John Waite with Jeffrey Gaines
City Winery – NYC – August 3, 2023
Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf
John Waite is a British rock singer and musician who’s been part of the rock and roll scene for almost a half-century. Waite began as the bassist and lead vocalist for The Babys, a British rock group best known for their songs “Isn’t It Time” and “Every Time I Think of You”. Both songs reached No. 13 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in the late 1970s. After The Babys disbanded in 1980, Waite began a career as a solo artist, before reuniting, in 1987, to form supergroup Bad English (as lead vocalist) with former bandmates from The Babys, keyboardist Jonathan Cain and bassist Ricky Phillips, along with guitarist Neal Schon and drummer Deen Castronovo. Their hit, “When I See You Smile“, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1989, before the band’s 1991 breakup.
However, it’s as a solo artist that John Waite has spent the majority of his musical career. He’s released ten studio albums, the second of which, 1984’s No Brakes, led to international success with hit “Missing You,” which reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. While this is only one song in Waite’s catalog of hundreds, for almost 40 years it’s remained a favorite 80s number for legions of fans. For many of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s the music of those decades are an integral part of who we are. It seems unfathomable that both the music and our youth are so far behind in life’s rearview mirror. However, the passage of time does not diminish the connection to the music. It means as much to us, in some ways maybe more, as the music can instantly transport us back to that space in time. The opportunity to hear some good “old” classic rock (there’s not a lot of great, new rock today), combined with an opportunity to momentarily take a ride back in time, continues to bring avid fans of 70s and 80s artists to their live performances. With the state of the world leading to higher levels of stress, nostalgia for those simpler times has skyrocketed and musicians who believed their touring days were winding down have instead found themselves in more demand than ever expected.
At NYC’s City Winery on August 3rd the audience excitement was apparent, as the tables filled with fans eager to be surrounded by the music and the rock and roll energy of John Waite. Setting the stage for this evening of passionate-filled rock music was the incredibly talented singer-songwriter-guitarist Jeffrey Gaines. Over the past 30 years, since the 1992 release of Gaines’ self-titled debut album, Gaines has released 6 studio albums, 2 live albums, and toured the globe, entertaining audiences with his soul-searching lyrics and powerful live performances.
Gaines arrived onstage without any fanfare, only his voice and an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. Captivating, is a perfect description for Gaines. The moment he began to perform it was impossible not to be drawn in by Gaines’ powerful, soulful, gritty vocals, his impassioned guitar skills and the intensity he brought to his performance. “What’s your name?” an audience member shouted a few songs into the set (obviously one who hadn’t listened when Gaines was introduced.) I was a bit taken aback that someone would not only interrupt the performance but announce they had no idea who was performing, but Gaines took it all in stride. “Jeff,” he said with a smile. “Just Jeff. No middle name.” That said something to me very special, very unique, about Gaines. Gaines was not looking for recognition. He wasn’t looking to sell himself. He was merely looking to do what he loves to do, to share his music and entertain all present. That’s what Gaines did throughout his 40 minute set.
Each of Gaines’ songs brought energetic, enthused cheers from the crowd. Whether you were a longtime fan of Gaines or were newly introduced to him that evening, it was impossible not be engaged and enthralled by his musical skills and his heartfelt, powerful performance. Singing his 2016 single, “To Be Free,” Gaines sang, “All I want is to be free; Be who I’m supposed to be,” asking the crowd, “Anybody here feel the same as me?” garnering widespread applause and cheers. The audience was beyond thrilled to hear Gaines’ arrangement of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, a number he performed with immense depth and vocal texture, which he re-recorded for 2001’s Always Be, as well as the album’s title number at the closing of the set. Gaines’ amazingly powerful, soulful rock performance helped set the City Winery stage with just the right vibe for the arrival of John Waite.
With a broad smile across his face and looking spiffy in his suit, John Waite arrived centerstage to boisterous cheers, applause and excitement from the crowd. As enthused as the audience was for Waite’s performance, it was obvious Waite himself was thrilled to be there to perform. Almost a half-century in the business of rock and roll and this consummate performer’s energy and spirit have not diminished, belying his age. Waite thanked the NYC crowd, “It’s great to be back in NYC. I used to live here,” he said to the cheers of fellow New Yorkers. “Then I moved somewhere quieter, not as busy,” he paused for a moment giving the crowd an opportunity to wonder where this quiet place might be. “I moved to Santa Monica,” he said with a grin and a chuckle. “I was a walking uptown earlier today and saw a sign for a $10 barbershop,” he said with a little roll of his eyes and a cheeky grin, regarding the state of his now short hair.
Waite’s hour and a half set included material spanning his entire career including music from The Babys, Bad English and his solo work. The evening began with an unplugged set that included fellow guitar player and backing vocalist, Mark Ricciardi. Opening with “More,” a personal, heartfelt number from Waite’s 1995 Temple Bar, the duo continued to perform for several numbers, including “When I See You Smile” from Bad English, Temple Bar’s “Downtown,” and “New York City Girl,” from 2017’s Downtown – Journey of a Heart. Waite’s additional band members, Tim Hogan on bass and Alan Childs on drums, joined the duo onstage for the high energy, rocking numbers, including Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” “Change,” by Spider and Bad English’s “Best of what I Got.”Whether performing heartfelt, acoustic ballads, or powerful rock numbers, what was most impressive were Waite’ still strong, full-bodied vocals.
Throughout the performance Waite shared stories about his career and the songs he’d written. “The next song is about Nashville. About 12 years ago I was down there trying to write a song with a friend. We’d just written about 5 songs in 5 days and I was tapped. It was about noon and we’d gone for a beer and this beautiful girl came out of no where, she was about 17. It made me wonder how she got there, where she came from. All the young people, leaving home or about to leave home to go to Nashville and try to be discovered. It’s a rough deal. A light went off in my head. There’s a club in Nashville called The Bluebird Cafe and on Monday nights they have open mic nights. For a lot of these people this is the only way they’ve got to possibly be discovered. So, this next song is about a young girl who hasn’t quite left home yet. She’s really good. She’s working in a cafe, teenage stuff. But, in about a year she’ll be gone.” As Waite was about to say “Bluebird Cafe,” an enthusiastic fan spoke it for him, as applause rippled through the crowd.
Waite shared about the anxiety of having performed Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around” in front of “the man” himself, changing Gill’s country song to a rock number and reminisced about The Babys’ “Every Time I Think of You.” “We cut this song when when we were kids, about 45 years ago. Who knows where the time goes. I don’t. The original version had a full orchestra, a brass section, and three beautiful back up singers. Tonight we’re on a budget,” he chuckled to the accompanying laughter from the crowd. “If you want to pick up a CD or a t-shirt we won’t have to spend the night in the YMCA,” he grinned before beginning a passionate vocal performance, interspersed with Ricciardi’s incredible electric guitar solos.
Additional songs by The Babys included “Midnight Rendezvous,” “Head First,” and “Back on my Feet Again.” Of course, no John Waite performance would be complete without an amazing performance of the iconic “Missing You.” The evening came to an exuberant ending with Waite demonstrating dynamic rock vocals on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” while Child’s showcased powerful rhythmic beating on the drums, and Gaines returned to the stage to intensely jam on his guitar. Waite turned his mic to the crowd, who were on their feet cheering and singing and all joined in on the refrain “Whole lotta love; Want to whole lotta love.”
John Waite successfully put his heart and soul into an amazing performance of good “old” classic rock, momentarily taking fans on a ride back in time. I believe everyone present will be eagerly awaiting John Waite’s return for a another musical trip down memory lane. Until then John, we’ll surely be “Missing You.”