Lewis, looking much more fit and relaxed than at his show at the Santa Barbara Bowl last summer, seemed to be enjoying his headline set immensely, smiling and bantering with the audience between each song. The aforementioned Santa Barbara Bowl show was cut short when Lewis was transported to the hospital with chest pains.
But there was no doubt, from the opening song Thursday, that he was eager and ready to play the Santa Ynez show. The band began with two of its most well-known hits, “The Heart of Rock and Roll” and “Heart and Soul.” The concert was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the the group’s biggest-selling Sports album, released in 1983. During one exchange with the audience, Lewis reminisced about the glory days of the early 1980s era.
“There were no cell phones, no Internet connections, no glasses and a lot more hair,” he joked.
What did exist in the ‘80s, was a new concept in television, a 24-hour music channel called MTV. In those days before the Internet, the channel actually did play music 24 hours a day and was the musical connection for most young music fans across the nation. Huey Lewis and The News became one of the channel’s biggest and most consistent stars, with a string of hit songs throughout the ‘80s. The band kept alive the jazz-like tradition of horn-nfused 1950s rock ‘n’ roll in a period dominated by New Wave electronic music and grandiose hard rock hair bands.
Huey Lewis is a consummate performer, prancing about as he sings in his distinctive voice and playing a mean harmonica during the band’s many extended jam sessions. The eight-piece band, complete with a full horn section, plays about as tight a set as any rock group in American history. Each of the band’s talented members took multiple turns, engaging the audience with their explosive solo performances. By the time the band wrapped up playing the Sports album in its entirety, the 45-minute set was already as long as their whole set last summer at the Santa Barbara Bowl.
But the band was just getting started and proceeded to play some new songs, some of their oldest biggest hits, and even a cover or two, bringing their set time to nearly two solid hours of music.
The second half of the set was offered up to frenzied and excited audience. This was due in part to one of my favorite features of the Chumash Resort Casino concerts. Halfway into most shows there, the front of the stage is opened up, allowing for a democratic dash to the front of the stage. Eager music fans, regardless of their ticket priorities are allowed to swarm the stage, close enough to the band to literally reach out and touch the performers. Lewis responded excitedly to the surging crowd, high-fiving a throng of people. One eager fan fist-pumped Lewis so hard, that the amused performer feigned injury.
This unique practice brings concerts back to the Golden Age of general-admission performances when true fans pressed against the stage. Most venues have replaced the practice with surgical overpriced seating, creating a sterile and unreceptive environment for the bands that perform. Combined with their own state-of-the-art lighting, sound and video systems, the freedom to dance in front of the stage makes the Chumash Casino Resort one of the best places to see and hear live music.
The highlight of the evening came when a surprise guest guitarist was announced. Local Santa Ynez resident and longtime member of the Doobie Brothers band, John McFee, joined the band for several songs. Playing both slide and lead electric guitar, he exploded in several spirited solos. McFee actually contributed to the original Sports album and has been a go-to sessions guitarist for countless other famous musicians. He played on Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” recording as well as Steve Miller’s Fly Like An Eagle album, just to name a few.
By the time Huey Lewis and The News took their final bow, just before 10 p.m., the ecstatic crowd gave the band an extended standing ovation with very few in the audience making the usual early dash to the parking lot. It was a triumphant night for “the heart of rock and roll still beating.”
Heart of Rock and Roll
Heart and Soul
Bad is Bad
Finally Found Home
If This Is It
You Crack Me Up
Honky Tonk Blues (Cover)
While We Were Young
Trouble In Paradise
Some Kind of Wonderful (Cover)
But It’s Alright
Power of Love
Time Ain’t Money
— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.