I was already a big fan of the Melbourne, Australia Rock band INXS long before their sixth studio album, KICK, was released in October 1987. The album was only out a couple of weeks and change when I saw INXS perform at Colby College’s Wadsworth Gym (in Waterville, Maine) on November 7, 1987. Leadoff single “Need You Tonight” hadn’t even reached the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 yet… but that would soon change after I saw this show; EVERYTHING for INXS would change forever after I saw them perform just this one time…
Unlike concerts now, you could go to a college show like this, wait in line, and rush to the be in front of the stage, which is exactly what I had done. I saw some folks I met a month before when The Hooters performed there. On that early November night, were all in the front row waiting for a show to remember.
I’ve seen a great deal of performers in my time, and it was truly amazing to watch Michael Hutchence onstage that night. The whole band was sensational, but Michael was so charismatic, so confident. The Colby stop for INXS was among the last Stateside visits for INXS in 1987, and when they returned to the U.S. in late February 1988, “Need You Tonight” had already reached No. 1 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, and the band performed three dates at Radio City Music Hall in NYC in mid-March with “Devil Inside” inside the Top 20. By the time the KICK tour ended in November 1988, INXS had gone from playing colleges like Colby to sports arenas and then some.
Back to that Colby show, “Need You Tonight” and KICK weren’t quite hits just yet, but the momentum was there. You could tell the band was going to explode into something huge, something they prolly hadn’t expected. For years, apart from the Top 10 success they had with “What You Need” in 1986, INXS primarily played colleges and smaller venues. Several of my friends have mentioned attending a concert INXS did in Portland, Maine (at the Exposition Building) with The Go-Go’s back in the early 80s. Lucky bastards.
Between the growing popularity of INXS, the onstage charisma of Michael Hutchence, and the small venue at Colby College, a kick-ass front row view turned into chaos quick. Everyone wanted to be near Michael and the band, and started migrating towards the front, even though there was no room to be had. The concert had to be stopped, and one of the kind people I met at The Hooters show a month before had to be carried off the stage because she was getting crushed against the security barrier. Michael Hutchence himself even told people to move back before anyone else gets hurt. And, once I left the front row for a spot on the side bleachers (about halfway back in the gym), I started enjoying the show again.
The INXS show was on a Saturday night, and at the time, I was the new DJ at a local chem-free nightclub called Studio 2. The club was open for chem-free dancing (mainly high school kids) from 8:00pm until midnight every Saturday (and some Wednesdays during the Summer). I had been DJing there for prolly 5 months. If I recall, it was my first night off (so I could see the concert). After the INXS show, I went back to check on things at Studio 2 and to say HI to a girl I was interested in (it wasn’t reciprocated in the end). I drove back to Colby to see if I could still meet the band, but I was too late. So, I missed my one chance to meet Michael Hutchence and INXS that night…over a girl.
I’ll never forget that INXS show, and how the band catapulted from colleges to stadiums within a year, and how I was so glad to be a witness to the early part of that. Honestly, as much as I love KICK, it’s not my favorite album by INXS – that distinction goes to 1982’s SHABOOH SHOOBAH, the album that introduced the band to the U.S. (including yours truly), and other parts of the globe outside of Australia and New Zealand.
“Need You Tonight” spent a week at No. 1 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in late January 1988, a fitting start to a huge year for INXS. “Need You Tonight” spent nearly half a year on the Hot 100, and was ranked at No. 2 for all of 1988 here in America, ranked just behind George Michael’s “Faith.” It also charted on several of BILLBOARD’s other charts, reaching No. 7 on the Dance chart, No. 12 on the Rock chart and even No. 73 on the R&B chart. Pretty impressive.
Around the globe, “Need You Tonight” was a massive hit and was apparently needed almost everywhere, reaching the Top 10 in the U.K., Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and South Africa. The video for “Need You Tonight” / “Mediate” also picked up five (of nine) MTV Video Music Awards in 1988, for Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Editing In A Video, Viewer’s Choice and Video Of The Year.
KICK went on to sell more than six million copies in the U.S. alone, and remains the band’s biggest album overall worldwide. The other three singles released from KICK here in America all reached the Top 10 of the Hot 100: “Devil Inside” (No. 2, April 1988), “New Sensation” (No. 3, July 1988) and the gorgeous “Never Tear Us Apart” (No. 7, November 1988).
Ten years and 15 days after the memorable performance by INXS at Colby College, Michael Hutchence sadly took his own life at the far-too-young age of 37. This year, we’ve lost some music heroes and heavy-hitters, including David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey of The Eagles, Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, Country legend Merle Haggard, and Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead at the end of 2015.
The death of Michael Hutchence was the first music death that really hit me hard, especially since I thought ELEGANTLY WASTED (released in April 1997) was the band’s best album since KICK. It would have been cool to see the direction they were going. But, it was not to be.
I applauded the band for wanting to move forward, even without their brother Michael. They did a worldwide reality TV show (ROCK STAR: INXS) to find a new lead singer (Canadian J.D. Fortune got the call), released an album because of it (2005’s SWITCH), and picked up their biggest hit since 1992 (“Pretty Vegas,” No. 37 Hot 100, No. 1 Canada). INXS released a remix album in late 2010 before calling it quits in November 2012 after 35 years.
“Need You Tonight” has been oft-mentioned as being the “sexiest song of the 80s.” It’s a fair statement. I don’t, however, believe that was my reasoning for choosing the song as my debut attempt at karaoke with my dear friend Michelle in Portland a week ago, but I’m glad I chose it. I was even nerding out and wearing my INXS “Need You Tonight” 12” single T-shirt while singing the song. It’s what I do. And, I didn’t think my performance was all that bad. I got some applause, my friend (and karaoke-er extraordinaire) Michelle enjoyed it, and I’ll prolly do karaoke again because of the experience.
Though Michael’s been gone 19 years this year, and it’s been six years since they parted ways, INXS has long been my favorite band. And, even though I got to see them just the one time, it was a part of music history – and my music history – that I’ll never forget. For Michael Hutchence, Andrew Farriss, Jon Farriss, Tim Farriss, Kirk Pengilly, Garry Gary Beers (and J.D. Fortune too), I thank you, and I will need you and your music to stay with me forever, but for now, I’ll take tonight…