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Rock 'N' Roll Vegas-style
Dinner theater for 10,000? It happened Tuesday night at Coral Sky Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, where ex-pop kings Styx put on a musical revue disguised as a rock show for a crowd that ate it up.
Styx, supported by opening act Kansas in this summer of '70s redux, always harbored a Broadway streak a mile wide, with cheesy "concept" albums - think Tommy lite - and songs so full of pretty, prancing sentiment they could have made the dance track for Starlight Express.
So the staging Tuesday made perfect sense for a semi-retired pop act on the mid-life revival trail. The theme of Styx's summer tour is "Return to Paradise," a reprise of the band's hugely successful Paradise Theatre album and tour of 1981, in which Styx fully bared its Tommy Tune-ish intentions. (The group's streak of platinum albums ended not long after that.)
The flickering "Paradise" marquee erected high above the Coral Sky stage might as well have read "Wurlitzer," as in jukebox: Styx, with four-fifths of its original lineup intact, deployed the full greatest-hits package for an audience that knew every lyric.
And they did it pretty well. Styx proved to be skilled purveyors of old-time fun, with brisk performances of their hits - including Lady, Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man), the ballad Babe and Come Sail Away - and congenial banter between numbers.
They played a three-song acoustic set, with Dennis DeYoung on accordion, that gave a good-humored, jug-band cast to songs like Light Up, Everybody, the group's amiable marijuana anthem.
Even the dress code was faithful to the period: Lead singer-keyboardist DeYoung, Liberace-like in a red, collarless tunic with bright trim and black pants, seated at his white baby grand; singer-guitarists James Young and Tommy Shaw bounding onstage in matching poodle perms and black jackets.
Shaw, a schoolboyish blond with a pocketful of guitar riffs and a decent voice, was the clear crowd favorite, whether singing, soloing, playing Leo Kottke-style rag on 12-string acoustic guitar or chatting up fans. But everybody in Styx seemed to enjoy themselves Tuesday night.
Kansas, for its part, demonstrated that some comebacks are a tougher sell than others. Kansas' progressive, multi-instrumental chops - the guitar-organ-violin sprints - remain intact. And the band played with spirit. But the years have frayed lead singer Steve Walsh's once-pure voice considerably, and the difference between then and now was sometimes painfully evident on old hits Point of Know Return, Dust in the Wind and Carry On Wayward Son.
Are the '90s so musically bereft we need these tattered comebacks? Hardly. Nostalgia is always marketable. People never stop finding excuses to reconnect with their inner teen, even if he was a doofus.
Styx, and to a lesser extent Kansas, fed good cheer and positive vibes to an audience apparently hungry for both in this age of jagged, depressive pop. When this tour ends, they might consider taking the act to Vegas - or 42nd Street - for an extended run.
|Line Up||Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, James "JY" Young, Chuck Panozzo, Todd Sucherman|
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