates disagreed.
Both Styx (as it exists today) and the solo career of DeYoung enjoy great success.
About 15 minutes to the beginning of set time, DeYoung was spotted zipping up in a gray Mercedes SUV backstage, emerging with wife and back-up vocalist Suzanne DeYoung. The band was mingling about. They greeted each other before bounding onstage.
DeYoung and group opened with “The Grand Illusion,” the same set opener used by his former colleagues. DeYoung appeared a bit like a tipsy uncle on a wedding dance floor. You know the movements: friendly, awkward, loping. A couple songs down and things tempered into more grand and graceful rock and roll gestures.
It was on to a run of wondrous Styx songs, beginning with “Lady,” and “Lorelei,” both written by DeYoung. What is most charming about him as a front man is that he is not ruled by his ego: he is comfortable singing back-up on songs, about letting his mates shine strongly. And they do.
He asked the crowd before him if they liked his hair, and joked about his age – often. His age mirrored that of most of the fans, but there were several young and newer fans present. “Who is seeing me for the first time?” After a show of hands, DeYoung asked: “Where the hell have you been, I’m 67! What were you waiting for?”
The set highpoint was “Mr. Roboto,” a song untouched by Styx and ostensibly the reason for the break-up. The song was met with insane applause: the crowd singing along and DeYoung moving about with robot arm moves. Near song’s end he drew a vintage Roboto mask from a black bag.
“He’s a happy guy!” said DeYoung of the mask, held aloft. When he sang the lyrics “machines dehumanize,” he said into the microphone, “I told you so!”
After the song, he asked: “How do you like it so far?” He waited for the shrieks to abate before adding, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Very late in the show DeYoung introduced his young, peppy and adept band. It was solid bassist “Reverend” Craig Carter’s birthday that night and DeYoung led the band and crowd in a heartfelt rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
His introduction of the song “Babe,” written for his “bride of 44 years” and bandmate, was lovely. It was a heartfelt flourish before late-70s “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and then a string of epic and grand numbers.
He and band launched directly into two crowd-pleasing encore hits: “Renegade” and then “Come Sail Away” after a brief rap session by DeYoung on the global economy and the general stage of human affairs. It was all lovely, down-to-earth and solid balladry.
Opening up the entire night was Dirty Smile, an award-winning quintet.
They are, according to drummer Erik Eimiller, “two Southtowns guys, two Northtowns guys, and one Texan.” That Texan, singer Megan Brown, a newly minted Buffalonian, nails the band’s original power pop sound.
In the middle slot was a band of party boys, Famous Fred and the Creatures Unknown, largely from Lancaster. Lead singer Ed Jagiello performed memorably in a textural pink polyester leisure suit that he claimed was his dad’s. “He was a used car salesman in the ’70s. I have more of these,” he said.
The band played a gutsy array of covers by Pink Floyd (“Have a Cigar”), Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash and more, stirring in one original in the set.