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Concert Review: Men At Work’s Colin Hay in Annapolis, MD

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“Don’t wait up…cause she won’t be coming home…”

The voice is comfortable, warm, and confident. Chances are if you are under the age of thirty, you know it as the throaty voice that lingers over the words “Just don’t think I’ll ever get over you…’ on the Garden State soundtrack. If you are over thirty you might be a fan of his work as the front man of the hit band Men at Work.

Colin Hay had me scrambling to get my ipod stocked with his voice the moment I heard it in the indie movie. I couldn’t wait to hear that song live. My husband came for the 80’s hits. A musician is in a tough spot with one show to play representing essentially two different careers. One can throw a show of hit songs sans backup band and fog lights, cementing the reputation of a has-been. Or one can pretend their hits don’t exist and play a singer-songwriter show that is only half the story.

Hay does neither. Or he does both. Somehow he manages to blend both old and new in a phenomenal show that would live up to any ticket holder’s expectations, no matter what side of thirty they’re on.

Colin Hay knows his crowd, and knows he’s singing to a mixed bag. “I do have some hits…5 of them. 5 in the top 5. I won a Grammy 25 years ago and I’m waiting to see what comes next,” he quips. He lightly peppers his set with the Men at Work hits that he fondly calls his 17¢ songs.

With his wry sense of humor and his Australian accent that makes everything he says entertaining, he describes the anticipation he feels from the stage of people who come just for his hits. He describes their disappointment when he plays a song they don’t know. As he speaks, he tempts us with the riff of “Who Can It Be Now?,” a song he claims he wrote in the bush stoned on marijuana. Even though I’m one of those there for his current music, I find myself craving the hits as well.

Finally he relieves the tension with a haunting, full out version of the chords he’s been teasing. It doesn’t rock out like the one we’re used to on the radio. It chills. He does not try to duplicate the band, but instead plays the hits in the same echoing acoustic style he employs for his current work. If you didn’t know any other way, you’d never miss the band. The root melodies are strong, versatile and deeply catchy no matter how they’re played.

If his hits are good, the songs from his newer solo career are even better. The talent that produced top 5 lyrics and melodies is given full flight with just his Griffin guitar and gravelly voice. The notes linger just where they should. He is a master of his instrument and microphone. He writes a perfect song and then he sings it perfectly. Though tending toward the melancholy, Hay’s humor shows through in an occasional lighthearted tune such as “What Would Bob Do?,” inspired by his lifelong dream to hang out with Bob Dylan while Dylan just fixes a car or goes to Costco.

Toward the end of the show his wife, Cecilia Noel joins him on the stage. Standing petite in her gauzy blouse, plaid schoolgirl skirt and fishnet tights, she croons background vocals that add an extra layer of depth to the already incredible songs. Noel has a career of her own as the lead singer of The Wild Clams, but tours with Hay much of the time. Adding a twist to the show, she acts out each song, arms flapping like wings when a bird is mentioned, or hands drawing a heart on her chest.

We left the show amazed. Amazed that we hadn’t seen Colin Hay sooner, and amazed that his extraordinary music is relatively obscure. If Hay ever plays within a few hundred miles, go. The show is one of the best you’ll ever see. And if you’ve heard of Men at Work, Garden State, or neither, his music is not to be missed. You’ll put it on repeat, I promise.

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About Sarah C. Culver

  • It has been so frustrating for fans who have kept up with his solo career–like me. Those of us who knew how brilliant a singer/songwriter he is from the first notes of his criminally neglected solo album “Looking for Jack” are grateful to the “Garden State” and “Scrubs” fans who have helped raise Colin’s profile…it’s just a bummer that it took so long for Colin to get a tenth of the recognition he deserves. So, if you like what you heard a the concert, I recommend “Transcendental Highway,” “Topanga” and his latest album, “Are You Looking at Me?” if you want to delve into his best solo work.

  • me

    colin’s accent is actually scottish not australian 🙂

  • Peter

    Being of that “older” generation, I am certainly familiar with “Men at Work”. Their material is indeed iconic. So now I have something new to check out…Colin Hay’s current material. Thanks!

  • Jem

    Good to know about this artist. I’ve never heard much of Colin besides the soundtrack song. Thanks, Mrs. Culver, for the info. I have new music to check out!