John Waite performed in Chicagoland this past weekend.
He gave us some Babys, some Bad English, some solo stuff…
…some Hank, some Hendrix, some Zeppelin.
And it was arguably the Zeppelin tune that was his most impressive performance of the night.
With what had already been a surprisingly eclectic but mostly rocking performance, John Waite and his crew capped off an energetic 14-song set with a cover of Zepp’s “Whole Lotta Love,” doing a better Robert Plant than arguably Plant himself could do at this late point in his career.
As it was, Waite, the British-American singer/guitarist who once fronted the Babys in the late 1970s and Bad English a decade later, would have left his enthusiastic fans content even if he’d stuck to his own healthy catalogue of top-40 hits while performing Saturday at the historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles – a venue which, incidentally, had been shut down just two days earlier for fire code violations, placing the status of Waite’s show in a precarious state.
With cancellation averted, Waite seized the festive vibe of a small but relieved crowd, letting fans know early on that he and his latest backing band would be performing songs for both the audience’s benefit and his own.
It was likely the latter goal that led to the inclusion of the Zeppelin tune plus other non-John Waite songs like Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” (made famous, of course, by Jimi Hendrix) and Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Those classics came at the expense of songs more associated with Waite, one of those rare performers who’ve fronted two bands plus have had a solo career – all with top-20 hits. For instance, the song that introduced us to him 42 years earlier, The Babys’ “Isn’t It Time,” or his two top-five late-80s hits with Bad English: the No. 1 “When I See You Smile” and the No. 5 “Price Of Love” were nowhere to be found.
It’s likely that “Isn’t It Time,” which in its original form was heavily embellished with strings, horns and female backing vocals, doesn’t tour well without those elements present (Waite performed as part of a 4-man ensemble that includes bass, rhythm and electric guitars, plus drums).
And maybe Waite felt that the two Bad English hits just haven’t held up well over the years.
Still, it would have been nice to hear a current take on those pop nuggets.
Instead, Waite threw us a few country curveballs midway through the show with the aforementioned Hank Williams tune, plus a Vince Gill-penned “When You Come Around” and Waite’s own country entry, “Bluebird Cafe.”
Each of them came with stories.
For instance, Waite recalled being “scared shitless” while playing the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville with Allison Krauss (told as the lead-in to Gill’s “When You Come Around”).
For “Bluebird Cafe,” Waite recalled an encounter with a young Iranian girl waiting tables at a Nashville restaurant he’d visited shortly after leaving Bad English in 1991. He spoke of his attempts to pursue the 17-year-old, which was to no avail, but it was enough to inspire him to write the song, which bares the name of a small local music venue where the girl desired to perform someday.
For those doing the math, Waite, now 66, would have been in his late 30s around the time of that latter story, but the #MeToo-era awkwardness of him pursuing the teenager didn’t detract from what turned out to be a decent tune and a fine vocal performance by the singer.
More familiar tunes weren’t completely eschewed by Waite and Co. Babys top-40 hits “Every Time I Think Of You” and “Back On My Feet Again” were on the set list, as was Waite’s biggest solo hit, “Missing You” and his first solo release after leaving the Babys, the song “Change,” which drew a wild crowd reaction.
The only Bad English song played on this night was the more obscure “Best Of What I Got,” the lead track from their self-titled debut album in 1989.
Other nuggets included a highly impressive drum solo by the band’s New Jersey-born drummer who simply goes by Rhondo, plus Waite’s personal tributes to American poets like Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman – told as part of the newly-minted American citizen’s narrative about this country’s greatness being enhanced by its diversity and the welcoming of immigrants – like himself – from all over the world.
All in all it was a great performance by Waite and his band. Go check him out at a venue near you.
John Waite set list from March 23, 2019, at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL.:
- Midnight Rendezvous (The Babys)
- Every Time I Think Of You (The Babys)
- Best of What I Got (Bad English)
- All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover; acoustic)
- I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams cover; acoustic)
- Bluebird Cafe
- Whenever You Come Around (Vince Gill cover)
- Drum Solo (by Rhondo)
- Missing You
- Back On My Feet Again (The Babys)
- Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin cover) (encore)
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.