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Concert Review: Huey Lewis and the News, Paramount Theatre, Aurora, IL 10/21/11

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Stepping onto the Paramount Theatre stage October 21, 2011, an ebullient Huey Lewis and the News seemed eager to showcase their new album Soulsville. The near-capacity crowd, however, appeared much more interested in reliving their 1980s youth.

Once one of the biggest-selling groups of the eighties, Huey Lewis and the News continue recording new albums and touring, albeit at smaller venues such as the Paramount in Aurora, Illinois. At 61, Lewis has retained his boyish charm and “guy next door” persona, cheerfully leading the audience in sing-alongs and cracking jokes about his age. While only three other original band members remain, the group has maintained its old-fashioned rock and roll sensibilities with just a hint of soul. They may not rack up massive hits anymore, but their energetic live shows demonstrate their commitment to their own sound.

In a risky move, the band kicked off the show with several Soulsville tracks in a Huey Lewis and the Newsrow, with no familiar Huey Lewis tunes in sight. A horn section and two soulful backup singers illustrated their group’s obvious love of Stax soul, and Lewis belted out classics such as “Respect Yourself,” “Can’t Fight It,” “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” and “I Want to Do (Everything for You).” He confidently strutted as he sang “Every little thing that she does/You know the girl’s all right,” and oozed Southern soul on the ballad “Soulsville.” The crowd reacted to the new material politely, but appeared restless until Lewis finally brought the nostalgia.

Launching into the straight-ahead rock of “Heart of Rock and Roll,” they invited comparisons between their own catalog and the Stax soul the band clearly loves. Elements of soul and blues permeate their well-known songs, which Lewis further emphasizes with his funky harmonica playing. His extended solo inspired roars from the crowd. Following tradition, Huey Lewis and the News showed off their harmonizing skills during the a cappella section of the show. This time the group performed a lively, perfectly harmonized version of the R&B classic “Sixty Minute Man.”

Then came the most fascinating part of the show. Before the concert began, an announcement blared over the theater’s sound system that the audience was to remain in their seats for the duration of the performance. Feeling as though I had just landed in a scene from Footloose, I heard the crowd booing; one man sitting behind me loudly announced that he came to dance, and that was that. When Lewis hit the stage, he contradicted the instructions by telling everyone to sing and dance as they liked. Certainly the crowd was mellow, with most of the crowed aged 40 and up (with many gray-haired heads visible). The tense atmosphere exploded when the band launched into “Heart and Soul”; all of a sudden, a large number of people leaped out of their seats and rushed the stage! Lewis appeared startled at first, but soon played to the crowd, high-fiving people and even talking to individuals. The lead guitarist wailed as fans pumped their fists in the air. For just a few moments, it was 1984 all over again, a scene straight of their “I Want A New Drug” video.

Speaking of the video, the group immediately segued into that song, earning more ecstatic responses. The extended drum and bass solos emphasized how those elements really drive the track. Returning to Soulsville, Lewis brought the background singers back out for spirited renditions of “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” and “Never Like This Before,” both featuring fun interplay between Lewis and the two female vocalists. Not surprisingly, the pumped crowd would not let Huey Lewis and the News end the concert there—so they launched into their monster hit “Power of Love” (Lewis wryly noted that when they wrote the song, they had no idea that they’d be playing the track every night for the rest of their careers!).

Reflecting the intimacy of the small venue, Lewis then announced that the band would take requests. The fans still standing directly in front of the stage called out their favorites, and the band eventually chose “Do You Believe in Love” (performed in a much lower key and slower tempo) and “Stuck with You.” But Huey Lewis and the News went out with a bang on the fan favorite “Workin’ for a Livin'”; Lewis stood on an amp, blowing the harmonica while the rest of the band jammed hard behind him.

