In televised British sci-fi stories featuring time traveling police boxes and extraterrestrial mutants, the protagonist will regenerate into a new body once in a blue moon. And no matter what new gender, race, or looks appear, the cheeky wit remains.
The same ideology applies to legacy rock bands, including Men At Work.
It’s been 20 years since the Aussie new wave group last toured in the States, and in 2012, co-founder Greg Ham passed away, leaving snarky, charismatic main creative force Colin Hay by himself for future Men At Work shows. A few years before COVID-19 hit, the now-69-year-old pieced together a new group to use with his old moniker, and following a warm-up show last week, the newish band—comprised almost entirely of South American musicians—kicked off its first full-fledged U.S. tour at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday night. This run of shows is, for the the most part, a triple-decker bill that sandwiches Hay and company in between opener John Waite and headliner Rick Springfield.
Though Mr. “Jessie’s Girl” was not on the bill Thursday night, John Waite still was, and he was the happiest person in the room, solely due to Ruth Eckerd Hall being his favorite place to play in North America—or so he says. “I love this room, great acoustics,” he commented.
Photo by Caesar Carbajal
John Waite plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on Aug. 4, 2022.
The Englishman—who just celebrated 70 trips around the sun last month—got through a 45-minute, acoustic retrospective that included a wink at his days with The Babys (“Midnight Rendezvous,” “Head First”), Bad English (“When I See You Smile”), and his solo career (“Bluebird Cafe,” “Missing You”). Waite also told a story about how him and Alison Krauss played a Vince Gill song at Grand Ole Opry once, not noticing until later that the country legend himself was actually in the crowd.
With six small, multi-colored amps onstage, the first Men At Work U.S. tour officially kicked off just after 9 p.m. with “Touching The Untouchables,” featuring Hay wielding a Duesenberg Starplayer TV electric guitar. He’d swap out for a few different models throughout the show, but what slightly resembled a hybrid between a Les Paul and a Gretsch got the most exposure.
Two songs in, Hay addressed the elephant in the room: Men At Work aren’t all men anymore. “There are a couple of people who have gone through a couple of transitions,” he joked. Scheila Gonzalez took on the woodwinds and keyboards, doing the late Greg Ham insanely proud in every breath she took (“Can’t Take This Town,” “No Sign Of Yesterday”). In front of her was Hay’s wife Cecilia Noël, who spent her time either prancing around Hay and the band, or banging the shit out of her tambourines, one of which actually had a jingle fly out during “I Can See It In Your Eyes.”
When he wasn’t singing, Hay almost always had an anecdote about his life. There was the time someone in the front row was in a hurry to leaven pointed at his watch, and asked Colin to get to “Who Can It Be Now?” already. And Hay never forgot that he wrote “Down By The Sea” while high on Greg Ham’s ganja. “The original version was four hours and 40 minutes,” Hay joked. “Sometimes, you get hungry.”
Most of the guitar work was done by San Miguel Perez, so Hay’s axe solo highlight was an underwhelming, yet still solid spotlight midway through “Upstairs In My House.” But there’s no room to complain about musicianship, because surely, there are people half Hay’s age that wish they could vocalize as well as he still does. He held—and took on—endless amounts of high notes on almost every song, and the only time that anyone in Hay’s band sang higher than him was in the rare instance that a higher harmony identical to one in an original recording was present.
After closing the main set with Men At Work’s rousing greatest hits (“Who Can It Be Now?,” “Down Under”), Hay declared that encores are kinda boring. “I have to stand on the side of the stage, and you have to clap…” he explained before jumping straight into his solo tune “Waiting For My Real Life To Begin,” followed by set closer “Be Good Johnny.” Perhaps some saw the latter as a command given to Clearwater, as the city now awaits Hay’s return to Ruth Eckerd Hall next month with Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band.
In that case, we’ll be good, be good, Colin.
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