Still hip... and square
Huey Lewis and the band are as tight as ever, doing 80 shows a year
In 1986, long before most baby boomers were worried what they ate, let alone about getting old, Huey Lewis & the News hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Hip to Be Square." Among the "square" things Lewis mentioned was "watching what I eat," great advice for most boomers these days, but it turns out that the song was written about his music.
It seems some people thought it was "square."
Huey Lewis & The News
In concert: 8 p.m. Friday
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $40 to $95; visit ticketmaster.com
"We were a pre-TV bunch," Lewis said in a phone interview. "Our thing was audio, and then MTV came along in the '80s and it was a wonderful thing, but we were an audio band first, and our roots were jazz and rhythm and blues."
Lewis, drummer Bill Gibson, and the other members of the News had grown up with psychedelic music, and as the group came together they decided they wanted, as Lewis puts it, "a music of our own."
"Soul music made a lot of sense to us, and jazz ... we kind of rebelled against all the psychedelia stuff and (also) against the big-hair-band stuff, so our thing when we were coming out was really kind of anachronistic. It was old-fashioned, if you will, and that's what we were trying to do. We wanted to do something that was timeless, (and) that wasn't trendy."
Had they formed the band a few years later it could have been different.
"Had television been a big part of the deal ... and if that (had) meant putting on funny suits and doing something (visual), we would have done it. ... But the fact is we didn't, and we didn't have to, and the songs that we wrote in our 20s in some ways are more relevant today."
Among those certainly are "Hip to Be Square," "Doin' It All for My Baby" and "Stuck with You" -- just three of the 12 that were Top 10 hits for the group between 1982 and 1988. All will likely be included in the set list when Lewis and the News play the Blaisdell Concert Hall Friday. It'll be one of about 80 shows that Lewis & The News will play this year.
The band, Lewis says, is "sounding better than ever."
"We probably don't look as good as we used to, but we sound great, and the key to that is not to over-do it but not under-do it either. You gotta play, you gotta keep your chops -- but you can't do 200 days on the road. It's gonna kill you and you'll be miserable, so you pick a number. Eighty seems to be the right number, and we've been doing 80 shows a year for years."
Touring is but one facet of Lewis' career. Film fans know him for his work in "Short Cuts" and "Duets." More recently he debuted on Broadway as charismatic defense attorney Billy Flynn in "Chicago."
Although doing eight shows a week on Broadway can be "a grind," his time on stage made it "refreshing to do my stuff."
"One invigorates the other ... on stage (with the News) you can improvise and do kind of what you want, and in a show on Broadway you are very much part of an ensemble and your timing is very much an ensemble deal."
Lewis recalls working with director Robert Altman on "Short Cuts" in 1993 as a little of both. "As far as the dialogue was concerned, he wanted it to live, and so he clearly had things and places he wanted you to touch, but you were free to improvise."
His part was bigger as Gwyneth Paltrow's father in "Duets." "I had some wonderful moments, and she was great, but I think I probably could have probably gone a little deeper there. I always wanted to do another take ... but that was my favorite film because it was a great script and I had a lot to do."
Coming back around to the music, Lewis says a song has to feel "real," in order to become an enduring hit.
"When the man says 'I'm going to Kansas City, we got some crazy little women there, and I wanta get me one,' we have to believe that he's going to Kansas City, (that) he knows about the crazy little women, and he wants to get him one. (If we believe that) then it lives, there's a truth going on there."
If a song seems manufactured and structured, as if it were written to manipulate the listener rather than convey an honest emotion, "It doesn't ring true," he said.
"I have lyrics in my songs that I understand, but they don't really make any sense ... but I know what I was trying to say, and maybe that gets over. Maybe that's the magic of it, that it was such an organic process when we did it. We weren't LA (song) craftsmen, and we really weren't a pop band, we were really a rock and roll band."