RIVERSTAGE, BRISBANE | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13 2022
BY BEN PREECE
Ridiculously (and shamefully), as a self-appointed music aficionado, this writer has never actually seen Midnight Oil play. There are no excuses, aside from one which we're all guilty of -- we take our musicians for granted. A last minute scramble for a ticket provided successful, but Brisbane didn't bring the good weather. Despite the drizzle, the die-hards are out en masse - t-shirts and signs are everywhere - and even my Didi driver, who had never heard of the band, quickly gets the sense of their beloved place in Australian music history.
History is indeed in the making tonight. It's no secret that Midnight Oil are touted as Australia's most important band and, while I certainly believed it before tonight, seeing it unravel first hand is another thing all together. As a group of guys approaching their 70's, there is nothing lacking from their show, aside from their dearly departed friend, brother and bass player, Bonesy, who passed in 2020. The palpable feeling of celebration is in the air and even the punters who have seen every show since 1979 are calling this one "special" and "unforgettable".
Beginning ominously in darkness with 'We Resist', a slowly-swelling song from their latest record, the moody lyrical introduction of "putting flowers into guns / this isn't the summer of love / throwing tea into the sea / Indigenous apology" is met with powerful imagery on the big screen behind. Therein, the socio-political intention fo tonight's show is set, the audience grasping and hanging onto every careful and expertly articulated word from Peter Garrett's mouth. Witnessing this immense reaction, one can't help but contemplate that the racism, climate crisis, war and all the world's problems could be eradicated, one audience at a time, with this band fighting on the correct side of the fight.
Only a trio of songs from their recent album Resist makes the cut tonight and it's hard to believe they've not been in the band's classic cannon for the last 40 years or so. Especially 'At The Time Of Writing', an anthem with a hefty bottom end that's destined for more that sets the group's intent as they sign off and move into retirement as a band. Garrett notes the Riverstage's curfew - something that is mentioned by every artist who plays this stage - and it seems to shave 45 minutes to an hour off this show, if compared to others in the tour.
You wouldn't know it, however, Garrett leads his lads and ladies through a highlight-heavy set with urgency, a vitality and potency that's still present after all these years. The hits come fast and, of course, the crowd only gets louder as they pepper classics generously all over this set. 1982's 'Read About It' arrives early with confident cowbell from the iconic Rob Hirst while Garrett's rigid, equally-notorious lightning bolt-like moves quickly switch into overdrive, reminding all that his presence is as commanding as a Mick Jagger or a Michael Stipe.
There's nothing ageing or ironic about the performance tonight. The whole band delivers each and every song with a post-punk vitality which doesn't somehow dodges cheesy nostalgia and doesn't just remind you of days passed, but actually evokes it. The guitars on 'Concrete' (from 1998's Redneck Wonderland) genuinely crunch in a post-grunge assault of the time, while 'Dreamworld' and 'US Forces' positively soar and 'The Dead Heart' is still a deeply incredible song which could (and arguably should) still saturate youth radio in 2022. In fact, a whole lot of these songs haven't dated - 'Short Memory', 'Only The Strong' and 'Back On The Borderline' all weather the test of time flawlessly and could also slip into your playlist of current post-punk selections.
Only the charisma and musicianship truly reveal the 50 year old band underneath. Garrett's monologues are concise and inspiring, without crossing into any kind of Bono-like preach. Rob Hirst's enormous presence behind the drumkit and his playing style is very much his and his alone. He's energetic, he stands up and tosses drumsticks over his shoulder into his rain tank after every song. The stone cold genius of Jim Moginie is alive and well and one can only marvel at the extent of his musicianship. Everything witnessed tonight is a product of sweat equity, it is the stuff of legends with traits that simply aren't witnessed until a band is aware of themselves and comfortable enough to reveal everything with sheer showmanship and performance professionalism. Up the back are secret weapons, Liz Stringer and Leah Flanagan - two incredible singers and musicians in their own right - providing backing vocal reinforcement and visually loving every second of it.
The final stretch of the main setlist is a flex of songs of monsters proportions, arguably challenging any band to show us a run of five to six songs that is bigger or evokes more joy, memories and importance than what we witness tonight. 'Blue Sky Mine', 'Power And The Passion', 'Beds Are Burning', 'King Of The Mountain' and 'Forgotten Years' appear one after the other and close the main set like nothing this humble scribe has ever witnessed. We see Garrett wail the mouth organ, blast our state government for the treatment of the Great Barrier Reef and mess up the first verse of one of his most famous songs, but nothing, not even the rain, can dampen this lot.
Similarly, the encore's 'Stand In Line' and 'Hercules' go hard and beyond their recorded versions, but it's the finale that this show will arguably be mist remembered for as "the one where Midnight Oil covered The Saints." Yes, they performed 'Know Your Product' in tribute of Brisbane's beloved and recently departed Chris Bailey with perhaps even more emotion and zest than their own songs. It's certainly not without its fair share of tears shed, but this is a show which will inevitably go down in the history as totally encompassing and entirely unforgettable. Respect to you, Midnight Oil. Even after years of insane touring, it feels like you're still making a difference to music and to the world. Seemingly, there isn't an ageing bone in their bodies between them - tonight's performance is testament to that. Is it too soon to start the petition for the reunion shows?
The Barka-Darling River
Read About It
Back On The Borderline
In The Valley
At The Time Of Writing
Only The Strong
The Dead Heart
Blue Sky Mine
Power And The Passion
Beds Are Burning
King Of The Mountain
Stand In Line
Know Your Product (The Saints cover - tribute to Chris Bailey)