The first time I saw Colin Hay in concert, he was leading Men at Work on the band's Cargo tour, and they had sold out the Omaha Civic Auditorium, a nondescript 12,000-seat arena typical of heartland cities.
My most vivid memory of that 1983 show is Hay's maniacal dancing, highlighted overhead-projector-style onto the ceiling of the room, while the crowd danced all night to the reggae-tinged pop-rock coming from the stage.
The man has certainly mellowed with age, performing solo and all-acoustic to a seated sold-out State Room Wednesday night. But the witty way with words and his stellar storytelling ability made Hay's solo show no less enchanting than that bombastic Men at Work show was to my 12-year-old self.
While Men at Work hailed from Australia, Hay is actually a Scot, and his accent and wry sense of humor combined to make his between-song tales of hanging with Paul McCartney or playing gigs to nine people--most of them self-effacing and hilarious--as vital a part of the show as his songs.
His songs, though, are pretty remarkable, too. Even though Men at Work's '80s hits earned Hay his following, his less-known solo work has allowed him to re-establish himself as a must-see touring artist.
On Wednesday, songs like "Beautiful World," "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" and "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin" all showcased Hay's strong voice and lyrical skill. Likewise, "Looking for Jack," "Goodnight Romeo" and the instrumental "Gathering Mercury" proved fine additions to Hay's catalog in his post-Men at Work years.
It's a testament to Hay that his show wasn't merely a run-through of old Men at Work favorites, and that made songs like "Overkill" all the more powerful when they did come into the show.
I went to Wednesday's show as much for a personal dose of nostalgia as anything, but after seeing how good Hay is in 2013, I'll definitely be seeing him again. Even if I have to sit through the show.