It was a crisp cool Thursday evening in Milwaukee and I was standing in line waiting to get into the Northern Lights Theater to see John Waite. Yes, I said John Waite. The former frontman for 70's rockers "The Babys", 80's pop sensation "Bad English", and solo artist on and off for three decades. Standing in line with others waiting I had a chance to talk with a group of guys who had seen him only the night before in Libertyville IL. That says something to the type of artist that John is when even after years out of the mainstream spotlight he can still command a following as loyal as this.
We took our seats at a center table in the third row and relaxed before the show. I was kind of surprised to see only a simple stage set-up with two microphones and a table centered behind them. I thought this was to be John Waite with a full band, but in reality it was to be an acoustic show featuring John and bandmate/guitarist Jimmy Leahey. The lights went down and John and Jimmy took the stage with a smile and a wave to the audience. John greeted us with a "Hello Milwaukee" in that unmistakable English accent. He strapped on a well worn acoustic guitar (one he would fight all night long to stay in tune) stepped up to the mic and started our musical journey for the evening.
"Change" was a perfect choice to open the show. John himself has gone through so many changes to arrive where he is today. His voice was crystal clear and as powerful as when I last saw him some 20 years ago with "Bad English". He ended the opening number with a unique blend into The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again".
From there the next four songs spanned his whole career. "When I See You Smile" the 80's pop superhit was next, followed by "Give Me Your Love" which featured a stunning guitar sequence by Jimmy Leahey. Next up was "Let's Get Out of Here" and then the Baby's classic "Isn't It Time." which sounded like it was brand new.
Now maybe it was the title of the song or maybe it was just that time, but as the cheers died down John stepped up to his mic and told us a little story. He said sometimes, when you're in the position that he's in you get asked to help people's lives in special ways. Shielding his eyes from the spotlight he asked out to the audience, "Is there a JonAnne Willow here tonight?" He looked around and off to his left a very lovely and somewhat stunned young lady stood up by her booth and waved. "Hello JonAnne" he said as he waved back to her. "You know it's times like this that I feel truly blessed." "I have been asked by someone you know to ask you something rather important." "Michael Gull wants to know&JonAnne, will you marry him?" As the crowd cheered and JonAnne covered her face Michael presented her with a ring and she accepted. It was something I have never seen before in over 700 concerts, and is something I will never forget. Congratulations to both JonAnne and Michael, may the rest of your life be as spectacular as your engagement.
As we got back to the music John again took us through all the ears of his career. "In Dreams" from his latest CD was followed by a cover of the country hit "Whenever You Come Around". The remaining songs included "NYC Girl" his mega-hit "Missing You", "Bluebird Café" and several others. The show wound down and there was only a single song encore, the classic "Back On My Feet Again". As I look back on this concert I realize that I went in expecting to see an old 80's pop star winding down his road to obscurity. I was way off. What I did see was a consummate artist, secure in his musical legacy and enjoying the music today as much as the day he first played it. As a music fan and as a music journalist I have a whole new respect for John Waite and his music.
FOOTNOTE: I want to thank John Waite for his time and his gracious attitude even after 22 hours without sleep. I had waited around after the show as he signed autographs and took the time to greet his fans. I was the last in line and even as tired as he was he took the time to give me ten minutes for a quick interview. I am so grateful for his consideration, unfortunately as I was replaying the tape (yes I am outdated technology-wise) the cassette was eaten and could not be saved, but I can say with all honesty that he is without a doubt one of the most genuine people I have ever met in this business.
For an ageless voice and a stellar show, this concert gets a well deserved B+
Photos: Paul Kloiber
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