STERLING HEIGHTS -- It's pop pulse might not beat as steadily as it did 20 years ago, but Huey Lewis & the News' "Heart of Rock & Roll" is still healthy.
The veteran San Francisco rock troupe rolled into the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre on Thursday night (Aug. 28) as tight and potent as ever for an hour and 50 minutes of its mostly '80s hits and, more importantly, some new material that had the nine-piece group visibly, and audibly, engaged and playing for something more than merely entertaining its loyal and exuberant fans. It wasn't just the theme song for the film "Pineapple Express," Lewis and company's first new release in seven years; the group also offered up a pair of unreleased songs, the soulful "You Hurt Me" and the R&B romp "Hurry Back Baby," playing with the enthusiasm of a band in the midst of a creative jag.
There was also a surprise during the encores -- a return of original bassist Mario Cipollina, who left the News in 1995 but strode on stage looking like no time had passed in his leathers and shades, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He joined the group for "Couple Days Off," "Do You Believe in Love," the rarely played "I Know What I Like" and "Workin' For a Livin'," while regular News bassist John Pierce drew laughs when he brought a lawn chair on stage during the latter to sit and watch his band work.
All of that gave the concert a fresh, energized flavor, even when the group went "Back in Time" -- much to the delight of the crowd. Lewis and the News smoothly morphed "I Want a New Drug" into "Small World" with a jazzy segue, featuring solos by guitarist Stef Burns and saxophonist Rob Sudduth during the latter. "Power of Love" and "Jacob's Ladder" were updated with more dynamics, while the pop sheen of "Do You Believe in Love" was replaced with a finger-snapping, Drifters-style arrangement. The ever-engaging Lewis even jumped into the pavilion during "Heart and Soul" to bring things even more up close and personal.
An informal poll by Lewis during the show indicated a surprising number of fans at Freedom Hill seeing the group for the first time -- including a 10-year-old girl celebrating her birthday who the singer acknowledged from the stage (although one has to wonder how her parents explained the subsequent a capella version of the Dominoes' sexually provocative "60 Minute Man"). Thursday's show was certainly good enough to bring them back, and the likelihood of even more new News music by then makes that an even more exciting prospect.
GO & DO Michigan, an Entertainment Portal http://www.goanddomichigan.com
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