Midnight Oil @ Perth Arena
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Let’s take a moment to talk about Peter Garrett’s dancing. It’s awkwardly rhythmic, deceptively unhinged, and makes some people feel a little uncomfortable. In other words, it says everything you need to know about the man himself – much more than a career in politics ever managed to.
With Garrett as translator, 16,000 people filled every single seat right up to restricted viewing spots behind the stage, and got a reminder of what had been missing from their lives since the last time Midnight Oil toured.
An opening set from Spiderbait was a nice touch, though not a patch on their recent Metro City headline playing Ivy and the Big Apples in March. Led by two singers that couldn’t have more opposing stage personas, Kram annoyed people between songs trying to hype the crowd, while Janet English’s sustained concentration could’ve been viewed as disinterest.
Their songs did plenty of the right kind of talking, though. Chest Hair, Hot Water and Milk, Fucking Awesome and a cover of German new wavers Nena’s 1983 hit 99 Luftballons came one after another. Then English took to the drums for Buy Me a Pony and addressed sleaziness on Calypso, which hasn’t aged a day. As ever when Spiderbait have played to a crowd that isn’t strictly theirs, Kram just needed to dial it down a few notches. Janet FTW.
Arriving onstage to Vangelis’ theme from Blade Runner immediately brought to mind another 80s relic recently making a great comeback. Midnight Oil wasted no time, cracking straight into thrashy, industrial 1998 single Redneck Wonderland, as stragglers rushed to their seats and the fierce riff reminded everyone they were in the presence of one of the country’s great rock bands.
In many ways it was a show of two halves. Read About It and Truganini were early highlights, but plenty of deep cuts such as Ships of Freedom, River Runs Red and Sell My Soul also proved faves for different people. Hercules was dedicated to Acting PM Julie Bishop, in the ridiculous hope she might do something as sensible as sign the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, before a semi-acoustic set was kicked off with powerhouse drummer Rob Hirst taking a cocktail kit to the front of the stage.
Short Memory was one of the tracks of the night from this section, as was another 1982 classic in US Forces. A cover of Yothu Yindi’s Treaty (which was co-written by Garrett) and Kosciusko weren’t quite as engaging but from the moment Only the Strong‘s off-kilter riff kicked in the night never looked back. From here, the Oils staked their claim for one of the year’s best gigs, in a second half to remember.
It didn’t hurt that Garrett stopped the aforementioned Only the Strong to eject a couple of idiots fighting in the moshpit (not for the first time on this tour), and he completely took ownership of the crowd from that point onwards.
The Dead Heart followed and was among the most moving songs of the night, set to visuals of a red dirt highway. With lyrics such as “We carry in our hearts the true country, and that cannot be stolen,” it was a reminder of how far ahead of the curve the Oils were in 1987, and how far we still have to go 30 years later.
From there it seemed almost inevitable Beds Are Burning would be next, and boy was it worth the wait. As he had in the previous song, Hunters and Collectors horn player Jack Howard rocked the French horn during the iconic chorus, and it was sung with gusto by 16,000 fist pumping fans.
Blue Sky Mine ensured the momentum didn’t dip at all as Garrett climbed the drum riser to unleash the familiar harmonica part, before a return to their early post-punk roots on Don’t Wanna Be the One went out to the faithful, and a simply electric Forgotten Years ended the main set ecstatically.
It’s hard to remember a pair of encores cheered for as loudly at Perth Arena. Garrett made it worth our while with an impassioned speech about Ningaloo, aka the Great Barrier Reef at our doorstep, before heading into the triple threat of One Country, Power and the Passion and a roaring King of the Mountain. Hirst got a little industrial, playing a corrugated tin pipe towering by the side of his kit during Power and the Passion. One of the night’s standout moments, those still in their seats finally gave in to peer pressure and rose as one.
By the time they returned for one final run through Best of Both Worlds, there was little left to be said and the victory lap was complete.
It doesn’t get much more Australian than Midnight Oil, and like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, AC/DC, INXS, Cold Chisel and perhaps You Am I, they’re in the conversation for Australia’s greatest ever band. More than that, they’re arguably the greatest activist band to ever walk the planet, and Saturday night was a reminder of that (Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg are solo artists; Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine seem to lack the longevity).
As Rob Hirst donned a t-shirt that simply said “equality”, Peter Garrett’s White Ribbon shirt read “I am making noise to end violence against women”. The signature bald head; the radical politics free from party lines; that incredible dancing. It’s just so good to have him back.
Photos by Simon Tubey