It was a soulful doubleheader at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday night, with blue-eyed soul popsters Huey Lewis and The News playing an abbreviated but thoroughly enjoyable opening set, and the legendary Joe Cocker giving his throat a workout to the crowd’s delight — all in the name of rock ‘n’ roll.
Lewis and The News kicked off with “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” for which Lewis fittingly included “Santa Barbara” in the list of cities that are driven wild by rock ‘n’ roll music. Well, it took a little while for the Bowl to warm up, but by the end of their set almost the whole crowd was on their feet dancing along.
Their set included several more of the band’s well-known songs, including “I Want a New Drug,” “Doing It All for My Baby,” “Jacob’s Ladder (Step By Step)” with some cool extended jamming by the band, and “Heart and Soul.” I’m sure there were many in attendance like myself who kept thinking, “Oh wow, that’s right. They did that one, too!”
The band also performed several great cover songs, namely “Some Kind of Wonderful” by the Soul Brothers Six (and made famous by Grand Funk Railroad), “Respect Yourself” by The Staple Singers and included on the band’s latest album, Soulsville, and “Little Bitty Pretty One,” which was done almost a cappella, with just a few instruments to keep the beat.
Lewis’ voice still has its blue-eyed soul charm, and the band was spot on — professional but not overly slick. As I listened I was struck by how great the arrangements of their songs are, with catchy horn charts and the like, something done so masterfully that it just sounds natural.
The crowd was clearly pumped up for an encore, but Lewis didn’t re-emerge. At the time I thought that the time crunch from the Bowl’s curfew was to blame, but we later learned that Lewis wasn’t feel well and went straight to Cottage Hospital after his set. Thankfully he’s OK, and he has promised through his management to do an encore the next time he passes through town.
Next up was Cocker, a former Santa Barbara resident who belted out his classic repertoire, some of which dates back to his star-making performance at Woodstock and his legendary Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour over four decades ago.
Most of Cocker’s best known songs are covers, but with rhythm-and-blues and soulful arrangements that give them a totally different vibe from the originals. “Feelin’ Alright” is transformed from a strummy tune by Traffic to a funky romp. “You Can Leave Your Hat On” goes from the quirky Randy Newman original to a sultry striptease soundtrack.
Of course, then there is “With a Little Help from My Friends,” in Cocker’s hands an epic, almost bombastic cover of The Beatles song. They stuck pretty close to the famous arrangement featured in the Woodstock movie (but, sorry Grease Band, better background vocals), and although Cocker is more restrained these days, he still brings an impressive intensity to the proceedings. How does this man’s voice hold up? I guess the water he would sneak while the band took solos helps.
Cocker also showed his sensitive, vulnerable side with “Up Where We Belong” and “You Are So Beautiful,” the latter slowed down effectively to a crawl and rewarded with a well-deserved standing ovation.
This was a well-paired and well-played double header at The Bowl, and hopefully the next time Lewis and/or Cocker are in town they’re “Feelin’
Alright” so the show can go on and on.
Huey Lewis and The News Setlist
The Heart of Rock & Roll
Some Kind of Wonderful (Soul Brothers Six cover)
Respect Yourself (Staple Singers cover)
I Want a New Drug
Doing It All for My Baby
Jacob’s Ladder (Step By Step)
Little Bitty Pretty One (Thurston Harris cover)
Heart and Soul
But It’s Alright
We’re Not Here for a Long Time (We’re Here for a Good Time)
Joe Cocker Setlist
Feelin’ Alright (Traffic cover)
The Letter (Box Tops cover)
When the Night Comes
Lonely Avenue (Ray Charles cover)
Up Where We Belong
You Are So Beautiful (Billy Preston cover)
Come Together (Beatles Cover)
You Can Leave Your Hat On (Randy Newman cover)
Unchain My Heart (Ray Charles cover)
With a Little Help from My Friends (Beatles cover)
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window (Beatles cover)
Cry Me a River (Julie London cover)
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.