Huey Lewis still excelling in Sports 30 years later

SANDY — Thirty-years ago, I bought my first Huey Lewis and The News album.

It was the “Sports” album, on cassette. It was an outstanding blend of rock, pop, blues and doo-wop that struck a chord with a lot of people. From the fall of 1983 through 1984, it was one of the biggest albums in the world.

Now, three decades later, the majority of those songs have held the test of time and still sound as good, and relevant, in concert today as they did in the ’80s.

Huey and the News played before a sold-out crowd at the Sandy Amphitheatre on Tuesday. It was their second Utah show in a row, playing the night before in Layton.

The first nine songs and 43 minutes of the show were dedicated to playing the entire “Sports” album from start to finish, starting with the familiar heartbeat-like bass drum rhythm leading into “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” Though at age 63 Lewis can’t reach those really really high notes anymore, he was in otherwise great vocal form. And his harmonica playing — particularly on songs like “Bad is Bad” and “Honky Tonk Blues” — was just as good as it was in 1983. Lewis was easy-going and personable as he moved around the stage and joked with the crowd between songs about everything from moving to Sandy and running for mayor and promising to mow the lawn of every person who bought of a copy of the re-issued two-CD “Sports” deluxe album.

The News played like an extremely tight outfit that has 35 years of touring under their belts. Three of the classic era five Newsmen from the “Sports” era are still with the band, including drummer Bill Gibson and keyboardist Sean Hopper. Though I’ve always enjoyed the work of former lead guitarist Chris Hayes on the “Sports” album, Stef Burns more than held his own on the guitar driven songs like “Heart and Soul,” “Walking on a Thin Line” and even “I Want a New Drug.”

For songs like “New Drug” and “You Crack Me Up”, the six piece outfit added a three piece sax and trumpet section, with original member Johnny Colla jumping back and forth between saxophone and rhythm guitar all night. Even some of the deeper cuts, like “Finally Found a Home” played well in concert.

The Sandy crowd was interesting in that the majority of people preferred sitting during the show. They seemed to be more tolerable of the man who asked Lewis in the middle of the show for his autograph than they were of people standing and dancing in front of them. Lewis, who seemed a bit bewildered that someone would actually come to the front of the stage and ask for an autograph mid-show, was good-natured and gracious about it and signed the man’s hat after taking a poll from the audience.

“You’re a nice crowd,” he said, sounding somewhat surprised that the audience agreed to temporarily stop the show for the autograph (though the voting was close).

The audience almost seemed divided into those who were there to hear the more rockin’ older material and those hoping to hear the more contemporary, more recent songs.

After “Sports,” the band played a brand new song, “While We’re Young” which had a more adult contemporary feel. Huey and crew finished the main set with more soul and horns driven songs, “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “But It’s Alright” and “We’re Not Here for a Long Time (We’re Here for a Good Time)” which was the only stretch of the show the entire crowd got on their feet.

For the encore, Lewis started with a song that was “only 27 years old.”

“Who knew 27 years ago when we wrote this song that we’d have to play it every night for the rest of our lives?” he joked before launching into “The Power of Love” from the “Back to the Future” movie soundtrack.

A slowed down, more doo-wop version of “Do You Believe In Love” preceded the final song, “Workin’ for a Livin'” a traditional HLN show closer that still sounds as tight and relevant as it did more than three decades ago.

For a night, it was 1983 all over again, an age when Michael Jackson, MTV and Huey Lewis were on top of the world. The songs off “Sports” have held the test of time. And as long as Huey Lewis and the The News want to play them, fans will show up and listen.

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