Colin Hay’s Fierce Assault on Memory
Former Men at Work Front Man Rouses Sold-out Landmark Audience
There are performers who point to a troubled childhood as inspiration for their rise to fame. In the case of Colin Hay, not so much. When he appeared recently in a personable solo performance at Landmark, Scotsman Hay (Kilwinning, North Ayrshire) referred instead to his happy childhood and capable parents. Emigrating to Australia at 14, Hay found success with a certain Australian band whose song “Land Down Under” is best remembered for a single ingredient chosen by lyricist Hay: vegemite.
Even ardent fans of that song likely miss the serious intent, which foreshadowed the diverse and productive career of Colin Hay. As Hay explained in a Songfacts interview,
“The chorus is really about the selling of Australia in many ways, the over-development of the country. It was a song about the loss of spirit in that country. It’s really about the plundering of the country by greedy people. It is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense. It’s really more than that.”
More than a dozen solo albums later, starting with Looking for Jack (1987) up through the latest, Fierce Mercy, Colin Hay has forged a career quite different from the one that launched Men at Work tunes to the top of the US, UK and Australian charts in 1982–3. In the durable career that followed, Hay has steadily contradicted the title of a Men at Work classic, “It’s a Mistake.”
That said, “It’s a Mistake” may see revival as Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump pursue a new version of nuclear brinkmanship.
Those only slightly familiar with Hay’s post-Men work will find it daunting to find a consistent thread of influence.
True, Hay cited influences as diverse as Bob Dylan, the Kinks and Booker T and the MGs — but there was to be no straight line from these artists to his body of work.
Hay commenced an evening of selections across that multi-category catalog and a few covers (Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” performed moderato, and a lovely 12-string version of the Beatle George Harrison classic “Here Comes the Sun”).
When “Land Down Under” inevitably surfaced in the set, the result was delightful, even without the orchestration and vocal harmonies of the original. Hay ended the song with an especially well-articulated vocal flourish not present in the better-known version, one that explained why he had succeeded as the singer/front man down under. That pinched, affecting voice featured in “Who Can It Be Now” is as arresting in 2017 as it was when millions first heard the question on FM radio decades ago.
Throughout his performance, Hay made good use of pedal effects (mostly flange with a faint reverb with the occasional looper) to offset the artist’s reliance on a single instrument. The evening selections included “Come Tumblin’ Down” (from his most recent album Fierce Mercy), “Frozen Fields of Snow,” “Thousand Million Reasons,” “Beautiful World,” “Maggie,” “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” and more.
Hay is now a happy Angelino with US citizenship, but in performance he is at the least a multi-nationalist if not internationalist. Enough of the brogue remains: coloring a story of his father singing “Overkill” Sinatra-style while driving Colin back to the airport, coloring his mother’s bedside on a final visit to the homeland. In other ways, Hay has ingested so much of the Anglo-American-Aussie beer that his songs could have been brewed in Denver, Dover or Des Moines.
A Colin Hay performance is enriched by his comic instincts. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine a successful Hay standup routine sans guitar, but, as Hay himself explained, “Jokes can’t be reused. Songs, on the other hand, can be played over and over for forty years.”
Based on the reception given Colin Hay by this Landmark audience, his songs, baked from more than that one memorable ingredient, are likely to last another forty. To quote the songwriter himself, “Don’t be the last to know” (Fierce Mercy). Because . . .
Through these frozen fields on snow / My secrets are whispering in this fading light (“Frozen Fields of Snow”).
Boston Boy Chris Trapper
Opening for Hay on this evening was Boston’s (“Boston Girl”) Chris Trapper @ChrisTrapper. Back in 2009, Trapper’s song “This Time” was featured in the film August Rush, which received a Grammy nomination. Trapper described himself to the Port audience as a one-time hospitality worker who responded to his father’s call to risk all to become a singer / songwriter. He got his start as a 28-year old gigging in Irish pubs and has developed a following in folk circles. His songs have also served a season several more movie soundtracks.
On this occasion, opening for Colin Hay proved a natural slot for Mr. Trapper. He is an earnest song stylist whose most moving song from his set was a ballad devoted to long-lived love. The song is a riposte to countless songs about breakups, unrequited love, jealousy — in other words, anguish A to Z (as in Trapper’s own “Lovely Valentine”). Trapper’s lyric, paradoxically, tackles the more difficult feature of this fraught landscape, and succeeds.
— where he breathed the stinging dusty winds as though a rock inhaling rock — his proper evolution? — and fed on silence as it flowered and fell — the fierce clarity, the fierce restraint — front door behind him hanging open like a thrown shadow as he blazed in place… a man inside the view… the zooming arc… and edge to edge the blue absolute….
from “He Stood” by Aaron Shurin
“I just found over the years that it’s very hard to change people’s perception of what it is that you do.” [Source]
What NBC TV show has featured Colin Hay in three episodes?
Landmark on Main Street @LandmarkonMain http://kbros.co/2gU8Txu
Colin Hay @ColinHay http://kbros.co/2gUliSk
Chris Trapper @ChrisTrapper http://kbros.co/2gT7APw
Opening or Co-Headline
Landmark on Main Street Partners in Performing Arts for 2016–2017 season Town of North Hempstead, Peter and Jeri Dejana Family Foundation, Peter and Dorette Forman Charitable Foundation, NYU Winthrop Hospital, Harding Real Estate, Capell Barnett Matalon & Schoenfeld LLP
18 October 2017
Long Island music, live music, music reviews, Colin Hay, Men at Work, Landmark on Main Street, Chris Trapper
Mountain Stage Podcast (NPR, 2009)
Answer to Trivia Question
Originally published at DarkViolin.