The soundtrack to the 1980s is full of Michael Jackson, Prince, The Cars, Poison and other hair metal bands, and countless one-hit wonders, among many others. Huey Lewis and the News belongs in the company of these acts for hits that ranged throughout the decade, most notably off the 1983 album Sports, which featured five Top 10 hits, sold over 10 million copies and contained songs most identified with the sound of Rock and Roll in the 80s. Thus, as we enter the summer music season of 2013, the 30th Anniversary tour to commemorate the release of Sports made its second stop at historic Tarrytown Music Hall as the band embarked on a cross country trip that returns to Western New York for the final show of the tour on August 31st at Alleghany Casino in Salamanca, NY.
The opening act, Bob Polding performed with keyboardist Billy Siegal of his larger band, bringing a touch of New Jersey to Southern New York. “My Streets”, the title track off his new album, was Springsteen-meets-Mellancamp and shook the audience early as they awaited the News. Polding got a shoutout and kind words from Huey later in the evening, having opened for Huey in the past and giving a nod of appreciation for him.
The crowd was comprised of many first timers seeing Huey Lewis and the News, even the older folks in the crowd who would have been fans in the 80’s yet still hadn’t seen the band perform previously, all while growing up with the music. Around the crowd was an usher holding an old-timey hand-held xylophone that signaled it was time to find seats and the show was about to begin, marking the historical nature of the venue and adding to the experience that is Tarrytown Music Hall.
The lights went down and the nine-piece band slowly took the stage, all but Huey, who waited till the drum beat that precedes “Heart of Rock and Roll’ reached a crescendo and ignited the song. As he walked to centerstage and began to sing, the elation of the crowd was let loose and the band was given a proper welcome. In kind, as Huey mentioned the names of the towns in America where the Heart of Rock and Roll is beating, he threw in Tarrytown, feeding the energy of the crowd even more.
“Heart and Soul” featured stellar guitar work from Johnny Colla, who performed triple duty while singing on most songs and playing a ripping sax solo on a variety of tunes. “Bad is Bad” brought Huey’s harmonica to centerstage, adding another layer of soul to the blues number along with John Pierce’s bass. However, it seemed that inflation was factored into “Bad is Bad”, because the Soul Stew that was once $1.99 is now $5.99, and this time around Huey could only stand to eat $2 worth, rather than $1; this may have been the only departure from the original songs this evening and a comical one for those who caught the lyrical shift.
When “I Want a New Drug” was torn into by Stef Burns, the crowd raised their voices in approval, cheering on yet another classic track off just the front side of Sports. Following the song, Huey took a moment to mention how back when the album first came out, there were “No cell phones, no files, no Internet,” and admired how things have changed, looking out into a crowd with shining rectangles glowing back on the faces of the fans. He continued, “That was the video side of Sports. We’re gonna rock a little harder on side two.” And with that, Huey dedicated “Walkin’ on a Thin Line” to veterans, with its memorable line, “Straight off the front line, take a look at my face, see what it’s doing to me.”
Holding the microphone stand low as he walked around the stage, Huey exuded stage presence like a boss, leaning down at one point to accept flowers from a young fan in between “Finally Found a Home” and “If This is It”. The horns, Marvin McFadden on trumpet, Rob Sudduth on tenor sax and Johnnie Bamont on baritone sax, took a short break for these numbers and “You Crack me Up”, before returning to the stage during “Honky Tonk Blues.”
Although Huey and the band have aged, their voices and performance haven’t one bit, even playing a new song “While We’re Young” for only the second time and nailing it, held down steadily by Bill Gibson on drums. The number has the same catchy riffs as past Huey hits and a hint of irony as he belted out the refrain, as seen in the video below.
After a taste of the new Huey song, we got a taste of the past, starting with “Perfect World”, off the Small World album from 1988, followed by the first song the group wrote together, “Trouble in Paradise”, a rarity that many in the crowd seemed to be hearing for the first time. Yet as the horns were fired up, the crowd stood up, clapping and dancing in their seats, and a few fans in the aisles as well; Sean Hopper’s keys rang out most notably in this number. With the hits cranking out, the band moved onto “It’s Alright”, leading a sing-along with the sold out audience, followed by another seemingly rare tune “Long Time, Good Time.”
After the band took a brief step offstage, and with a slight rasp in his voice, Huey remarked about the next tune, “Who knew when we wrote this song that we’d have to play it every night”, and queue the Back to the Future soundtrack highlight, “The Power of Love”, quite possibly the best non-Sports hit of the night, let alone throughout the band’s catalog. Going back to their first Top 10 hit with “Do You Believe in Love?” caught couples swooning and singing the chorus to each other. The finale, “Workin’ for a Livin’” was dedicated to ‘workin’ folks’ and led to the loudest cheers and singing along from the crowd of the entire evening, before Huey introduced the band.
The show ended at 10:10 with the band lining up for a final fist pump and Huey exclaiming “I’m Huey Lewis, and you just heard the News!” Speaking with a dad in the audience after the show, he mentioned seeing them open for The Doobie Brothers around 1982, only to have the News booed off stage; this time around he brought his son to see the band as the main act and they both loved it.
If this night is any indication of the full tour ahead, Huey Lewis and the News are not playing like a nostalgia act. People tend to criticize acts of the same ilk that are deemed past their prime as mere nostalgia, which is becoming a convenient go-to remark that ignores the talents of the band and their ability to perform continuously over a long period of time. Huey Lewis and the News still have the swagger and musicianship on-stage as they did 10, 15, 20 and 30 years ago. The band is older in looks and age, but their sound is just as young as you remember them.
Huey Lewis and the News put forth a unique show, highlighting a specific era of the band’s history and performing with panache and a solid effort, far more than just a band showing up for a paycheck. Don’t sleep on this cross-country tour; sing along, have fun and treat yourself to a quintessential 80s band still performing at the same level as they did 30 years ago.
Setlist: Heart of Rock & Roll, Heart & Soul, Bad is Bad, I Want a New Drug, Walking on a Thin Line, Finally Found a Home, If This is It, You Crack me Up, Honky Tonk Blues, While We’re Young*, Perfect World, Trouble in Paradise, But It’s Alright, We’re Not Here for a Long Time
Encore: Power of Love, Do You Believe in Love, Workin’ for a Livin’
First 9 songs are from the Sports album
* Second time played live