Colin Hay @ Melbourne Recital Centre, Saturday February 10, 2018.

Ah Well, We Sat Through It: We need an icon mate, we need an icon

There are certain failsafes in life. You play for Barcelona FC? Just give it to Messi. You’re shooting a film with George Clooney? Make sure you get that smile.

If you’re lucky enough to get the gig on the faders for a Colin Hay performance, there’s one non-negotiable: put that voice front and centre. A famous and rich catalogue? Decades of stage craft and a nice line in between-song Billy Connolly? Absolutely. But it’s all about that voice, and within the modern, engineered, timber walls of this exquisite venue, it was a joy and a relief to be able to hear this singular sound, clear and true.

In fact, one sensed that the crowd might have been most happy with a solo acoustic set from their idol. There was no doubting the happiness when Hay did just that for a few songs and, though it was performed with his generally tasteful band, there was almost a relieved sigh when the contemplative Waiting For My Real Life To Begin was played with the simple respect befitting this jewel.

It was a shame that this approach was not consistently applied. For while there’s real talent evident in Hay’s band (Yosmel Montejo on bass was sublime – with such feel and dexterity, he would enhance any band; Scheila Gonzalez on keys, tenor and alto sax, and flute – probably all you need to know about her is that she’s played in Dweezil Zappa’s band, and you don’t get that gig unless you’re at the pinnacle) they were often superfluous. As solid as San Miguel Perez (guitar) and Jimmy Branly (drums) undoubtedly are, they did not set the pulses racing.

Worse still was Cecilia Noel – Hay’s wife. Picture a female cross between David Lee Roth, Bez from the Happy Mondays and The Dude’s interpretive-dancing neighbour in The Big Lebowski and you’re getting close. She was a distraction. Given the spotlight for a spectacularly ill-judged salsa AC/DC cover, the effect was more a thousand buttocks clenching than shaking (all night long). Terrible.

There are some decent songs on Hay’s most recent album, Fierce Mercy. Come Tumblin’ Down and A Thousand Million Reasons for example; both were performed faithfully and pleasantly. They were well received too, but inevitably there was a sense of expectation around a couple of the massive Men At Work songs the crowd knew were coming, including Hay’s Stairway – the one Ringo Starr apparently refers to as “that song about the country you don’t come from”.

A pity then, that Hay chose to give it a Latin transmogrification and an extended drum solo. He has obviously earned the right, but mate, Down Under doesn’t come from bloody Cuba.