In 1982, I was ten. The proud owner of my first AM radio/cassette jam box and a fervent voter for the radio station that would play each day on the bus ride home from school. From days of thighs sticking to green vinyl seats piped in white as I waited for my stop in the sweltering Houston heat to sitting on a barstool in Denver, Colorado (gimp leg propped-up on a partner-in-crime’s lap), I never thought I’d see the man who sang of the mysterious Vegemite sandwich over the crackly bus speakers sing those words live. But last night, I did.
Colin Hay, former front man of 80s sensation Men @ Work, stopped by Denver last night, selling-out the Soiled Dove Underground in Lowry. Much like the Arc Angels show I recently caught at the Bluebird, I scored tickets and didn’t quite know what I was in for. Having been a fan of Colin’s long-ago hit machine along with many of his tunes made popular by the series Scrubs, I had no real knowledge about the man behind the music.
Holy shit, this man is funny. A master storyteller (glaringly apparent in his lyrics), our group was amused by tales of watching Batman buy coffee (as only a Californian could muse, “Ah, there’s Batman. He lives here, too.”), his laser-like precision in dealing with random (and irrelevant) audience remarks with a devilish school boy grin and tales of touring with Ringo. The entire show was more like an intimate Sessions or Crossroads taping than a concert, an artful weaving or stories and songs that still have my head swimming and soul humming today.
And his band. I had just as much fun watching his lead guitarist stroke his series of guitars like a lover at dawn, each note picked and strummed returning his touch. Fucking sexy to watch and I was glad someone was rubbing my gimp foot for the better part of the show (gratuitous and self-serving, maybe, but you can’t really masturbate in public, now, can you?). Guitarist aside, there’s no one in that band that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line and it’s pretty evident that they roll together like rice and raw fish in their purple and silver tour bus. While it’s not the Gulfstream IV of Colin’s days touring with Ringo, I think the bus suits them much better. And there’s not an ounce of pretension held-over from being a chart-topping 80s band in Colin’s show – his sense of humor permeates every note played. He’s a man who can laugh at himself – and you’re left with no choice but to surrender and laugh with him.
Personal faves from last night’s show are:
There’s Water Over You (on his new CD, American Sunshine – release date 8/18/09)
How often is it that your childhood collides with your adulthood and you’re left feeling, if only for two hours and fifteen minutes (!!), like Lily Tomlin sitting in that big-ass rocking chair, feet dangling above the ground? Wide-eyed, open eared, afraid to speak for fear if you do you’ll miss the sweetest note of the show…it was everything I could do to go to the bathroom ten minutes prior to the show’s end. Christ, I had to go – thankfully, the acoustics at the Soiled Dove Underground are hear-the-show-while-you-pee good.
I tasted Vegemite once and hold firm in my belief that it’s crap-flavored sand, but there’s no crap in what Colin Hay’s putting out these days. For this audiophile, Colin’s songs are a beautiful blend of lyric mastery mixed with a solid assembly of collaborative, kindred musical spirits who have no problem say it, “Fuck it. Let’s play.” Add an underlying smile and you’ve got what’s the best part of Men @ Work – the man who’s still at work twenty-seven years later.