While they may never have equaled their 80s success, Huey Lewis and the News still stage an incredible live show. Lewis remains the consummate frontman, playing to the crowd like a pro. Their intricate harmonies and memorable tunes prove that they are more than just a glorified bar band. For future shows, however, the band might consider different pacing. Beginning the show with five or six new, largely unfamiliar material hazards losing the audience, who come largely to hear the hits. Mixing in the new with the classics, rather than playing several unknown tracks in a row, would encourage fans to place unfamiliar material in context with the old favorites.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • Steve

    I am impressed with the new material coming out of some of the 80s bands. Def Leppard has some new material that sounds pretty good also. Mutt Lange won’t work with either group like he did before, for some reason. But the new stuff is good non-the-less. They are Newark Ohio this week also.

  • Kit O’Toole

    Thanks for commenting, Steve, and yes–some 80s groups still produce great stuff, but unfortunately get little to no exposure.

  • Julie

    Huey was not startled that the audience rushed the stage. That happens at EVERY Huey Lewis and the News concert. What he was surprised & upset about was that security threatened to kick fans out and arrest them if they did not go back to their seats.

  • Julie

    Kit –

    One more thing – I agree that putting all the new songs at the beginning is risky but if they wouldn’t do that people would get up and go to the bathroom during the new songs. And the tour is called the “Soulsville” tour. Just because they have so many hits doesn’t mean that they don’t have the right to promote their new album and force people to listen to it. It’s a great album and even better live. Sometimes people have to get what they need and not what they want. They need Soulsville and just want the hits.

  • a HLN fan

    “Before the concert began, an announcement blared over the theater’s sound system that the audience was to remain in their seats for the duration of the performance” When was this announcement made? There was NEVER any kind of announcement made while I was sitting there! Also, I can tell you Huey was not starled when we “rushing” the stage. I have been to almost 80 shows of theirs over the past 27 years. Trust me, what happened there was not something new to the band. We do it at every show. It was, however, the first time in 27 years that we were told they would shut down the show and that some would even be arrested if we didn’t sit down. Seriously?! It’s not like we had a mosh pit brewing! We were all just simply having fun dancing at the stage front.

  • Kit O’Toole

    Oh, absolutely–security totally overreacted, as this hardly a wild crowd! But yes, they did make the announcement (it was during the standard “welcome to the Paramount, no photography allowed” spiel), because I remember thinking that it was pretty harsh (and unnecessary) for a rock concert. I couldn’t see security from where I was sitting, but some said Huey seemed surprised at security’s reaction to people rushing the stage, not the rushing itself. Since I was not in a position to see security, I couldn’t verify that distinction.

  • Julie

    I was up at the front and the band manager came out to yell at security for making us go back to our seats. After that, the people on the right side were allowed to stay standing as long as we didn’t block the view of the people in the middle section first few rows that refused to stand up. I also do not recall the remain in their seats announcement.

  • Kit O’Toole

    Just to be clear, that announcement (the people I sat with said they heard it, too) did not come from the band; it came from the theater. I wondered why some were apparently allowed to remain at the stage, so thanks for clarifying that.

  • Michele


    As many of the fans have stated the band is used to us getting up to dance and be at the front of the stage. If huey or any of the band members ever felt uncomfortable or startled I am sure one of them would alert the house or band manager. It is a tradition at their shows. They enjoy seeing us interact and participate….we love the music and love to dance…for some of us it is the only time we get to see our fellow fans so we really try to make the most of our visits!!.

  • Joanne

    From one who has been to over 50, what you are describing is a typical HLN show except for the announcement. Yes, only 3 others of the remaining original members, but that makes 4 and we love Stef and James. Believe me, Huey was not surprised when fans approached the stage and it is called the ” SOULSVILLE TOUR “.

  • Joann

    What a fun concert this must have been! I remember seeing this band in high school. I think Robert Cray opened for them. What is their best new song from Soulsville?

  • Kit O’Toole

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. It’s interesting that rushing the stage has become a HLN tradition–I saw them twice in the 80s and once in the 90s, and I don’t recall that happening (probably security wouldn’t allow it when they were playing arenas!). All in all, it was a fun show. They can still rock!

  • Cathy

    I heard the announcement – but I already made up my mind to approach the stage at the appropriate time. Our group even ‘announced’ that we would be doing this & our section was fine with it. It was still a great show! Huey was puzzled as to why there were no fans standing at the stage when he returned for the encore.