Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Huey Lewis brings back '80s

Singer Huey Lewis gestures while performing
at the Island Resort and Casino in Harris last weekend.


Coming out of self-described semi-retirement, Huey Lewis & the News brought back the '80s during two concerts at the Island Resort and Casino in Harris over the Labor Day weekend.

Fronted by an energetic 58-year-old Lewis, the veteran San Francisco band delivered a hit-filled set while debuting two catchy new tunes.

The current touring group features original members Sean Hopper (keyboards); Johnny Colla (guitar, sax); and Bill Gibson (drums). Bassist Mario Cipolina and lead guitar player Chris Hayes, who quit in 1994 and 2000, have been replaced by John Pierce and Stef Burns, respectively. The horn section included Marvin McFadden, Rob Suddeth and Alex Mersden.

The talented crew launched the Aug. 29 show with the familiar beat of "The Heart of Rock & Roll" as my wife Sue and I wondered just how many of their nearly two-dozen hits the group would be able to squeeze into their show.

It was evident from the start that the harmonica-playing lead singer had lost none of his distinctive style. Dressed in a black shirt and jeans, Lewis looked little changed from the band's heyday. He worked the front of the stage, delivering a mouth-organ solo while the horns added additional color to the opening song, the theme of which could apply to the band itself.

For the second tune, the band tackled a lesser-known rocker called "So Little Kindness," but followed it with "I Want A New Drug," a Ten Top smash from 1984.

The hits kept rolling with "Small World," which on record showcased Stan Getz; "Doing It All For My Baby;" and "The Power of Love," a chart-topper from the 1985. Featured in the movie "Back to the Future," the song brought the audience to their feet.

With energy flowing through the showroom, Lewis joked to the crowd: "We were a 'boy band' once, but that was probably before you were born."

A "brand new" Huey Lewis & the News song, "Pineapple Express" fit neatly into the program. Released just a few weeks ago, the tune is included on the soundtrack to the motion picture of the same name. "Pineapple Express" was written by Lewis, long-time bandmate Colla, and David Fredericks for the comedy, starring Seth Rogen.

The second new track slotted next. "Hurry Back Now," composed by Lewis and drummer Gibson, sprung from a remark made by a clerk in Mobile, Ala., when the band was passing through the area. The fresh song featured a bluesy harp solo by Lewis.

"This is for all the hippies out there," Lewis commented before the band delivered a hook-laden version of "Hip To Be Square," a Top Three hit from 1986's long-playing album, "Fore."

Members of Huey Lewis and the News stood
before individual microphones to sing acapella
versions of two songs during their recent concert
visit to the Upper Peninsula. Pictured from left
are Lewis, Johnny Colla, Bill Gibson, Stef Burns
and Sean Hopper.

Showing their versatility, the band charmed the crowd with several acapella numbers. Lewis, Hopper, Burns, Colla and Gibson each stood in front of individual microphones to sing a doo-wop influenced take on "It's Alright," a Curtis Mayfield song the band recorded in 1993. The audience sang along with enthisiasm to the tribute to the Chicago soul performer.

Moving to rhythm & blues, the five singers performed a memorable cover of "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um," the Major Lance hit from 1964.

The full band returned to more familiar territory with their next selection, a rousing version of 1983's "Heart and Soul," from the mega-selling "Sports" album. Lewis leapt off the stage during the song, even taking a picture of a fan without missing a beat.

Next up the group did "But It's Alright," their final hit, actually a re-make of a J. J. Jackson tune.

Giving the audience more than just their radio-friendly tracks, the band performed a soulful take on their song, "We're Not Here for a Long Time." Lewis asked the crowd: "Did you have a good time?" as the band walked off the stage to wild cheering.

"Back in Time," from 1985, was the first of their encore selections. They kept the energy going by returning to their breakthrough hit, "Do You Believe In Love?"

Lewis stood on a sound monitor to play harp during the concert closer, "Workin' For a Livin'," which he dedicated "to all the workin' people out there." The final two songs are found on the band's "Picture This" LP from 1982.

With a song catalog containing an embarrassment of riches, it was inevitable some songs had to be passed over. It's testament to the hit-making power of Huey Lewis & the News that they filled a concert program without playing "Stuck With You," "Jacob's Ladder," "Perfect World," "If This Is It" or "I Know What I Like," every one a Top Ten single.

Sax and harmonica sounds filled the
showroom at the Island Resort and Casino
recently thanks to Johnny Colla, left, and
frontman Huey Lewis.

The casino show came over two decades after Sue and I first saw Huey Lewis & the News perform. That mid- 1980s concert took place at Marquette's Lakeview Arena and drew folks from all around the Upper Peninsula at a time when the band was just a few years into their hit-making period.

We felt then we already knew them from watching all their clever and funny videos broadcast in heavy rotation during the early years of MTV.

While the hits stopping coming for Huey Lewis & the News in 1994, they have retained their popularity and their songs remain staples on radio.

In 2004, they recorded "Live at 25" to celebrate a quarter century since the band's founding. A 21-track greatest hits package was released on Capitol Records in 2006.

Today they maintain a relatively light touring schedule of about 80 dates annually, and rumors of a new album still surface occasionally.

From their founding, Huey Lewis & the News had a simple goal: make good-time rock 'n' roll with a light-hearted feel. That strategy made millions of fans happy and led to the band's enormous success.

Judging from their performance here last weekend, the formula still works.

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