When Huey Lewis and the News first became pop rock sensations in the ‘80s, they stood out as a rather conservative variation on what was most popular with the MTV crowd. Even Lewis seemed aware of that fact as he took a poke at himself in the self-effacing tune “Hip to be Square.” Now, some 34 years later, Lewis hasn’t exactly evolved to catch up with the times. But that’s part of his charm and last night at the Palace Theatre his good-natured approach certainly endeared himself to the audience that filled about three-quarters of the venue.
After kicking off the 90-minute show with “The Heart of Rock n’ Roll” and including a shout out to Cleveland in the tune, Lewis instantly won over the crowd. Backed by a big 10-piece band that included a horn section and two female backing vocalists, Lewis had all the musical ammunition to take on something like the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself,” which he handled with little trouble. At their best, Lewis and the News built the energy in songs like “Heart and Soul” and “Jacob’s Ladder” slowly through a series of harmonica and guitar solos. At their worst, they struggled to bring anything new to a hit like “Power of Love,” which sounded rather hollow. Still, Lewis’ sense of humor (at one point, he joked that the show needed to come to a close because 9 p.m. was past his bedtime), was the wildcard that won over first-time fans (of which there were quite a few in attendance). Throughout the night, you could tell the band had a comfort level that few acts achieve. An a cappella segment showed just how well the guys in the News could sing, and the show closing blues ballad “Bad is Bad” delivered a potent punch for the finale.