Men At Work and John Waite in Clearwater: 80s nostalgia for true fans

Live Review

Men At Work. Photo by Chyrisse.

By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa

Music Review: Men At Work and John Waite-Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida – August 4, 2022

Thursday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, was an evening of great 80s music with Men At Work and John Waite. Rick Springfield was listed on the tour but for some reason, he was absent during the kickoff. I have seen John Waite several times and he never disappoints. I have been a big Men At Work fan and own all three of their studio albums (yes, unfortunately the band’s tenure was short). Their quirky reggae songs (as well as John Waite’s music) were plastered all over MTV, dance shows, and Top 40 radio stations.

John Waite. Photo by Chyrisse.

Looking very youthful in his navy blue suit, striped shirt, and red scarf, John Waite came out with his support band performing Spider’s “Change” and Bad English’s “When I See You Smile”.  He then segued to Nashville-flavored ballads like Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around” and sang the poignant story of a waitress with “Bluebird Café”.

Between songs, Waite humbly complimented the venue (“It’s always a great gig in this place”), recalled his former group the Babys (“this is from a band that disappeared from the earth so many years ago—nobody knows what happened to them), and introduced an acoustic version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” (“We’d like to finish with a full on acoustic version of a song that should be played on an electric guitar—we like to live on the edge”). Actually Waite’s version of famous classic rock tune gives Robert Plant a run for his money. When he paused singing, the audience filled in the gap with the chorus until he said, “Never mind. I’ve got this!”

Waite’s voice sounds beautiful live—husky, raspy, and rich, as he performed both solo hits as well as songs made famous by The Babys like “Head First” and “Midnight Rendezvous”.  He was supported by longtime cohorts Tim Hogan (bass) and Mark Ricciardi (guitar). I apologize for not catching the drummer’s name, who was very talented and energetic.

Colin Hay began the concert with some of his solo work (“I Can’t Take This Town” and “Come Tumblin’ Down”) and deep cuts from Men At Work’s albums Business As Usual, Cargo, and Two Hearts. In 1983 the band won a Grammy for Best Artist of the Year and educated the world on Australian lingo with the catchy song “Down Under” (pre-Outback Steakhouse days).

With Hay being the only original member of the band that disbanded in 1986 he joked saying “we changed lineup along the way.” His band was extremely talented, energetic, and multicultural since most came from Cuba, South and Central America. A very talented Scheila Gonzalez played all the sax parts of songs as well as keyboard. The very energetic Cecilia Noël (actually Hay’s spouse) pranced around joyfully during the concert, played percussion, and sang beautiful harmonies. San Miguel Perez and Yosmel Montejo played guitar and bass respectively, often standing together, and swaying with the best. Jimmy Branly on drums kept the time and added flare to the familiar songs. Overall, the band was solid and recreated the songs faithfully from the albums I played over and over on my turntable in the 80s.

Colin Hay. Photo by Chyrisse.

Hays told the story of Men At Work forming in 1979 saying, “we weren’t getting anywhere”.  One day they were sitting around smoking “some good Sumatra when  ‘Down By the Sea’ was written.” From Business As Usual, this beautiful atmospheric song was one of the highlights of the evening, which showcased Hay’s voice as he held a note for eternity.

By the show of mouthing words and hand clapping, most were familiar with reggae-tinged and humorous songs like “Blue For You” or “Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Jive”. The poignant and moving “No Sign of Yesterday” featured rich harmonies and a killer sax solo by Gonzalez, which garnered a standing ovation.

Hay asked the audience, “Is it OK so far?”

An audience member shouted, “Play ‘Who Could It Be Now?” and Hay responded, “We’ll get to it!”

Colin Hay. Photo by Chyrisse.

Being a long-time fan of Men At Work, I really appreciated hearing songs which did not get radio airplay but were well-written and thoughtful. It brought me back to a simpler and happy time hearing the reggae-flavored “Catch A Star” or “Children on Parade”. Of course, popular hits like “Overkill” and “It’s a Mistake” brought cheers and whistles.

Hays mentioned that after four years “the band was done” and “my dear friend Greg and I did a lot of tours…he’s gone and I miss him.” Greg Ham and Hays created a lot of great music together with songs like “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now?”.  Men At Work was a band known for quirkiness, reggae music (like Police), and New Wave (“Helpless Automaton” sung by Ham), however, their lyrics were deeper and more meaningful if one actually listened to their body of work. I plan to revisit their albums now that I am mature and might appreciate them even more. Thursday night was a gift for true fans of the band and not for the casual MTV listener or nightclub dancer that simply know the band’s Top 40 hits.



John Waite

Men At Work-Instagram

Men At Work – Website

Chyrisse Tabone, Ph.D.
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