John Waite Credit: Ronald S Woan

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I’m always amazed at the number of faded 60s and 70s rock stars who underwent complete makeovers and pulled off huge comebacks in the 80s. Woodstock-era icons Steve Winwood and Joe Cocker, the dinosaur prog practitioners in Asia and Genesis, and waning pomp rockers Elton John and John Waite somehow ruled the 80s airwaves, alongside younger, quirkier artists. Born in Lancaster, England, Waite was an original member of cute London boy band the Babys, who formed in 1975 and built buzz with respectably glammy tunes such as 1977’s “Isn’t It Time” and 1978’s “When I Think of You.” The day after John Lennon was murdered by Mark David Chapman in December 1980, the Babys were playing Cincinnati when Waite was ripped off the stage and injured by a manic fan. After one more show in Akron, the band canceled the remainder of their U.S. tour and then broke up, leaving the door open for Waite to begin his solo career. His pure pop aesthetics and smooth but gravelly voice put him on par with some of the biggest stars of the day, including Bryan Adams, Eddie Money, and even Rod Stewart, and after trading in his 70s long locks for a short, spiky cut, he hit in 1982 with the radio-friendly, new-wave-infused power-pop single “Change.” In 1985, the song had a second, even more successful run after appearing on the Vision Quest soundtrack—it ultimately peaked at 54 on the Billboard Hot 100. But by then, Waite had begun to succumb to the bland excesses of the decade and reached number one with “Missing You,” the soppy lead track from the 1984 album No Brakes. In 1987, Waite was on trend once again when he grew a fearsome multitiered mullet and embraced the ultimate late-80s rock indulgence: the supergroup. The group in question, Bad English, featured former members of the Babys and Neal Schon of Journey, and if I had to compare them to their contemporaries, I’d rank them below the Traveling Wilburys but above Damn Yankees. In 1989, they hit number effin’ one with the tepid power ballad “When I See You Smile,” by pop songwriter Diane Warren—who also supplied smashes for Bryan Adams, Air Supply, N’Sync, Michael Bolton, and Celine Dion. Bad English split in 1991, and Waite has maintained a pretty low profile since the golden plastic-coated 80s. He’s never stopped recording, though—since his 1982 solo debut, Ignition, he’s released nine studio albums, not counting the two recent volumes of the Wooden Heart: Acoustic Anthology series, which feature acoustic renditions of his classic tunes and surprising covers of songs by the likes of Dylan, Donovan, and Richard Thompson. Ultimately, though, it’s the hits that people remember—“Missing You” has lived on, charting for Tina Turner in 1996 and for Brooks & Dunn in 1999, and Waite even broke into the country charts in 2006 with a duet version featuring bluegrass star Alison Krauss. You’ll definitely hear that tune at this rare Chicago performance, where he’s backed by his band the Axemen—though he’ll play a diverse set that does justice to his decades-spanning career.   v