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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Forty Years of ‘Missing You’

A review of John Waite’s concert at the Victory Theatre

How does he do it? Night after night, John Waite soars through the classic rock songs that made him famous, hitting the high notes, and winding through dynamic vocal shifts, seemingly without effort. Which is amazing, considering he is 71.

The English rocker began his career in 1975 when tapped to play bass — and eventually sing lead — for the power-pop band The Babys, which produced a half dozen chart-topping hits before disbanding in the early ’80s. Nearly a decade later, he helped form and sang lead for the supergroup Bad English, known for their rock ballad “When I See You Smile.” Without a follow-up single, that band dissolved, leading Waite to embark on a solo career. In 1984, his seminal song, “Missing You” brought him his greatest success, and knocked Tina Turner’s “What Love’s Got To Do With It” from Billboard’s coveted number one spot.

Waite headlined at Evansville’s Victory Theatre, on March 2, with Frank Viele as the opener. The singer-songwriter rolled up with a Band du jour. During the obligatory introductions, Waite informed the crowd that he and the drummer had gigged together back in the day, but added that the guitarist had joined just two weeks prior. One might have assumed that the ensemble had been together for years, as they were en pointe. Waite’s vocals were clear, precise, gravelly and instantly recognizable. The classic, glam-rock-pop vibe filled the Victory’s acoustically, and visually, impressive soundstage. 

While The Victory was not sold out, the large crowd of 50-to-60-year-olds was energetic and enthusiastic. Waite clearly enjoyed the rapport he had with the audience, and that feeling was reciprocated. He mentioned rerecording “Missing You” as a duet with Alison Krauss, and talked about the time the two played a Vince Gill cover at Nashville, Tennessee’s Grand Ol’ Opry, only to have Gill show up unexpectedly – guitar in hand. He reminisced about being in the studio with a full orchestra, plus backup singers, then joked: “But tonight, we’re on a budget.” Although this was said in jest, I will note that the times Waite didn’t play his Telecaster, the sound lacked the sonic fullness I have come to know from his music. Without a second guitar to balance the sound, it was basically a three-piece band. And, while he was never off key, there were times when this überfan noticed Waite played it safe, singing in a register lower than the original recorded version.

Waite played a song he wrote that really hasn’t received much attention: “Bluebird Café.” It was stripped down – just Waite’s vocal and a guitar – which showed off the texture of his voice. Conspicuously missing from the “Missing You” setlist, however, were a few big hits — most notably The Babys’ song “Isn’t It Time.” I wondered why he passed on those, in lieu of the lesser-knowns, (“Bluebird” notwithstanding). I guess, when you have such a robust catalog, and want to get to the hotel by 10 p.m., something’s gotta give.

I expected the last song to be the tour’s namesake, but it had been played earlier in the set. There was no encore. Waite’s last number was an all-out, rocking cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” that blended seamlessly into Willie Dixon’s “Let Me Love You Baby.” By this time, the crowd was on its feet. After a curt bow, Waite walked to the edge of the stage, pressed flesh with the sea of raised hands, signed autographs, and threw out a pocketful of his signature guitar picks.

After sprinkling in a handful of shows this spring, Waite is slated to open for Styx and Foreigner from June through August across North America.

He hawked his new documentary “The Hard Way” from the stage, joking: “you can pick up a signed DVD at the merch table. Not sure who signed it, but it is signed.” The video, also currently streaming on Prime, takes you through the highs and extreme lows of his career. Besides citing typical rockstar woes, Waite opens up about life on the road. He says that after touring with The Babys for six years, he had only managed to save a few hundred dollars. Waite blamed the record company for exploiting The Babys, by making them cover their own touring costs. The band was then forced to continually record new material to pay for the concerts, which kept the members exhausted, and perpetually in debt. 

He has come a long way since those days, and after experiencing this show, I would say that John Waite is indeed back on his feet again.

Keep rockin’, bluesin’ and countryin’,

Art the dude, a.k.a. Art Woodward

Art Woodward, also known as Art the Dude, is a writer and lifelong lover of music — skill sets that serve him well when reviewing Evansville’s concert and events scene.

Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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