Thursday, December 14, 2006

Huey Lewis, oldies rocked arena

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Since opening in 1974, Lakeview Arena in Marquette has hosted many notable rock concerts including a pair of shows in the mid-80s which were especially memorable for my wife Sue and me.

Huey Lewis and the News played there in 1984 at the pinnacle of their career, while the following year saw an appearance by the highly successful Happy Together Tour, featuring a quartet of veteran acts.

Lewis, based in San Francisco, earned some recognition in 1982 with "Do You Believe in Love," while the mega-hit "Sports" album was released the next year, containing a remarkable four Top Ten smashes. In all, Lewis racked up 22 hit singles and received considerable time on MTV with video versions of those hits.

In fact, the man who starred in several of those videos, a comedian named Dr. Gonzo, served as warm-up act for the Marquette concert.

Accompanying himself on electric guitar, Dr. Gonzo, who's real name is John Means, delivered parodies of then-current songs along with his comic observations before a house itchy to hear the main act.

Dr. Gonzo, got his laughs and got off-stage as Lewis and the News launched into their their hit-filled performance before an arena packed with Yoopers eager for live versions of the radio friendly anthems they'd been hearing for months.

The band, with Lewis on vocals and harmonica, consisted of bass player Mario Cipollina, saxophonist Johnny Colla, drummer Bill Gibson, lead guitarist Chris Hayes and Sean Hopper on keyboards.

As you might expect they played crowd-pleasing versions of "Heart and Soul," "I Want a New Drug," "The Heart of Rock & Roll," "If This Is It," and "Walking on a Thin Line." If memory serves, they did not perform "The Power of Love," from the movie "Back to the Future," which would later give the group their first No. 1.

By 1985, we were back at Lakeview for the feel-good Happy Together Tour. This well-organized concert included the Turtles, featuring Flo & Eddie; the Buckinghams; Gary Lewis & the Playboys; and the Grass Roots with Rob Grill.

Like the Huey Lewis concert, we went to the show, a virtual trip down memory lane, with friends Dan and Nancy Young of Escanaba.

Not surprisingly, the Turtles' performance included a bit of satire from founding members Mark Volman (Flo) and Howard Kaylan (Eddie), specifically a hilarious take on "Flashdance."

Of course the crowd heard solid performances of "Eleanor," "You Showed Me" and "Happy Together," written, not by the Turtles, but by Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon, members of a Boston area group, the Magicians.

The Chicago-based Buckinghams, with original members Nick Fortuna and Carl Giammarese, knocked out "Kind of a Drag," their monster No. 1 from 1967; plus "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," "Don't You Care," and "Susan," my wife's namesake song.

Gary Lewis (no relation to Huey) sang his string of hits, including "This Diamond Ring." But, he seemingly mimicked himself with insipid versions of his rather sappy songbook. And, he wasn't as funny as his dad, Jerry, either.

Original vocalist Rob Grill breathed life into the Grass Roots catalog when he performed more than credible versions of "Let's Live for Today," "Midnight Confessions," "Sooner or Later," and "I'd Wait a Million Years."

All told, the audience enjoyed a hit-filled evening that was replicated around the country over the course of eight-months, turning into one of the top-grossing tours of 1985.

The Huey Lewis tour, meanwhile, also won accolades, especially those shows for which Texas guitar-slinger and blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan opened.

In Marquette, however, you'll remember funnyman Dr. Gonzo was the "warm-up" act for Lewis. Today, the retired comedian, not to be confused with the character created by journalist Hunter S. Thompson, owns two restaurants in Mason City, Ill., his hometown. He also works as a college professor.

If you visit, tell him Huey sent you and ask him to 'warm-up' your coffee. He'll surely appreciate the humor.

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