Reviewed on Saturday May 9

With a strong, clear voice that is distinctively his own, Colin Hay stands like a fighter staring down the audience, legs apart and hands hanging at his sides, his unaccompanied vocal soaring into the massive expanse that is the Enmore Theatre. So it begins. Touring his 12th solo release, Next Year People, Hay tells us, “I keep putting out records ’cause I’m quite optimistic.” Throughout the show (and the album), themes of ambition and hopes for the future weave easily between reflections on the past.

The night’s setlist arcs through songs old and new, satisfying those who loved Men At Work in the 1980s and more recent fans who discovered Hay’s music through episodes of Scrubs. (Look up the hilarious clip of Hay following Zach Braff around the hospital singing ‘Overkill’.)

There is a calm confidence in Hay’s delivery, as he takes his time drawing us into his personal world. His mother’s dying days, the loss of a childhood friend, scenes growing up in south-west Scotland, the stoner days of rock’n’roll. We never feel sorry for him or want to cringe from oversharing. The curtain is drawn back at a controlled speed, allowing songs to resonate with our own versions of life’s events.

His hilarious song introductions recall Billy Connolly and truly lift the show to another level; this gig is part of Sydney Comedy Festival, and it works exceptionally well. The stories have that finely honed feeling of tales told and retold to perfection, and have the audience doubling over in their seats. If Hay harbours bitterness and anger, he has chosen to put it away, engaging us instead with a delightfully tongue-in-cheek wry wit and sonically warm compositions. Their richness is achieved by guitar switches, changing fingerpicking styles and subtle effects from ‘Ace’ at the sound desk, who knows every phrase by heart. When Hay reaches into his upper register it feels both uplifting and dangerous. His voice sharpens and soars with a confidence that suggests he has much more in reserve than we have imagined.

He leaves us with the new title album’s track, beginning, “You can’t live without hope that things will change for the better”. Colin Hay, master of his art, crafter of story and song, has his eye set on a lofty peak, and we, dear friends, simply wave and bow as he passes.

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