Review: Huey Lewis and the News at Clowes Hall in Indianapolis

Huey Lewis and The News
Saturday, Oct. 22 at Clowes Memorial Hall

For a band that has released just three albums in the last 17 years, Huey Lewis and the News have found a way to stay together and also stay true to themselves as a touring act. They dug into the old Stax/Volt catalog and found, if not the fountain of musical youth, a wealth of fantastic, mostly forgotten soul songs that they have dusted off and given new life.

That’s the show and sound they brought to Butler’s Clowes Hall Saturday night, to a nearly full house of 2,000 fans. Lewis’ most recent album, Soulsville, features 14 songs from the glorious and gritty Stax days, and the singer and his band hit the crowd with many of them as they opened the show with nary a Huey hit until halfway through the set.

Yet it wasn’t a disappointment; it kinda felt right. While this wasn’t a greatest hits set by the 80’s band that experienced huge radio and sales success, it was a lesson in reinvention and playing to your strengths as performers.

Together 35 years, the band had guts to play new stuff, make it work live and still take care of the fans.

Featuring four horns and two female backup singers in addition to a core guitar/drums/keyboards/bass setup, Lewis paired a rock and soul presentation with his still-intact, distinct voice.

Early highlights included the church blues of “Free” and Solomon Burke’s “Got to Get You Off My Mind.” The two female singers were in the spotlight with the most familiar of his Soulsville covers, a fiery gospel take on the Staples’ “Respect Yourself”

The Soulsville album was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, and the musicians’ feel for the songs is evident live. The band is a cohesive, experienced unit; three original members besides Huey still tour in the band.

The crowd waited until the tenth song of the show before hearing one of the hits. “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” had less gloss and was ingested with some of the soul music still lingering in the air.

A two-song a capella set included “60 Minute Man,” before the band, minus horns and backup singers, fired up ”Heart and Soul” from Lewis’ massive 1983 album Sports. Seven million copies of Sports were sold. “I Want a New Drug” included a guitar solo echoing the spirit of the arena days, with a bit of bombast.

Originally tagged as a bar band that made it big, the front half of the show showed how tight and soulful they have become in the most recent years. The back half of the show served as a reminder of how that same bar band got big.

The four-song encore satisfied the audience’s desire for a run of favorites. “Power of Love” led into an eight minute Phish-like (!) version of “Jacob’s Ladder,” followed by a grooving take on “Bad is Bad” loose enough to be a Slippery Noodle jam session, and finished with an energetic “Working For a Livin’.” During the last song, Lewis pulled out his harmonica, an instrument he sprinkled liberally and effectively throughout the set, and jammed while standing on the stage monitors.

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Indiana Music: Weakenders release debut EP

Three Indiana musicians have teamed with a Nashville native to form The Weakenders, releasing an Americana rock album that sounds like they have been together for years.

Recorded over the course of two weekends in Nashville and Indianapolis (the three most rocking tunes were done at the Static Shack), these are their first songs released as a band, and serve as a greasy, Faces-like introduction to The Weakenders.

“We tracked six songs as a four-piece and loved it; everyone got their shit together and we committed full time to the band,” says guitarist/singer Eli Chastain.

Chastain, Joshua Sales and Joel Lauver all hail from Indiana. Blair White is Nashville born and raised. It took a move to Nashville to get them together

“Joel and Josh toured in a band in 2004 called The Honesty. I ended up in a band with Joel in 2007 (Trenches),” said Chastain. “Lauver moved to Nashville and hooked up with Blair for a new band (Spero) that I ended up joining as well. We did some one-off recordings and came up with the name The Weakenders.”

Chastain’s pedigree includes a father who has been a longtime guitar tech for former Mellencamp guitarist Larry Crane; White’s father is a Dove-winning songwriter with 13 number one songs.

“We embraced vintage approaches including analog tape and limited the use of digital nonsense and excessive punching, overdubbing and repairs,” Chastain says. “We wanted to see where we stood and how to continue to find the sound we hear in our head; this album served its purpose, and we’re thankful (listeners) have it.”

A full length record is expected in December 2011.

Review: Dan Zanes and Friends at Hilbert Circle Theater

Dan Zanes and Friends
at Hilbert Circle Theatre
4 stars

While the audience was dotted with young kids brought to the show by parents, the music of Dan Zanes performed at the Hilbert Circle Theater on Sunday was children’s music in name only.

In truth, Zanes, the former singer and songwriter for the 80’s Boston roots/rock band The Del Fuegos, makes music for anyone who will listen. It’s organic, homegrown folk and rock and whatever else you want to call music that is made by five people playing guitars, violin, mandolin, upright bass, drums, and other various instruments.

His 17-song, 70-minute set highlighted his ten solo children’s albums, including a healthy helping from the 2007 Grammy Award winning (for Best Musical Album for Children) record called Catch That Train!

From the time he led the band down the aisle to the stage singing “Lead the Way” and until he exited the same way, one thing was obvious: Zanes is a former rocker who has made a twist to his music to make it more accessible to a different audience. He still leaps and kicks and strikes rock star poses. He shimmies and dances and leads the crowd in singalongs. At one point early in the show he mentioned the theater was “a great place for a concert, if you want to sit and have a concert”, or the audience could choose to have a wild dance party. Cheers from the audience led them to move and dance and come closer to the stage.

