Colin Hay put Hangar Theater to work

 

Colin Hay - James Suits Photography - The Fuze Magazine (10)Colin Hay, the voice of the Eighties rock group Men At Work, brought his one-man show to the Hangar Theater in Ithaca on Tuesday, Nov. 17. His early success with Men At Work included such classics as “Down Under,” “Who Can It Be Now?’, and “Overkill.” After the group disbanded, he pursued a solo career. Staying in relative obscurity for years, he was later discovered by a new generation of fans in the early 2000s after his collaborations with actor Zach Braff on the soundtracks to the movie “Garden State” and TV show “Scrubs,” where he also had featured cameos.

The Hangar Theater in Ithaca proved to be a perfect setting for Hay’s intimate acoustic show. A capacity crowd of over 300 filled the indoor amphitheater. The floor level stage was set up with four acoustic guitars on stands, a mic, effects pedals, a giant projection screen, and of course an old fashioned coat rack. Colin came out, hung up his coat, picked up a guitar, and broke into one of his more popular solo hits, “Beautiful World.” On the projection screen behind him shown pictures of pristine nature and grand vistas. The screen would be used to great effect throughout the evening. During the song “Dear Father,” old black and white photos of his beloved father as a young man popped up. On the Men At Work classic “Down Under,” he showed the original music video for the song from 1981 to the nostalgic delight of everyone.

Colin’s musicianship was in top form. His guitar playing was confident yet delicate, with a warm tone that really filled the room. As an amateur guitarist myself, I enjoy watching a professional do his thing, and he didn’t miss a note. His unique, quirky voice was as powerful as ever, if perhaps a bit more raspy than it once was.

Though the music was excellent, what truly set this show apart from anything I’ve ever seen  before (200 performances and counting), was what happened in between songs. Many artists will engage in witty/thoughtful/serious banter throughout the show as they introduce various songs. Colin, however, takes this notion and elevates it to true storytelling. Between almost every song he would take several minutes and just talk to the audience, telling stories about his life as they relate to his music. It was less of a concert and more of an episode of VH-1 Storytellers.

His stories were humorous, somber, heartfelt, and often all three at the same time. Not once, though, did I wish he would hurry up and get to the next song. Although he does poke fun at himself once about that; while relating the story of the production of “Who Can It Be Now?” he stopped at said “This is a story which really shouldn’t be this long.” Too which everyone started laughing. Sometimes he would veer into full out stand-up comedy. While preparing one song, he starts repeatedly stepping on one of his effects pedals for what seems like a little too long, until finally he stops and admits “I have no idea what this thing even does.” Or when he was swapping out one guitar for another he said how he used to have guys that would bring out his next guitar, but that’s the first thing that goes as an independent artist, and that now all his old guitar techs work for Sting (who has magnificent shoulders, by the way).

And for every one-liner that got everyone laughing, he would tell a poignant story. Like how he would drive with his mother to the shops. She was known for taking wrong turns, but he never corrected her because the trip took longer that way and he so enjoyed that time together with her. Or how his father once saved him from bullies. Sometimes his stories were both heartrending and funny, making light of serious topics. On his past struggles with alcoholism he said “I knew it straight away. Not the type of thing you want to find out as soon as you start. You usually want to get 30 to 40 years under your belt first.” He also tells of how twenty years ago he went through that funny, awkward moment every middle-aged man goes through when he has to get “that” examine at the doctor. Well, in his case it came back positive for prostate cancer. He got it taken care of, and now he compares his love life to his new Tesla electric car; “We both climax in 3.9 seconds with no emissions.”

These were just a few of his stories, told through a voice of wisdom and experience. And of course that thick Scottish brogue of his seems custom made for holding people’s attention. I was able to catch up with Colin very briefly afterwards and ask him about the storytelling element of his show. He said “I’m Scottish. We’re storytellers. You play to your strengths.” Storyteller indeed.

 

 

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James Suits
The Fuze Magazine

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