This past Friday night, John Waite, an iconic rocker known for his work with The Babys, Bad English and as a solo artist, brought 40 years worth of brilliant music to Wilkes-Barre, PA. From start to finish, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand with charismatic stage presence and jaw-dropping vocals. But what he did onstage was made more meaningful by what he did backstage before the show.
Pictured above is Ed Buyarski and his autistic son, Jake, at a meet and greet with John Waite prior to the concert. When Jake saw John backstage at the meet and greet, he ran up to him and said, “Hello, John Waite! How are you?” John responded with a hearty laugh and gave Jake a big hug – he even stuck out his tongue for the above photo with Ed and Jake. After telling him that “Back On My Feet Again” was his favorite song, John told Jake that he’d play it for him during the concert. Sure enough, after wrapping up the show opener – “Head First” – John said to the crowd, “This one’s for Jake.” And the band started playing “Back On My Feet Again.” I looked over my left shoulder and saw Jake jump to his feet with excitement. It was a wonderful moment made possible by a wonderful man, and it made me smile.
Over the past 40 years John Waite has created an impressive body of work, including nearly 30 singles that charted. The setlist for this show paid tribute to all eras of his career. He kicked off the concert with three classics from his time as the lead singer of The Babys: “Head First,” “Back On My Feet Again,” and “Every Time I Think Of You.”
Then John played “Better Off Gone,” a great song off his newest studio album, Rough & Tumble. This was followed up by one of the highlights of the show – an a capella version of the Bad English #1 hit, “When I See You Smile.” John asked the crowd, “Do you want to sing with me tonight?” And they obliged. It was a special moment that perfectly illustrated the unifying power of music.
More new and classic songs followed, including one of my all-time favorites: “If You Ever Get Lonely.” After a stirring rendition of “In Dreams,” the crowd was treated to a blistering guitar solo and bluesy rendition of “Mr. Wonderful,” followed up by a thunderous drum solo.
After beautifully singing the chart-topping hit he’s best known for – “Missing You” – John and his band revisited the Bad English days with a crowd-pleasing version of “Best Of What I Got.” John then brought the people to their feet with his hit song “Change” and closed out the set with an inspired rendition of the Led Zeppelin classic “Whole Lotta Love.” His vocals on this song blew me away – it was the perfect way to cap off a phenomenal show.
After the concert ended and the lights came up, I headed backstage to meet John and Tim Hogan, his exceptionally talented bass player. Both of the guys were very nice to speak with and John took the time to take a few photos with me. Having recently interviewed him, he said to me, “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Michael.”
This was the third time I’ve seen John Waite live, and I intend on seeing him many more times because he puts on one of the best live shows around. He’s also a great human being and an artist of the highest order. If you get the chance to see him live, do so. 40 years into his career, he’s still giving us the best of what he’s got.