By: Kevin Rolfe
When people think of Colin Hay, I’d imagine the first thing they think of is his band Men at Work. Understandably so. While Men at Work only released three albums and the original lineup was only together for seven years, the band left a lasting mark on the music world, particularly in the 80’s music scene. And who can think of Australia without their mega-hit, “Down Under” popping in their head? That being said, I have always been told just how great Hay’s solo work is, and that if he comes through town I should absolutely see him. So I did just that. I was fortunate to finally see Colin Hay on May 15, 2019, at The Commonwealth Room in Salt Lake City.
The Commonwealth Room was sold out with about two-thirds of the venue seated and the final third roped of for standing room only. Colin came out to thunderous applause. As I looked around the audience I saw an older middle-aged audience sprinkled with some young newer fans. No matter the age they all seemed to have such a strong affection for Colin Hay. At one point someone from the back yelled out “I Love You, Colin!”. Mr. Hay responded with, “I know. I’m assuming that’s why you’re here!”. The crowd broke out in laughter. What a great response.
Colin opened the show with a flurry of songs from his solo catalog opening with “Beautiful World”. The audience seemed to love these songs. You could tell who his true fans were by their response to the very first chord of the songs. I myself am not fully versed in Hay’s solo material, but I was thoroughly impressed with it throughout the show.
About five songs into the set Colin mentioned that if there were people in the audience wondering where the Men at Work songs were, don’t worry, they were coming. The told us to call a babysitter and tell them we’d be home late because those songs were coming in the latter half of the show. He said he performed “Down Under” last because everyone would leave once he played it. He then proceeded to play a Men at Work song titled, “Down by the Sea”. I’m not sure if it’s the style of music Colin plays or just his general demeanor but there was a relaxing, light air in the Commonwealth Room. His stories and his casual fun loving nature seemed to keep things fun and light.
Hay was right, the final thirty minutes of his set was heavy with Men at Work material. Things got going with “It’s a Mistake” a song I had forgotten about but really enjoy. That was followed by the unforgettable “Who Can it be Now”. While the audience was strong in voice, they were not strong in legs. Meaning, the seated audience never stood up. I have to say I was a little disappointed about this. I figured when Hay reached this point of the show the crowd would have jumped to their feet and really gotten into it. There were a few people who did get up, but for the most part, people remained in their seats. That’s not to say they weren’t enjoying themselves, because, from everything I could tell, people were loving the show. In fact, I should mention that while people didn’t stand up and dance they did rise to their feet after many of these songs to give Colin a standing ovation.
Following “Who Can it be Now”, Colin and his amazing band paid tribute to fellow Aussie/ Scottish band AC/DC. Colin’s wife and backup singer Cecilia Noel took the lead on a very Latin centric version of “Shook Me All Night Long”. It was an arrangement I had never heard before and it totally fit the style of the night and Cecilia’s voice perfectly.
Next was my favorite Men at Work song, “Overkill”. I think in the past I’ve always preferred Hay’s solo acoustic version, but on this night, I was reintroduced to the more upbeat full band version. I loved it. I’ve been listening to this version ever since the show. At this point, some people could no longer stay in their chairs. While many insisted on staying put, there were a number of people finally up. I noticed one man in particular in a suede leather jacket with fringe on the sleeves making his way up and down the aisles, dancing and singing along with Colin.
Colin told us earlier in the evening that he wrote the song “Down Under” in only forty minutes. He stated that it has been the gift that keeps on giving. This song has been performed in commercials, movies, ceremonies and so on. I’m sure this song alone has made him quite a lot of money. Colin introduced his very talented and diverse band, sharing with us that they were a band of immigrants. This lead to lengthy applause from the crowd. He stated that some of the band were from Cuba, Ecuador, and Peru. He said “We’re from these places. But we don’t live there now. But we all come from somewhere!” And he followed that statement with the song “Down Under”. It was a perfect transition.
Hay told us that this is normally when they would leave the stage and come back. But their dressing room was upstairs and they didn’t have anywhere to go. So they pushed on and finished the show with two fantastic solo era songs “Waiting For My Real Life to Begin” and “Next Year People”. The show finished with the entire audience on their feet in applause. It was clear how much they love Colin Hay, and loved this performance.
My takeaways from this show are this; Colin Hay is a true talent. His voice is still impressive intact. Most people who have been performing for as long as he has, have lost a little in their pipes. But Colin still has it. He could sing all the notes, and with strength. Sometimes artists have to take shortcuts to sound ok, but Colin’s distinct voice is still powerful. His back up band was extremely talented. During the song “Down Under” they each took turns soloing on their instruments. Each solo was as impressive as the next. And finally, I think as enjoyable as the whole night was, with the classic hits, and the amazing talent surrounding Colin, the part I enjoyed the most was when Colin was just out there alone with his acoustic guitar. The guy has more talent than the general public realizes. I feel so fortunate that I was able to finally see him perform.