Colin Hay: troubadour from Down Under, kind of

I don’t know about you, but I always thought Colin Hay, the singer/songwriter who headed up Men at Work, actually came from the land Down Under—the land where women glow and men plunder and eat Vegemite sandwiches. Turns out he’s Scottish, but he moved to Melbourne when he was 14 where, he reports, his friend’s mothers were much hotter. He cleared this up when he I saw him play last night in Natick—a show that was half song, half hysterical. The guy is so funny, he could go on the road without his guitar.

He’s been mistaken for a lot of people over the years: one of the Village People, Sting, and Al Bundy.

“Sting,” he scoffed. “Oh, look at my yoga shoulders. He’s done a lot of Down Dog, that one has.”

It’d be a shame though if he went on tour without the guitar, funny as he is, because his reincarnation as an acoustic singer has yielded some beautiful, tender songs about love, longing, and cold places like Glasgow.

When his record company dropped him 20 years ago, he went the acoustic route as an interim gig. “Yeah, and here we are,” he said.

Hay’s a masterful songwriter who packs his songs with dense lyrics and simple rhymes that tell sweet stories of people and places. The song “Overkill” made a resurgence with his appearance in a Scrubs episode awhile back in which he follows J.D. around strumming the guitar, a twist that highlighted the music that’s usually relegated to the background. Very postmodern, that.

Hay described how a guy at a show once came up and said, “Just play the song about the goats, mate.” Hay thought it over and launched into “Overkill” which includes the line: “Ghosts appear and fade away.” “The guy thought it was about goats,” Hay said, shaking his head. “It never occurred to him to question it.”

He sang brilliant scaled-down versions of “Who Can it Be Now?” and “Down Under” blending in his new stuff like the mournful “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You,” featured on the Garden State soundtrack. He’ll be touring with Ringo this summer (“a step up from my minivan tour”) trying to recapture the heights he reached with Men at Work, but he’s clearly at his best in an intimate venue with a guitar and his charm.


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