Colin Hay has been a performing worldwide as a musician for nearly four decades now, but most people know him from a brief, five-year period of his career when he fronted one of the biggest bands of the early 80s, Men at Work. With their chart-topping hits “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under,” two international hit albums Business as Usual and Cargo, and a Grammy award in 1983 for “Best New Artist,” the band seemed for a brief time to be at the top of the world. But tensions in the band led to a breakup during the recording of their third record, Two Hearts, and the album was a commercial failure. Hay went on to start a solo career with the release of his 1987 solo album Looking for Jack, but it took him, as he noted at one point during his show at the Lincoln Theatre on Saturday evening, quite some time to find his audience again.
But find them he did, and today he plays to smaller but more dedicated crowds – instead of fleeting pop stardom, he’s built an audience who follows him not just to hear a few nostalgic hits (though there is a palpable thrill in the room when he does break out “Who Can It Be Now?”), but also the large catalog of songs he’s built in the years since. Touring for the release of his thirteenth solo album Fierce Mercy, which came out in March of this year, it’s clear that Hay is just as comfortable if not more so playing to a theatre full of dedicated fans as he ever was with selling out stadiums.
Hay opened his solo acoustic set with a new song, “The Last to Know,” from the new album. From there he spoke of growing up in his father’s music shop and the transformative moment of hearing Bob Dylan, and performed a cover of “Like a Rolling Stone.” In fact, Hay seemed to spend nearly as much time talking between songs as he did singing them, but Hay is an expert and engaging storyteller – as he spoke of his parents, of finding (and losing) fame, of moving to LA to escape the alcohol and drugs that his social circle was so immersed in in Australia, and numerous other topics, it was so engaging that the long breaks between songs nearly didn’t matter.
At the center of Hay’s fifteen-song set, of course, were about half of the tracks on Fierce Mercy. He taught the audience to sing along on the chorus of “Come Tumbin’ Down,” and also played “Frozen Fields of Snow,” “She Was the Love of Mine,” and his latest single release (insomuch as singles exist these days), “A Thousand Million Reasons.” He played songs from several of his earlier solo releases, including “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” from 1998’s Transcendental Highway, “Maggie” and “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” from 2000’s Going Somewhere, “Beautiful World” from 2002’s Company of Strangers, and the title track of 2015’s Next Year People. Along with a stunning cover of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” there were, of course, several Men At Work songs – along with the earlier mentioned “Who Can It Be Now?” Hay also played “Down Under” and “Overkill.”
Opening the set was Hay’s frequent touring partner of the last several years, Chris Trapper, best known for his time as the frontman of Boston-based band The Push Stars, who reunited this year and have a new album coming soon.