When you think of bands driven by a great horn section, Huey Lewis and the News is not one that comes immediately to mind. After all, the band carries the moniker of its still a heart throb after all these years, lead singer, Huey Lewis, not the name of some large Midwestern city. But listen to “I Want A New Drug,” or watch Huey Lewis and the News perform live like thousands of people did on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at the Good Life Festival at the Encanterra Country Club in San Tan Valley and you’ll realize that “The Sports Section,” the name given to the horn section of the News, is the heart of Lewis’ rock and roll.
And if the “Sports Section,” Johnnie Bamont on saxophone, Marvin McFadden on trumpet and Rob Sudduth, also on saxophone, is the heart of The News, then the remaining members, guitarist/saxophonist Johnny Colla, drummer Bill Gibson, keyboard player Sean Hopper, bass player John Pierce and guitarist Stef Burns are its soul. Add to the mix front man Lewis and you get ninety minutes of pure enjoyment. As Lewis said, “so many hits, so little time.”
In 2013, Huey Lewis and the News celebrated the 30th anniversary of their breakthrough album, “Sports,” by going on the road and playing in concert the album in its entirety from beginning to end. The opening numbers of their 2014 appearance teased that this might happen again.
The heartbeat that began “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” brought the thousands assembled outside in the warm but breezy Arizona early evening, to their feet. As Lewis wailed on his harmonica, the fullness of sound added by the other eight members of The News, enriched the song. As good as Lewis’ songs are on record (you remember those), they are made to be played live.
Side One of “Sports” kept going with “Heart and Soul,” “Bad is Bad,” and “I Want A New Drug.” Almost everyone in the audience knew the words to every song and clapping along to the music was automatic. Although, as it was discovered later, almost half the audience had never seen Huey Lewis and the News live before, such absence did not detract from their knowledge of the songs.
“I Want A New Drug,” stood out as the horn section, plus Colla on saxophone and Lewis on harmonica, stayed in the back of the stage while guitarist Stef Burns took center stage and delivered some great guitar work. For the newcomers, this song was why you go see Huey Lewis and the News live. You can’t find the energy on the record that you see on the stage.
But no one bothered to flip over “Sports” for Side Two so instead Lewis, impressed by the near perfect weather, applauded the audience for their choice of habitat. He then correctly proclaimed “I ain’t perfect, but I’m perfect for you,” before the band launched into “I Ain’t Perfect,” from the group’s 2001 release, “Plan B.” The song’s soul sound made it a solid, if somewhat unknown, addition to the set list.
The band’s vocals were spot on for “Doing It All for My Baby,” and “Jacob’s Ladder.” The latter song, like most songs of the night, strayed some from the studio version, all for the better, with Lewis delivering some harmonica solos and Burns once again showing off a subdued, but solid guitar solo. The performance earned another standing ovation.
Then it was time for some beach music (we in the desert would call it a different type of soul). All the band members were brought to the front of the stage and with harmonies by all but the horn section and musical accompaniment supplied only by the horn section and both guitarists, the band performed the Major Lance hit “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um.”
That 1950’s and ‘60’s rhythm and blues songs helped form the sound of Huey Lewis and the News was evident by their performance of three songs found on the band’s 1994 release, a collection of R & B covers, “Four Chords & Several Years Ago,”. “Some Kind of Wonderful” helped “get the party started” (it actually had been in full swing for some time) as the audience began to edge closer and closer to the stage.
But to the dismay of the audience who wanted more, Huey Lewis and the News sang the appropriately titled “We’re Not Here for a Long Time, (We’re Here for a Good Time)” to end the regular set. It seemed too early to end a party that had just recently started.
The band complied with the request for more, returning to play “one of their newer songs,” an announcement that actually caused some in the audience, hoping for a vintage Huey Lewis song, to moan. But newer in Huey Lewis language meant “only 27 years old,” and the crowd erupted for “Power of Love.”
A slower version of “Do You Believe in Love,” had couples swaying arm in arm. However, the energy quickly returned for the final song, “Workin’ For A Living.” As a bonus, Terri Nunn of Berlin, who had opened the show, came out and added some vocals.
As those new to the Huey Lewis and the News live experience discovered, as good as this band is on the radio, they are that much better live. Given that half the audience was new, it was as if the other half of the audience brought along a newbie friend. So next time, if they bring a friend, and then if they bring a friend and so on and so on, well, this party isn’t ever going to end.
Set List: The Heart of Rock and Roll | Heart and Soul | Bad is Bad | I Want A New Drug | I Ain’t Perfect | Doing It All For My Baby | Jacob’s Ladder | Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um | Little Bitty Pretty One | While We’re Young | Some Kind of Wonderful | But It’s Alright | We’re Not Here For A Long Time (We’re Here For A Good Time) | Encore: The Power of Love | Do You Believe In Love | Workin’ For a Living