“We don’t do this one often… this is awful fast; it’s awful hard…” Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and The News giving an intro and tribute to a song they rarely play live in concert, “Hip To Be Square”. He went on to explain to the crowd at Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Saturday night that San Francisco 49ers players Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott contributed backing vocals to the song, so were performing it to support their team. Having come off of their “Sports 30th Anniversary Tour” in 2013, they are still drawing large crowds with a mix of old and new material, which seems to change show to show. Whatever the setlist, they seem to have a lot of contagious fun, and their shows always have a family affair sort of vibe. As Huey introduced his band, he mentioned that he and drummer Bill Gibson even went to middle school together. I think the spirit of all that shines through in their music (recorded and live), and it’s pretty remarkable that those relationships can endure in the music industry, when I’ve seen it completely tear other bands apart (even blood family members). They always put on an amazing concert, and Mountain Winery always serves as an awesome host, overlooking the night lights of San Jose and Silicon Valley.
Who: Huey Lewis and The News
Supporting: Box Set
Venue: Mountain Winery
Where: Saratoga, California
Promoter: AXS, Mountain Winery, and Silicon Valley Bank
When: September 6, 2014
Seating: Section 1, Row D, Seat 21 & 22 (fourth row middle section; also photo pass first three songs)
It is an ongoing tradition for Huey Lewis and The News to be a part of the Mountain Winery Summer Concert Series every year, and this is the third year running I’ve been fortunate enough to make the event.
It was a beautiful night, with the moon approaching full, watching over the outdoor concert venue throughout the show.
I attended the special 30th Anniversary Tour of Sports last year, which was magnificent, but in 2014 the band keeps changing up the set list, so you never quite know what to expect.
- Jim Brunberg
- Jeff Pehrson
As per tradition, Huey Lewis and The News selected a local band to open up the night, and with this show it was San Francisco natives, Box Set.
Jim Brunberg and Jeff Pehrson formed a folk music duo more than two decades ago, and have released 12 albums. Each have pursued other endeavors in addition to playing as Box Set, with Jim serving as owner-operator of Mississippi Studios in Portland and with Jeff playing as a member of the Bob Weir/Phil Lesh band, Furthur.
The duo did a great job painting a relaxed and fun atmosphere with their music and comments in-between.
You can learn about Box Bet and the latest with them on their new site at www.BoxSetDuo.com.
Below are a few photos of Box Set from their part of the show:
Huey Lewis and The News
- Huey Lewis (lead vocals, harmonica)
- Johnny Colla (saxophone, guitar, backing vocals)
- Bill Gibson (drums, percussion, backing vocals)
- Sean Hopper (keyboards, bass vocals)
- James Harrah (lead guitar, backing vocals)
- John Pierce (bass)
Sports Section Horns Touring Members:
- Rob Sudduth (teno saxophone, backing vocals)
- Johnnie Bamont (baritone saxophones)
- Chris Barnes (trumpet, percussion, backing vocals)
As I covered the Huey Lewis and The News shows at Mountain Winery in 2012 and 2013, as well as a few months ago at the Marin County Fair, I am borrowing some of my background thoughts on the band from the prior articles.
Huey Lewis and The News are a world famous American band, with origins mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, though Huey Lewis (born Hugh Anthony Cregg III) was born in New York City. The band had humble beginnings as artists and I also get the sense that they are still quite grounded in life.
The band is best known for the album Sports, and contributions to the soundtrack for the Back to the Future film franchise.
Huey Lewis’ own life is quite fascinating, even apart from and prior to the formation of band, having spent time hitchhiking across the country with his harmonic, back to his birth city, as well as having stowed away on an airplane to Europe, exemplifying an adventurous youth. He also studied at Cornell University, and later joined a band called Slippery Elm in the late 60s. Upon returning the the Bay Area, he joined another band called clover, and the stage name “Hughie Louis” was born. After publishing two albums with Clover, produced by “Mutt” Lange, “Huey Harp” played harmonica on Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous. Later, he was signed with a new band, Huey Lewis and the American Express, which was later changed to Huey Lewis and The News.
Their first big hit came with their second album, Picture This, with their #7 hit, “Do You Believe in Love”.
The third album, the aforementioned Sports, which was released in 1983, became one of the best-selling records of all time. From that point forward, they found much success with hit after hit. In total, they’ve had 19 top ten singles in their career.
Having grown up in the 80s myself, while I was at the time more narrowly oriented toward New Wave and “modern rock” bands, who could listen to the great music of Huey Lewis and The News and not find it infinitely catchy and infectious. I have always been fascinated by how I have this significant personal association with their music with the 80s, yet their music does not sound like much of anything else released in the 80s. For me, only “Heart and Soul” really sounds like an 80s song – in fact, for me, it sounds kind of like a Men At Work song with an additional Thomas Dolby vibe. Funny enough, until last year, I never realized that “Heart and Soul” was a cover song of a band called Exile from their album of the same name released in 1981. The Huey Lewis and The News version appeared on their Sports in 1983. I think the song has a similar sounding guitar riff, beat, and vocal delivery to some of Men At Work’s popular hits from Business As Usual, which was charting in the U.S. around the same time.
As an interesting anecdote, the band apparently found another popular and successful song in the 80s – Ray Parker Jr’s “Ghostbusters” – sounded enough like their own hit, “I Want A New Drug”, that they filed a lawsuit against him (which was ultimately settled out of court).
In any event, the work from Huey Lewis and The News, to me, on balance, sounds much more like traditional (i.e. timeless) rock and roll, as it did not really succumb to the trends at the time, and also employed a horn section and some more traditional backing vocals and harmonies.
Though in “semi-retirement”, the band is still recording new material and still maintain a busy touring schedule, and have garnered significant mainstream media coverage last year with their special “Sports” tour.
As with the show in Marin I caught in July, they had a more eclectic set list compared with the Sports-oriented one last year.
- Boys Are Back
- Other Woman
- If This Is It
- I Want A New Drug
- He Don’t Know
- Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um (Major Lance Acapella Cover)
- Little Bitty Pretty One (Bobby Day Acapella Cover)
- While We’re Young
- Hip To Be Square
- Heart and Soul (Exile cover)
- But It’s Alright (J.J. Jackson cover)
- We’re Not Here for a Long Time (We’re Here for a Good Time)
- The Heart of Rock & Roll
- The Power of Love
- Doing It All for My Baby
- Bad is Bad
- Workin’ for a Livin’
As with Marin, the proximity of the Mountain Winery show seemed to draw out a lot of friends and family from the band.
Huey always takes a break during their shows to poll the audience about who has seen the band live before, and for whom it is a first. Surprisingly, there appeared to be a large portion of audience in attendance Saturday night who were experiencing the band for the very first time.
As mentioned, they did a special tribute to the 49ers, playing “Hip To Be Square”. I always got the sense that maybe the song is their “Creep” (Radiohead); that maybe it’s not representative of their sound. I don’t know. It’s definitely not at the top of my own personal favorites of theirs, but it was cool to hear it live just because I never had in prior shows I’ve attended.
In past shows I’ve gone to they seem to favor opening strong with “The Heart of Rock & Roll”, but this time around saved it to open the encore.
As always, they play together brilliantly, and the songs sound great live, particularly the ones that utilize the horn section.
With shows I’ve seen last year and earlier this year, they played their new (unrecorded) song, “While We We’re Young”, which is a great one.
Below are some photos of Huey Lewis and The News performing on stage (click an image for higher resolution versions of each photo):