It was a big weekend at Saint Louis University's Chaifetz Arena
. On Saturday night, the long-suffering Billikens basketball team beat George Washington 63-59 in a to-the-wire game (which almost erased the memory of last year's humiliating 49-20 loss to GW). The atmosphere wasn't quite as high-energy on Sunday night for Tony La Russa's Stars to the Rescue, a concert to benefit his Animal Rescue Foundation
, but it was an intimate, relaxed night of rock, country and comedy.
Anyone who has ever seen a Cardinals post-game press conference knows that as manager, La Russa can be both glib and wryly humorous at the same time
. His role as emcee was no different; he worked in a few self-deprecating zingers (both at himself and his team), and he handed the mic to personalities from KSDK (channel 5) to introduce the acts.
Up first was the Nashville trio Lady Antebellum
, whose acoustic, harmony-laden songs were well-received by the mostly sedate crowd. The two guys and one gal in Lady Antebellum may be a rising stars in the country realm, but their cover of the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Runnin'" showed the group's knowledge of classic rock (something that served them well on a bill such as this).
St. Louis-born comedian Kathleen Madigan came next and offered takes on such topics as politics, the economy, Lost and her Irish-Catholic family. It was a solid set, but I thought her funniest bit came at the start when she thanked La Russa and called him "dynamic." I assume she meant it as a dig at his famously stoic persona, though she could have just been being grateful.
In keeping with the no-frills, circle-of-friends feel to the evening, REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin and Dave Amato
performed a seven-song acoustic set, reworking some of the band's classics to fit the format. Cronin still has one of the more distinctive voices in rock & roll (no one overworks an "r" sound like him), and he proved an affable and gracious front man. He gave a shout-out to real-rock radio station KSHE (94.7 FM) for its early support and dusted off the early album track "Golden Country" in thanks for the support.
"Keep On Loving You" featured softer opening chords before the big sing-along chorus, and set closer "Roll with the Changes" provided a rousing send off. It was a fine set, with two exceptions: The pair omitted "Time for Me to Fly," and Cronin was NOT wearing the tight leather pants
he sports on that TimeLife "Ultimate Rock Ballads" infomercial.
After a brief intermission, country crooner Vince Gill took the stage. Dressed in flannel, jeans and work boots, Gill looked like an itinerant log worker but sang like a dream, winning the crowd over with sweet songs and an endlessly affable sense of humor. It didn't hurt that he brought along wife Amy Grant as a surprise guest. The pair shared the stage for the latter half of Gill's six-song set, mixing Grant's religious songs with Gill's soft-touch, heartfelt tunes.
Comedian Lewis Black was the wild card on the bill; his acerbic, shouty humor is great on The Daily Show, but it wasn't clear how it would translate to the older crowd. Black himself was aware of the incongruity - he remarked on the strangeness of a self-described "bitter, aging Jew" following the lovey-dovey Christians Gill and Grant. I've never seen Black do a stand-up set before, so it's hard to know if he toned down his act for the setting, but his trademark dyspepsia was in full bloom as he ranted about getting older, the Bush administration and his nonagenarians parents' sex life.
While the other musical acts stuck to acoustic guitars, Bay Area superpowers Huey Lewis & the News
brought their full stage show, complete with a four-piece horn section. Huey still has the rogue-like charm and rumpled good looks that made him an MTV star in the '80s, and while he struggles for the high notes these days, his voice is still well-suited for type of soul-shouting that made the band famous.
The eight-song set was a little too covers-heavy for me - the band opened with Grand Funk Railroad's "Some Kind of Wonderful" and played J.J. Jackson's "But It's Alright" later in the set (both from the 1994 covers album 4 Chords and Several Years Ago). Still, you can't argue with the crowd-pleasing hits "The Heart of Rock & Roll" and "The Power of Love." The new-wave energy of "Heart & Soul" was a highlight, as the horns left the stage and let the core band members recreate the early sound of the News.
The set ended with the album cut "We're Not Here for a Long Time," which concluded with Huey bringing all the night's talent onstage for a final bow. La Russa closed the night with a few kind words to the acts and the sponsors. Say what you want about his coaching acumen - the skipper knows how to throw a party and has the big-name friends to pull it off.
Setlist for Huey Lewis & the News:
1. "Some Kind of Wonderful" (Grand Funk Railroad cover)
2. "The Heart of Rock & Roll"
3. "I Want a New Drug"
4. "Small World"
5. "The Power of Love"
6. "Heart & Soul"
7. "But It's Alright" (J.J. Jackson cover)
8. "We're Not Here for a Long Time"
Setlist for Kevin Cronin and Dave Amato of REO Speedwagon:
1. "Don't Let Him Go"
2. "Take It on the Run"
3. "Golden Country"
4. "I Can't Fight This Feeling"
5. "Smilin' in the End"
6. "Keep on Loving You"
7. "Roll with the Changes"