Review: Huey Lewis and the News at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater 

A look back at the Dec. 6 concert.

In terms of record sales in the 1980's, fewer artists shifted more units in the U.S. than San Francisco pop rock outfit Huey Lewis and the News. The band's pinnacle came in 1983 with their third album, the $10 million-selling breakthrough release Sports. Lewis and crew simultaneously appealed to moms, dads, yuppies, teenagers and MTV watchers — all of whom bought a lot of records and kept the band atop sales charts for the better part of the decade.

In homage to their best-selling album, the band has embarked on a "Sports 30th Anniversary Tour" that included a stop at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Friday night. A near-sell out crowd gathered to hear the entire 42-minute album played in its original running order as well as some other News favorites.

Dressed casually in long sleeved button-up shirt and faded jeans, Lewis emerged as the News (joined by a three-piece horn section) played the opening heartbeat strains of the album's first cut, recognizable pop smash "The Heart of Rock & Roll." Plagued by a shoddy mix that was heavy on vocals and lacking in instrumentation, it was hard to get the full effect of what seemed like a valiant effort by Huey and company in recreating their most well-known album.

Lewis' hoarse, gruff vocal delivery sounded strong and untouched by age. While not as mobile and spry as he was when the original tour hit the USF Sun Dome three decades ago, Lewis still displayed plenty of showmanship and command as he earnestly worked his way through songs he's played umpteen times throughout his busy career as a live performer.

Most odd was the reaction that the album's other cuts received during the show. Sure, "I Want a New Drug" and "If This Is It" — both massive radio hits and heavily-rotated MTV videos — drew fervent responses from the throngs who leapt from their seats to bop around and sing along. But, when the lesser-known non-hits were performed, the vibe visibly changed. Attendees all took the seats they'd just sprung from and remained motionless. A personal favorite from the album, "Walking on a Thin Line," which Lewis introduced as a tribute to all the veterans who've fought for and defended our country, was met with a lukewarm response at best. The churning rock beat of the tune was as energetic and hard-driving as its recorded version but was played for a crowd that had clearly come to hear the hits.

As side one came to a close, Lewis joked about it being time to "turn the record over" because that's how we listened to albums way back when. Most of the crowd seemed amused by the observation.

Huey's fine harmonica work injected a rich blues edge to the tunes that the two saxophones and the trumpet work of the horn section helped round out.

Other standout non-hits from Sports, "You Crack Me Up" and the Hank Williams cover "Honky Tonk Blues," sounded fresh and up-to-date but again, were greeted with so-so responses.

The band ventured into other material after the album run through had come to an end, including a variety of new numbers and some tasty covers like a soulful reading of J.J. Jackson's 1967 classic "But It's Alright." A heartfelt reading of "Trouble In Paradise," a cut from the band's 1980 self-titled debut , appealed to the diehards only. A throwback to the band's earlier, powerpop leanings sounded fresh and inspired as ever.

However, it wasn't until the encore that the audience rose to its feet again. Leading off with it's biggest-selling single, the Academy Award-nominated tune from the 1985 film Back To the Future, "The Power of Love," Lewis engaged the crowd in a boisterous sing-along to the song's catchy chorus. Fans were equally rapt with the other two encore selections: a slowed-down rendition of the harmonic, doo-wop throwback "Do You Believe In Love" and a rocking version of the homage to hard workers everywhere, "Workin' for a Livin'."

Huey Lewis and the News delivered a faithful version of their most popular album and some choice cuts during Friday night's 90-minute set. It's a shame that, in a venue filled with fans who appeared old enough to know Sports back to front, few seemed interested in hearing anything deeper than the hits.

Set List:
The Heart of Rock & Roll
Heart and Soul
Bad Is Bad
I Want a New Drug
Walking on a Thin Line
Finally Found a Home
If This Is It
You Crack Me Up
Honky Tonk Blues
While We're Young
Trouble in Paradise
Some Kind of Wonderful
It's All Right
We're Not Here for a Long Time (We're Here for a Good Time)

The Power of Love
Do You Believe in Love
Workin' for a Livin'

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