Huey Lewis and The News

August 3, 2017
Pacific Amphitheatre
Costa Mesa, CA

Review by Brian Tannehill
Photos by Maria Huizinga

The "Heart of Rock 'n Roll" indeed.

For almost two hours on a hot August evening in the OC, Huey Lewis and the News brought skill, soul and groove to a packed Pacific Amphitheater and reminded everyone in attendance that great 80s pop still has a vigorous dynamic pulse. With 19 Top 10 singles to their credit, Huey Lewis and the News could easily phoned in a greatest hits review. But they made it clear early on in the evening that new material from their upcoming album would share the spotlight — a risky maneuver in the wrong hands. The results were largely successful.

At 8:20, without the benefit or distraction of an opening act, the band took the stage amidst the cardiac thumping that signaled their opening salvo, “The Heart Of Rock 'n Roll,” a superb choice to kick off the evening. Lewis was clearly in fine voice, having had a day’s rest before the show.

Dressed in blue jeans and a simple blue button-down shirt, Lewis is the antithesis of a cliche rock star. No artifice, no false posturing. He seemed both humbled and elated at the audience’s enthusiastic welcome and immediately launched into his 2001 chestnut “My Other Woman,” a wonderfully amusing and underplayed composition.

By the time the band struck up the opening notes of “I Want a New Drug” it was obvious the audience was fully involved, and Lewis injected a higher than normal dose of energy into the proceedings. So when a new song was presented, “Her Love is Killing Me,” the fans remained standing and cheered loudly.

Normally, a classic rock act trying out new material on a crowd that came to hear the hits runs the risk of putting a damper on the festivities, but Lewis’ newer compositions sounded fresh and comfortable within the framework of the existing songbook. The songs were well written, well arranged, and well received.

While Lewis is clearly the focus of the ensemble, this is truly a band that has many players to highlight. There are no weak links in the News or their illustrious horn section. Nimble guitar slinger Stef Burns sported a rock star presence and provided the perfect balance between taste and pyrotechnics. Primary songwriter, sax and guitar player Johnny Colla, a founding member, exhibited extraordinary showmanship during his solos and interludes with Lewis.

The understated yet phenomenal rhythm section of Bill Gibson (drums) and John Pierce (bass) provided a faultless foundation for the band. On an evening where the sound mix for the band was almost perfect, the snap and precision of this outfit was reminiscent of Tower of Power. The News’ playing was so tight it almost took your breath away.

Lewis kept things moving briskly, frequently engaging the audience in relaxed, seemingly off-the-cuff dialog. Sing-alongs came almost every other song, notably during the highly-anticipated a capella portion of the set. While “UM-UM-UM-UM-UM-UM” fell a little flat, “Looking For A Love” was spot-on and razor sharp.

Wrapping up the show with a mix of new songs, monster hits, and choice cover songs, Lewis kept the audience on their feet and cheering with abandon. With his voice noticeably shredded on the last tune, no one would have blamed Lewis for foregoing the encore, yet the band came back strong, and delivered a three song coup de grace — “The Power of Love,” “Stuck With You” and “Workin’ For A Livin’” — that left the still-packed house ecstatic and exhausted.

In spite of Huey Lewis and the News being a primarily Bay Area band, Orange County gave them a hometown welcome, which the band obviously appreciated. Their response was to deliver a powerful, energetic performance. Expect another sell out on their next visit.

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