Tuesday, May 17, 2005

CD Review - Huey Lewis & the News - Live At 25

So, what have Huey Lewis & the News been up to since their heyday - the days of their back to back monster albums Sports & Fore? (Sports & Fore! produced many of the band's most recognizable hits, including "Heart & Soul", "The Heart of Rock & Roll", "I Want A New Drug", "Stuck With You", "Jacob's Ladder", and "Hip To Be Square", among others.)

Huey & company have continued to produce quality music based in the great traditions of American rock and R & B, releasing fine albums like "Hard At Play", "Four Chords & Several Years Ago", and most recently, "Plan B". The News has shifted their style over the years away from great rock with a great hook to great R & B with a great hook. And that shift, along with the passing of time, has pushed the band away from the mainstream, appealing primarily now to a large core of die hards.

Huey Lewis has said for years that he has always wanted to release a live concert album, and for the first time today, he and the band have come through with a live CD spanning songs from their 25 year career.

The CD is stuffed with 16 tracks and the set list won't surprise the die-hard NewsHeads. The tracks are a well-chosen sample of the News' albums through the years. Following the band's live performances since 1983, one can tell there are certain songs that Huey likes, despite the fact that they are not commercially popular. Huey included a track from their self-titled debut and three songs from "Plan B", which were never heard by most listeners on commercial radio. And the songs that didn't make the cut include "Stuck With You", Huey's biggest hit ever (3 weeks at number 1) and "Jacob's Ladder", another top 5 smash. Like he has said in concert, so many hits, so little time...

The disc really captures the pacing and energy of a typical Huey Lewis show. Light on banter with the crowd, he begins with "The Heart of Rock & Roll", and starts to unwind a bit when introducing Johnny Colla's sax solo mid-song. And he really loosens up toward the end of the underappreciated soulful second song, "So Little Kindness", extending the end of the song well beyond the recorded version, begging, pleading for just a little kindness. At this point, he and the band are hitting their groove and the night is still very young.

After a smooth and soulful "Thank You #19", Huey & the boys kick into a traditional highlight, the guitar-driven "I Want A New Drug". In recent years, Huey has taken to jamming a shorter version of "Drug" and rolling into "Small World", which features some snappy riffs from the News Brothers horn section and nice keyboard work by Sean Hopper. It definitely works here.

A by-the-books version of "If This Is It" makes way for a rocking "Power of Love", featuring Stef Burns on guitar. A deftly reworked version of their first big hit, "Do You Believe In Love", is a pleasure and could hit the Adult Contemporary charts today if recorded in studio.

After the traditional accapella break, the band hits the accelerator and doesn't look back. The crowd-pleasing segment kicks off with a News classic, "Heart And Soul", jumps to the foot-stomping "But It's Alright", and spins into the slightly reworked crowd-pleaser "(Too) Hip To Be Square". Huey & the News don't let up here, kicking into their out-of-the-box classic from "Plan B", "We're Not Here For A Long Time", and finishing the hand-clapping set with a long-overlooked staple, "Back In Time". To finish the disc, Huey ends with one of his greatest sing-a-longs, "Doing It All For My Baby".

Throughout the show, Huey's voice retained it's patented gravelly quality, rough around the edges, for sure, but hasn't it always been that way? The band was tight as ever, the crowd was cheering and dancing, and a great American rock and roll band was captured doing what they do best. This is what they call "feel good" music. My only regret was that the disc had to end at 16 songs. So many hits, so little time, indeed...


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