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 row, 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.