Appellate Judge Dave Ryan will try, oh Lord he'll try, to carry on.
Our review of Styx And The Contemporary Youth Orchestra: One With Everything (Blu-Ray), published April 23rd, 2009, is also available.
Silly rabbit—Styx are for kids!
Styx was one of three mega-huge pop bands to come out of the early '70s Chicago rock scene, along with Cheap Trick and (natch) Chicago. Formed by brothers Chuck (bass) and John (drums) Panozzo, the band's driving musical forces were singer/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung and guitarist James "JY" Young. All that changed when guitarist Tommy Shaw was added to the band in 1975. Shaw was just as talented a songwriter as DeYoung, but more rock-oriented, like Young. The two never co-existed well in the band—DeYoung wanted to do more prog-rock concept album-type stuff, whereas Shaw and Young preferred straight-ahead pop-rock tunes. However, they coexisted well enough to lead Styx into the pop music stratosphere, via such classic rock staples as "Come Sail Away" "Too Much Time On My Hands," "Babe," and "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)." The wheels came off in 1983, though. After the great success of Kilroy Was Here and its…ahem…slightly dated single "Mr. Roboto," both DeYoung and Shaw split for solo careers; Shaw eventually teamed up with Ted Nugent and Jack Blades (of Night Ranger) to form Damn Yankees, which achieved some chart success in the early '90s. Over the years, Styx has soldiered on, despite John Panozzo's alcohol-related death, Chuck's AIDS diagnosis, various reappearances by DeYoung and Shaw, and the fine patina of cheesyness that's coated their music over the years.
So you can understand why I thought that the equation (Styx + Orchestra Made of Kids) would equal unintentional comedy gold. I mean—it's Styx! With an orchestra made of kids! How could this possibly be anything other than hysterical? Did I have too much (clap clap) time on my hands to check this one out?
Well, I learned a few things here:
• Styx is a much better band than I remembered.
Yes, against all odds, One With Everything: Styx and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra of Cleveland is a great concert disc. I was going to turn this review over to my neighbors Chet and Pippi, who provided such insight into that Neil Sedaka disc, but this disc deserves better than that. I completely misjudged Styx, and the CYO, and I apologize to both of them.
Backed by 171 orchestra and chorus members, all between the ages of 13 and 19, Styx—with Ohio resident Tommy Shaw, but without Dennis DeYoung—rampages through the following 16-song, two-hour set:
• "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)"
Additionally, performances of two Christmas songs—"All I Want" and "Ring the Bells"—are included as extras, bringing the total to a fantastic 18 songs, easily the length of a full-on concert.
The truly overpowering thing here is the energy of the concert performance. Styx—and bear in mind, this is a band that's been playing for over thirty-five years—draws on the boundless enthusiasm of the orchestra, and turns in a more dynamic performance than even a bunch of 20-year-olds could pull off. And honestly, they're a fantastic bunch of musicians, especially with their twin guitar attack of Shaw and Young. I've always felt that Tommy Shaw was an underrated rocker, probably because of his aw-shucks Midwestern personality (very non-rock) and because he's a dead ringer for David Spade's Joe Dirt (very stuck-in-the-'70s). (Mind you, he did alert us to the threat posed by girls with guns, whereas DeYoung only pined for desert moons and such…) But Young is just as great a shredder as Shaw—and that really surprised me. The rhythm section of the band (in its current incarnation)—bassist/guitarist Ricky Phillips and drummer Todd Sucherman—are rock-solid and steady all the way through. Of course it's a shame that Dennis DeYoung isn't here to complete Styx, but his replacement—Lawrence Gowan—is nothing to sneeze at, and does an excellent job on the keyboards.
Unsurprisingly, the set leans heavily towards the Shaw- and Young-composed side of Styx, leaving out virtually all of DeYoung's Styx tunes—so no "Come Sail Away," no "Mr. Roboto," no "Lady," and no "The Best of Times." In fact, the sole DeYoung-composed tune is "Lorelei," from the 1975 Equinox album—and that's probably here only because James Young was the song's co-writer. Accordingly, this is a Styx show that's a little more rock and a lot less prog. Even though you'd expect the orchestral treatment to be much more appropriate to DeYoung's theatrical tunes (and maybe it is), the orchestra still works very well with the harder-edged Shaw and Young tunes. More importantly, the show flows well, kicking off with the double bang of "Blue Collar Man" and "Lorelei," keeping the energy flowing with a surprisingly good cover of "I Am The Walrus," before mellowing out a bit in the middle. But the band doesn't just dump some ballads in the middle of the show—the tunes build upon each other, until the final triple crescendo of the "Styx CYO Medley" (a medley of multiple Styx tunes in one long chain), "Fooling Yourself" (with Chuck Panozzo coming out to play), and "Renegade" is almost orgasmic. And again, always in the background is the orchestra, bringing its fantastic energy to raise the music to a higher level. Kudos to orchestra director (and founder) Liza Grossman for meshing her talented kids with this gang of arena rockers so well.
This concert has two big things going for it on DVD. First, the concert was filmed in high definition with an eye towards broadcast (on HDNet, I believe), so the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is pristine, with great camera angles and solid editing. Second, the disc is from Eagle Vision, which is (in my mind) rapidly turning into the Criterion of concert discs. This is my third Eagle Vision music disc, and all three have been exemplary in their technical quality and extras set. Here, a choice of three audio tracks is available—a solid Dolby stereo mix, and two thunderous 5.1 surround tracks, one each for Dolby and DTS. Of the two, the DTS track is (as usual) slightly superior, with a fuller, richer, more aggressive sound. (In my experience, the difference between Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 is minimal—except on music discs, where the difference is very noticeable. Go figure.) A healthy dollop of extras are on hand here, the most significant being two Christmas songs (slightly odd, given that the concert was filmed in May). A too-brief interview real fills us in on the background of the concert, but not as well as the detailed liner notes on the sleeve insert does. One unique extra here is the "quakecam"—basically, the feed, during the medley, from the camera dedicated to drummer Sucherman. It's interesting as a demonstration of what exactly rock drummers do up there—in order to avoid audio interference with other instruments, Sucherman was basically "boxed" in a sound-dampening cube of Plexiglass. Therefore, during this "quakecam," you hear his drumming and little else. It sounds like it wouldn't be interesting, and yet it's oddly fascinating. A slideshow of stills from the concert and rehearsals rounds out the package.
So there you go—value, fun, and rock, all present and accounted for. If Styx, in its current long-after-their-prime form is a joke…well, I'm not laughing. If you like Styx, get this disc. Period.
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• Two Extra Performances: "All I Want" and "Ring the Bells"
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