The opening “Let’s Shake” and “The Fine Friends are Here” from Catch That Train! recalled the guitar sound of his old rock band, while successfully getting the party started.

Zanes, dressed in a black jacket with orange stripes, and orange shirt and brown corduroy pants, dipped into his new album, Little Nut Tree, while also pulling out some older favorites from the catalogue, including the upbeat “Jump Up” from 2001’s Family Dance.

The rocker, who I first saw when the Del Fuegos were the first of three bands on a Tom Petty bill in Detroit in the late 80’s, still has rock and roll energy. He also has an endearing habit of clicking his heels together à la Dorothy when he is particularly into the music.

After the sixth song, Zanes told a story of his appearance in Indianapolis three years ago when he began working with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Youth Orchestra for the first time. That experience led him to start the same tradition in other cities. He brought out the kids in the orchestra again to accompany him. They remained on stage for the rest of the show, lending depth and beauty to his performance.

A later show highlight included a performance of “Pay Me My Money Down.” The tune can also be found on Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions album from a few years ago.

The set closed with more music from House Party Time, a joyous version of “Go Down Emmanuel Road,” and a gorgeous performance of “Sweet Rosyanne.”

Indiana Music: Lafayette’s Mike Reeb Readies New EP for Nov. 1 Release

Lafayette singer-songwriter Mike Reeb’s new album is Turn Your Ear, due November 1. The album features four songs, with half of all sales to be donated to Family Promise of Greater Lafayette, a non-profit voted by fans to receive the funds.

Part introspective, part subtly defiant, Reeb’s latest rings of Beatles influence, 70’s songwriters, and a bit of a power-pop.

Reeb handled much of the recording himself in Chicago, and brought in a few friends to round out a couple of the tracks. I tracked Mike down as he was getting ready for a record store show at Indy CD and Vinyl in Indy on Saturday.

ROB: Describe your recording process.
MIKE REEB: I tracked every part of all four songs in my basement at home. I used a hybrid of analog and digital equipment. Since I didn’t have a deadline, I took my time recording these tracks. Recording about three full days each month, it ended up taking me about five months to finish the songs. I produced [the album] myself.

The songs were mixed by Tim Rusin at JBTV in Chicago and mastered by Brian Zieske at Gallery of Carpet Recording in Chicago.

Listen to “Turn Your Ear”
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ROB: Did other musicians contribute to Turn Your Ear?
MR:Like on Breaking, I played most of the instruments myself (acoustic, electric, drums, bass, synth, tambourine, vocals, backing vocals, etc). I did have my electric guitarist, Duane Chew, play electric on “Turn Your Ear” and “Anything”.

There were also a few local friends who lent their voices for the bridge on “Turn Your Ear”. Jordan Banks, the frontman from the Lafayette band YEARS, wrote the synth parts for “Just Walk Away”.

ROB: Highlights of the recording process? Anything extra-memorable?
MR: When my friends and I tracked the vocals for the bridge “Turn Your Ear”, the five of us stood around one microphone to capture it. It was the closest I’ve felt to being Brian Wilson.

ROB: Where can fans see you perform your newest work?
MR: I’ve gotten really tired of playing in venues, so I’m focusing on house shows. A few weeks ago, I played at a barbeque on Indy’s east side. We grilled, drank Sun King, and had a great time.

ROB:Anything else?
MR: All four of the songs on Turn Your Ear were written over three years ago; I just didn’t know what to do with them until now. I knew they wouldn’t work on my 2010 album, Breaking, so it feels really good to finally share these songs with everyone.

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You can pre-order a digital download of the album for $4 or pre-order a digital download & physical CD combo for $6. Both are at mikereeb.com and mikereeb.bandcamp.com

Anyone who pre-orders the album (digital, physical, or both) will get an immediate digital download of the title track.

Indiana Music: Nevermind gets the X103 treatment

The bands on Forevermind — a Nirvana tribute record organized by X103 — stay true to the Seattle aesthetic, with standout efforts reinventing familiar melodies and textures without departing from the template. The album works as a Heartland tribute to a band that forever changed music.

Monofiction, a band featuring the Johnson Brothers (who own The Pop Machine studio and helped engineer the album), checks in with a power-pop take on “On a Plain.” Jenn Cristy’s version of “Lithium,” soulful and at its best in the slower parts, gently channels another Seattle band, Heart. Redline Chemistry’s nuanced, engaged take on “Polly” is a highlight, with acoustic guitars and harmonies that hit 45 seconds into the song.

Other standouts include ”In Bloom” from Phoenix on the Fault Line (with its echoes of the Smashing Pumpkins), Devil to Pay’s rendering of “Breed” as thrash garage rock, and a Gaslight Anthem and Ramones-inspired take on “Territorial Pissings” by New Politics.

We give kudos to X103 for putting together a project featuring Indiana bands in addition to national acts. Even now, the legacy of the Nirvana still resonates at the radio station. No Nirvana? Probably no X103.

There’s a division between bands that hits a note-for-note replication and those who twist the tune into their own sound. Regardless, hearing the songs from another band’s perspective is a thundering reminder how songs like “Smells Like Teen Spriit” and “Come as You Are” are flat-out great rock songs, time capsules of how it sounded when hair metal was pushed aside and flannel rock ruled.

Download: an RAR file containing a complete MP3 version of Forevermind