Huey Lewis pleases with hits, and that’s no news

Huey Lewis and the News @ the PNE Amphitheatre 27/8/17

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The Pacific National Exhibition’s annual Summer Night Concerts series never fails to colour the season with nostalgia by bringing some of the biggest names in classic pop and rock to Vancouver. This year alone has featured ZZ Top, Chicago, B-52s, and last Sunday’s act, Huey Lewis and the News. And as expected, Huey Lewis and the News brought nothing but crowd-pleasers from their collection of chart-topping 80s and 90s hits.

Before anyone stepped onstage, the sound of a beating heart thumped through the open-air PNE Amphitheatre. What else could it have been but “The Heart of Rock and Roll”? Huey Lewis and the News showed what they do best right away on this opening number: smooth rock and roll loaded with wailing saxophones and bluesy harmonica. Lead guitarist Stef Burns soloed all over the band’s ensuing reel of hits including “I Want a New Drug” which Sean Hopper pushed along with the iconic bassline that most people likely mistake from the Ghostbusters theme.

“It’s so good to be back in Vancouver! The scene of so many of our indiscretions!” Lewis said. It’d have been nice if he shared a story about one such indiscretion, but he likely had the sense to keep things PG at the family-friendly PNE.

Burns continued shining on “If This Is It”, backed by soda shop doo-woo vocals, and “Jacob’s Ladder”. Following “Hip to Be Square”, possibly the band’s best known hit thanks in no small part to Christian Bale and Jared Leto’s axe scene in American Psycho, Lewis gave fans who’d never seen them before a heads up about the usual a cappella portion of the band’s set which included an “audience participation number.” “And yes, that is a hint,” he let everyone know before busting out a couple of tunes including a cover of the J. Geils Band’s “Looking for Love”.

Huey and the News played at least one new song though, a moment more for the band than the audience. (Lewis even beseeched everyone to pretend to like it. “It’ll make us feel good, and then we’ll perform better. Everybody wins!”) He noted that there were “more than a few people here who can relate” to “While We’re Young” which he then dedicated to “those of us who are getting a little older, but we’re not done yet.” The message couldn’t have been clearer with lines like “Life is short. Let’s take advantage of every opportunity.”

Unfortunately, two-thirds of the way through the show, Lewis began displaying shortness of breath. The timing was extra unfortunate as he’d just pumped up the crowd saying, “All right, let’s get this party started! Let’s go back to the future!” and leapt into “Back in Time”, one of the songs the band penned for Back to the Future. He never completely caught his breath which put enough of a damper on the rest of the show that some fans muttered to their neighbours about it.

But Huey Lewis and the News made it through the rest of their set without further issues, finishing after an hour and half to the minute. “We had so many requests. So many hits, so little time. What can I say?” Lewis cheekily bragged. “I know what ya want…. You want another new song,” he said jokingly before introducing their first encore as “kinda new.” “When we wrote this song, who knew we’d play it every damned night of our lives for 29 years?” That song was their first number-one U.S. hit “The Power of Love” which they also wrote for Back to the Future.

“The Power of Love” would have been a perfect note on which to end, but as they sang in “While Were Young”, they weren’t done yet. They wrapped up with the sweet, swooning “Stuck with You” followed by their most up-jump, harmonica-fuelled rocker of the night “Workin’ for a Livin’”.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu

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