Anita’s Theatre in Thirroul is an elaborate, 93 year old venue with ornate fittings and superb acoustics. For most if its existence, it existed as King’s Theatre. It hasn’t hosted a king of rock ‘n’ roll for some time – until tonight.
In the midst of his very first, long awaited Australian tour, John Waite takes the stage to be greeted by an enthusiastic audience of a few hundred, keen to drink in four decades of sublime pop perfection.
Decked out in matching black suits, Waite is surrounded by a top shelf band including Tim Hogan on bass, Mark Ricciardi on guitar and Rhondo on drums, who plays a half kit, minus the Toms, aptly suited for the mix of acoustic and electric tunes being delivered as part of the Waite repertoire on this tour.
The band plug in and launch into ‘Midnight Rendezvous’, from The Babys fourth album, Union Jacks. The opening chords of the super melodic ‘Change’ has the crowd up and out of their seats and dancing at side stage. Penned by Holly Knight, ‘Change’ has a super infectious riff, and it’s easy to see why it was one of MTV’s most popular videos back in 82.
Only two songs in and I’m marvelling at how good Waite’s voice sounds. Unlike many of his peers (Paul Stanley for example), Waite is on pitch and note perfect. He has one of the most recognisable voices in rock, and as evidenced by his vocal performance tonight, he is reminding the assembled flock that he is indeed – a master of his instrument.
Waite and Ricciardi deliver an absolutely stunning version of the supreme power ballad (a term I dislike) ‘When I See You Smile’. This song climbed all the way to Number 1 in America and pretty much everywhere else. Back in ’89, this tune stood out like a sore thumb amongst all the other hair metal detritus. It’s the only Bad English tune included in the set. I would have loved to hear ‘Best Of What I Got’ or ‘Straight To Your Heart’ but I have no complaints, as the band launch into The Babys – ‘Every Time I Think Of You’, quite possibly one of the best heavy pop songs ever recorded.
The hits are relentless, and the Anita’s crowd are lapping it up. They know they are witnessing something special. It’s a privilege to be in the crowd witnessing the greatness of John Waite.
The audience are treated to ‘Tears’ a deep cut off of 1984’s hugely successful ‘No Brakes’ LP. I’ve always dug this Vinnie Vincent penned tune and I for one am glad its included in tonight’s set. Sandwiched between hit songs, it’s far from out of place and could have been a hit in its own right. I am digging the deep cuts, and am pleasantly surprised to hear ‘Mr Wonderful’, the Ivan Kral penned tune from 1982’s ‘Ignition’. From Kral to Patty Smyth to Johnny Thunders, Waite always moved with the Big Apples coolest cats.
Waite disappears from the stage and allows Rhondo a drum solo. As good as it is, I can do without it. I’ve always found drum solos tedious and my cue to head to the bar. Waite returns to deliver a plaintive and stark version of ‘Bluebird Cafe’, and then an absolutely striking version of ‘If You Ever Get Lonely’. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, his smooth voice resonates deep into the back rows.
The lament about NYC, ‘Downtown’ (from 1995’s ‘Temple Bar’ LP) is probably the highlight of the night for me. Lyrically evocative, it tells the tale of NYC before Giuliani cleaned it up, of the Minnesota Strip, St. Marks and all the assorted humanity. Johnny Thunders on the radio. Indeed. (As a Thunders fan, I would have loved to have heard ‘No Brakes’ in tonight’s set – but as I mentioned previously, when Waite is delivering such a killer set of tunes, I’m not in a position to complain).
For those that came to hear the hits, ‘Missing You’ had the crowd again up and out of their seats. Not just a hit – but a NUMBER ONE hit. Again, endurance, durability and melody galore. An embarrassment of riches.
A punishing version of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ follows, before the band close out the set with ‘Back on My Feet Again’, another killer tune from The Babys Union Jacks LP. Gloriously melodic hard rock.
Sarah McLeod joins the band onstage to share lead vocals on ‘Isn’t It Time’, a number 1 hit in Australia for The Babys some 40 years ago, and the crowd lap it up. Whilst she is no Anne Bertucci, McLeod more than holds her own.
Without giving the audience time to come up for air, a ball tearing version of Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ brings proceedings to a close. By the end of the evening – it’s abundantly clear to all that Waite is one of THE singers of his generation. And the songs……. Man, there are not enough superlatives to describe the enduring songs. You can have an army of Ed Sheerans – and I’ll take one John Waite any day of the week. A pop charlatan – Sheeran doesn’t come even close to the greatness of Waite. An absolutely stellar performance. DO NOT miss John Waite on any of his remaining Australian dates. 10 out of 10. Get your tickets from http://johnwaitetour.com/
All photos courtesy of JohnnyD Photography