by Geno Thackara
“Hello, Philadelphia and surrounding areas,” Colin Hay warmly greeted us Wednesday night to a light round of chuckles. The neighborhood around Glenside’s Keswick Theater was still half-coated with ice on the day after our latest monster storm, though the metropolitan territories still provided an enthusiastic crowd to fill about two-thirds of the seats. The rumpled singer was in a particularly chatty mood on this occasion. He took several minutes to start getting down to business, rambling about smoking bongs in parking lots and outlining his policy on song requests: “go ahead and shout whatever the fuck you want. I can’t really hear it anyway.” It was a great start to two engaging hours of music, stories and laughs. His banter makes a delightful performance on its own, but of course it would still only be half a show without the songs (and vice versa).
Hay took a minute to coach us through the catchy chorus to “Come Tumblin’ Down,” and soon we were off and… maybe not running, but pleasantly ambling. With only a guitar and that weathered Scottish brogue, the familiar hits from his Men at Work days have quite a different feel at an easy pace. However many times he’s sung “Overkill” or “Down Under” by now, it didn’t stop him from finding interesting pensive shades to the songs, and that still came only after explaining the proper way to eat Vegemite.
Smooth strumming, fluid picking and a handful of warm guitar tones were all the accompaniment needed. It was Hay’s endless stream of jokes and anecdotes that carried things along and made it feel like one cozy intimate chat (an almost brilliant feat when standing alone on such a big stage). The sparse format made some interesting changes from some songs’ treatment on record, such as taking “Secret Love” from elaborately overproduced to sweetly simple, and finding more breathing space in “There’s Water Over You” or “Looking for Jack.”
The set was weighted most towards the two-week-old release Fierce Mercy, whose themes of life and loss gave the evening an ample dose of heartache. Several stories and more than a couple songs were about his now-departed parents – often amusing and always genuinely touching, from the almost-bouncy “Send Somebody” to the humbly straightforward “She Was the Love of Mine.” Often thoughtful as it was, the vibe also didn’t stop him good-humoredly poking at some audience members for randomly heckling or walking out with only a couple numbers to go.
There’s nothing like enjoying songs and stories together to keep everyone warm on a frigid night, and a Colin Hay performance is all about sharing in the best sense. Our show had everyone feeling not so lonely by the time a somber “Next Year People” finally wrapped things up. Bright or sad or both, the night was full of warm feelings, heartfelt laughs and reminders that at least we’re all in this crazy life together.