Photos by David Rubene
Mystic Lake Casino was packed on what might be the last hot weekend of the year – the buffet line spilled out into the slot machines, and a nostalgic crowd poured into the Mystic Showroom for a nearly sold-out performance by Huey Lewis and the News.
A band known for a series of bluesy, fizzy pop megahits beginning in the 80’s, Lewis often made reference throughout the performance to their audiences’ demand for the hits, and reluctance to accept new material. Lewis’s fans appeared to have aged with him, but the crowd’s energy was youthful. “The Heart of Rock and Roll” kicked off the set, which caused most of those seated in the auditorium to leap to their feet and dance. Lewis stayed relatively still for much of his performance, yet his voice emitted enormous power and he conveyed effortless energy. With his signature harmonica in hand, Lewis burst into several inspired solos.
Lewis proved a generous frontman, often yielding center stage to his News ensemble and pointing at them, like when guitarist Stef Burns took on a monster guitar solo in “I Want a New Drug” or Johnny Colla’s winding sax solo in “Heart of Rock and Roll” among others.
Lewis first addressed the crowd after three hits, referencing “youthful indiscretions” past when touring Minneapolis. A member of the audience shouted his love for Lewis passionately, and Lewis replied, “I love you too, sir. Now stay back there.” However, when the band launched back into their star-making catalog, much of the audience fled their seats to stand along the edge of the stage, and security was too outnumbered to stop them initially.
Though the audience cheered wildly for the band’s past chart-toppers, Lewis did try out some new material. There was a tentative crowd reaction initially to “Something is Killing Me”, but eventually the audience got into it, enthusiastically clapping along. Lewis implored the Showroom to love the not-yet-recorded “While We’re Young”, and the room responded in kind.
But the night was about nostalgia, and there was a sense of relief when Lewis declared, “Let’s get the party started! Let’s go back in time”. A spin through the band’s catalog revealed the breadth of their popularity in the 80s and 90s. “This is It” took on a chill, resort-like energy befitting the dwindling summer atmosphere. “Step by Step” started smoothly with a dreamy harmonica solo, but built to a roiling climax. Burns punctuated the song with a nimble, rippling guitar solo that helped build the spectacle. Lewis and Co. burned through a rip-roaring “Heart and Soul”, a rhythmic “But It’s Alright”, and an encore that included a triumphant “Power of Love”, a torching “Do You Believe in Love” and concluded with a bluesy “Workin’ for a Livin’” dedicated to the blue collar folks of Minnesota.
The set was high on charm and low on spontaneity – an entertaining simmer. Lewis and the News played with a level of polish and well-rehearsed precision of a band that marks its 38th anniversary this year. All of the musicians on stage were seasoned, and the performance was seamless; all in tune to one-another’s beats on stage. The only unscripted parts of the performance were Lewis’s occasional animal-like yelps during the heat of a song, and his lightly ribbing of his over-adoring crowd.
The Mystic Showroom’s lighting technicians deserve a shout-out, for delivering a light show that perfectly punctuated the band’s performance. The lights blazed during compelling instrumental solos, softened during brooding moments, and studded the area behind the drum kit with stars as the audience ended the night singing along to fondly-remembered hits they’ve loved for decades.
Huey Lewis and the News are on tour through October, swinging through Huron, South Dakota, tonight. You can learn more about their tour here. To set sail with the band and a host of other 80s hitmakers in February 2016, click here.
For information about upcoming shows and events at the Mystic Showroom, be sure to check out the Entertainment section online at Mystic Lake Casino.