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Issue 1093

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Men At Work: Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19

Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com
Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com Men At Work (Colin Hay): Shepherd's Bush Empire 21/6/19 @bluesandsoul.com

Formed in St Kilda, Victoria, Australia back in 1978, Men At Work shot to fame in 1981 with the Aussie pop anthem, "Down Under". The track, a worldwide phenomenon, hitting the No.1 spot on pretty every chart from here to err, New Zealand - it stayed at the top off the US chart for an incredible 16 weeks and transformed the band into an overnight sensation.

Men At Work released 3 albums in total; "Business As Usual" (1981), "Cargo" ('83) and "Two Hearts" ('85) selling over 30 million units in the process while enjoying a somewhat chequered history, including a court trial, a couple of band breakups and the death of Greg Ham. They were a band who's light burned bright, they took chances and made some great music! So when Scottish-Australian, now US based, frontman/soul man Colin Hay announced Men At Work were to tour for the first time in 17-years and perform in the UK for the first time in 36-years! I had to attend! And so did those in a nigh-on full venue.

It was a sultry June evening at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire, as I took my seat to witness their 2nd show on the tour (after Manchester the night before) under Hay's newly resurrected Men At Work moniker. You could sense there was a real air of excitement as the crowd perpetually buzzed with expectancy.

Bar Hay, the group are missing all original members Greg Ham (saxophone/flute and keyboards), Ron Strykert (guitar), Jerry Speiser (drums), John Rees (bass guitar and backing vocals) for the reasons already given but that didn't diminish that Men At Work spirit, which arrived onstage with the band.

Hay, dressed like Colonel Sanders with a guitar, seemed taken aback by his reception from his beloved fans, who prolonged their applause and screams (and at the end of the show) for their returning hero as he introduced the current version of the band: Hay's wife, Cecilia Noel, who was on BV's/tambourine and was dressed somewhere between a yellow q-tip and a very helpful elf - stage attire aside, she was great! Her constant infectious energy was a delight to behold all the way through the show. San Miguel Perez' on guitar was bang on the money all night, as was Yosmel Montejo's bass, which drove many of the songs. Jimmy Branly's drums were tight to the beat and understated when needed. Lastly, the sax/keys player Scheila Gonzalez was in a league of her own, while at the same time being absolutely mesmerising.

Considering the band only had 3 albums to pick their material from, I counted an impressive 20 songs performed on the night - one Hay solo effort plus 19 Men At Work numbers and I would say, 99% the crowd sang along to every word of every song.

Kicking off with "Touching The Untouchables" from their debut album "Business As Usual" and followed quickly by "No Restrictions" from the "Cargo" long-player, you got the feeling the band and audience were both acclimatising. It was when "Dr Heckyll & Mr Jive" kicked in did the audience and M.A.W. were properly attune - you could tell the memories had started to come flooding back for some and this gig was now off and running!

The night was full of music highs, none more so than "Blue For You", which sounded as bright and breezy as it did when it was released - Hay's guitar strummed with the precision of a Swiss watch, while drums lead this track to a satisfying conclusion.

The stark sounds of "No Sign Of Yesterday" gave off an air of pure quality, again guitar was king as keys gave it a haunting edge - another song where Hay's distinctive tones take command as he leads his audience on a vocal journey. Same could be said of "Down By The Sea" which twists and turns with sax elegance and Hay's sublime vocal kilter. When completed, Hay quipped "we wrote this track while all being stoned, the original version was 4 hours 40 minutes long!"

It's sing-a-long time again as the chorus to "it's A Mistake" repeatedly rang loud and proud across the Shepherd's Bush Empire, this is when I firsts potted a real age variance in the audience but the younger members of the crowd were still singing as loud as those who remember the song the first time around…it was a fantastic sight!

"Underground" purred away like a muscle car with Hay's vocals bouncing alongside as the pace increased - the change-up in this tune showcased another standout vocal perfectly. "Upstairs" isn't the first track that sounds like it wouldn't be out of place on a Police album, with its long-held Sting like notes and twanging guitar - pure magic!

The end to the night's proceedings was now nigh so it was time for Hay and co to turn up the heat, as another sing-a-long tune is expertly showcased. Majestic sax rules as "Who Can It Be Now" was deftly delivered in true Men At Work style - it's addition to the set was met with a roar as the whole place rocked out to this classic.

Before we end the night with their most well-known material, there's just time to squeeze in a Hay solo track… "Come Tumblin' Down" has an alt-country feel and quick had Hay teaching his eager audience it's simple chorus and they in-turn obliged willingly with plenty of gumption.

OK, if you're like me and remember Hay's show-stopping performance in the TV programme Scrubs, you know that "Overkill" holds a special place for fans in the Men At Work back catalogue. And tonight, boy oh boy, Hay did not disappoint! Worth the price of the ticket money alone, it was delivered by an artist who possesses a huge depth of soul in not only delivery but tone and performance - hence why this review is covered by Blues & Soul. Yes, I know this is the band that sang "Down Under" but this band were far from a one-trick alt-pop and rock pony.

And talking of "Down Under", it came like a clap of thunder! With a roar from the crowd that was just as loud! Talk about giving the people what they want…if there was someone not singing along to this tune as I looked across the sea of faces, then they must have been hiding! This pop anthem was sung back at the band word for word and those who had come to enjoy a first-class performance entertainment, got exactly what they had come for. You'd think we were back in 1981 and it had just reached the top of the charts! It was just, WOW!

The band took a well-earned bow, disappeared off stage and then reappeared for an encore of another galloping track with Stiff Little Fingers type keys, "Be Good Johnny", which was delivered with the confidence of a band who knew they just nailed a cracking show.

This show was more than a trip down memory lane for some and just a great night out for others. But whatever the reason, let's just hope they don't leave it so long next time!

PHOTOS: LEE TYLER
Words LEE TYLER

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