On Friday evening at the Seneca Niagara Casino, a 63-year-old man was doing the robot onstage. This man went on to sing about how machines were taking over the world, before declaring he was going to reveal his true identity. He then pointed at the adoring crowd in front of him, which yelled in unison, "KILROY!"
This scene might sound like the ravings of a lunatic -- unless, that is, you're familiar with Dennis DeYoung, or the band he used to lead, Styx. The song in question is the infamous "Mr. Roboto," a sci-fi synth-rock train wreck that was the biggest single off Styx's 1983 record "Kilroy Was Here." That concept album, a brainchild of DeYoung, complete with a conceptual tour and short film, turned out to be Styx's swan song -- the band broke up in 1984 (the original lineup did get back together for a little while in the '90s, but did you care?). And if that breakup has been keeping you up nights for the last 26 years, wondering why DeYoung and lead guitarist/songwriter Tommy Shaw couldn't work things out, the former's show on Friday would've given you some closure.
Unlike the current lineup of Styx, whose concerts are thoroughly based in rock guitar heroics and fist-pumping choruses, DeYoung's performance was more of a soft rock revue with the occasional blast of distorted riffage. After the huge, Pete Townshend-esque licks of "Grand Illusion" kicked things off, the Chicago native wasted no time getting to the schmaltz, busting out the keyboard intro to "Lady" to wild applause. As he delivered the tune's demanding vocal melody, his voice sounded pretty much unchanged -- a bit nasal, and undoubtedly strong. A few songs later, DeYoung shared "Desert Moon," the first single off his mid-'80s solo debut. I can just imagine walking down the aisles of a Super Duper in 1985, listening to the tune's mix of whispering synths and lyrics about summer nights of yore, piped in from above.
As the artist's six-piece band continued to churn out the lite pop and charged-up show-tune styles that DeYoung clearly favors, it became abundantly clear why Styx broke up. While the band was never rock 'n' roll to its core, its lead singer's addiction to weird rock operas and heavy-handed love songs just became too much. When DeYoung pulled out another cut from "Kilroy Was Here," the treacly ballad "Don't Let It End," you couldn't have blamed either of his guitarists if they ran for cover.
I'm not saying there isn't room for cheese in arena rock -- the stuff is half campy theatricality as it is. And when DeYoung pulled out tunes with the addictive pop stutter of "Too Much Time on My Hands" and the Beatle-esque grandeur of "The Best of Times," it was just the right mixture of high drama and great hooks.
But at the end of the day, this is a guy who recently penned a score for a 101 Dalmatians musical. He's more comfortable singing stuff like "Babe," the musical equivalent of a hot fudge sundae with sugar on top.
Call me Cruella, but that just ain't my cup of tea.
> Concert Review
Friday evening in the Seneca Events Center, Seneca Niagara Casino, Niagara Falls.