Colin Hay: In Concert
There are only a few directions pop stars from the 1980s can go.
If you’re like Sting, you can maintain the same commercial approach, albeit with a few twists, and carry your success forward twenty years. On the opposite end, if you’re like David Lee Roth, you can fade into obscurity—with only an occasional foray into another career, like talk radio, to remind the world you’re still around.
But there is a happy middle ground somewhere between continuous pop stardom and insignificance. Artists on this path replace their youthful I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-now vibe for something mellower and play from the heart.
Seeing Colin Hay perform live this week in a small theater, it’s clear that the former Men At Work frontman is a contender for king of this third group.
You probably remember him only because of the band’s two most catchy—and campy—tunes from the 80s, “Down Under” and “Who Can It be Now,” at least one of which makes an obligatory appearance on nearly every Best of the Decade compilations.
Or maybe you just remember him as the kind of creepy, bug-eyed lead singer.
But don’t let that background fool you. Armed with only his guitar, striking voice, and witty stories, Hay offered the crowd more than a few 80s flashbacks. For much of the show, he seemed more a stand-up comedian than a musician. And it worked; his long tales only rarely SEEMED long.
The crowd learned about Hay’s encounter with Jack Nicholson that inspired his solo song “Looking for Jack.” We heard how Scrubs star Zach Braff asked Hay for permission to include the touching “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” on the Garden State soundtrack, introducing the singer to a whole new generation of fans.
He also admitted that he wrote most of Men At Work’s hits under the influence of a certain weed. As if we didn’t already suspect it.
Hay showcased not only his songwriting talents but also his amazing vocal control with post-Men At Work songs like “Beautiful World” and “Waiting for My Real Life To Begin.” My lack of familiarity with most of these tunes didn’t keep me from tapping my foot and enjoying them immensely.
But, knowing what many in the crowd wanted to hear, Hay also belted out impressive versions of those two certain Men At Work standards. And another old band song provided one of the highlights of the show: an impressive rendering of “Overkill,” which he admitted is his favorite from the “old days.”
All in all, the quality of the man’s voice was a pleasant surprise; in fact, it alone would drive me to see him again, even though I had debated attending this show in the first place.
But the biggest shock of the night was my realization that although I’d heard Colin Hay’s voice hundreds of times during the past twenty years, I had never before appreciated just how talented he was.
Let’s hope this former 80s star doesn’t change direction anytime soon.