Midnight Oil - Christchurch (NZ), Horncastle Arena, 11th September 2017,
There can be few bands in the world who have a history quite like Midnight Oil. Formed originally as Farm back in 1972, they changed their name to Midnight Oil in 1976, and then proceeded to start making a name for themselves as one of the most politically active bands out of Sydney. At the time, they were Peter Garrett (lead vocals, harmonica), Rob Hirst (drums, vocals), Jim Moginie (lead guitars, keyboards) and Andrew James (bass), with Martin Rotsey joining on second guitar the following year. The line-up proved incredibly stable, with just Andrew leaving in 1980, to be replaced by Peter Gifford who in turn left in 1987 to be replaced by kiwi Bones Hillman. 1988’s ‘Diesel and Dust’ proved to be the breakthrough international album, with the single “Beds Are Burning” showing to the world just how to deliver a protest song in the Eighties (written in support of giving native Australian lands back to the Pintupi). But, even though the band continued to have major success, Garrett had always felt that he needed to be more involved in politics, and towards the end of 2002 he announced that he was going to quit the band and look for a political career (he became a member of the House of Representatives from October 2004 to August 2013, and held a couple of ministerial positions). The band decided not to try and replace him, and instead went on permanent hiatus. During Garrett’s time in politics they reformed to play a couple of benefit gigs but never anything more than that, but when Garrett chose to resign and not seek re-election, everyone wondered if they would be back, and boy, are they?!
When I discovered at the beginning of the year that they were going to be playing Christchurch I just had to get a ticket, as I knew it was going to be a very special night indeed. The shows were towards the end of a sell-out world tour, so they were also going to be gig hardened, but I never expected it to be anything quite like this. Kiwi band The Nudge had finally left the stage, which was quickly cleared down just leaving a few speakers, drum riser and an old metal water container behind the kit, with Jim’s keyboards at the front of the riser and another set towards the rear of stage left. Finally, the lights came down, and some very gentle keyboard music started drifting out of the speakers (possibly Jean Michel Jarre’s “Oxygene”, but not too sure). The band could be seen walking onstage, and the crowd started cheering, and then Rob counted in and they literally crashed into “Redneck Wonderland”. To say that I was stunned was something of an understatement: they were far heavier than I could ever have imagined, and they were so tight that it was like coming across a band that had been playing together every day for the last forty years, certainly not one that took a lengthy sabbatical. The keyboards at the rear of the set turned out to be for Jack Howard (from iconic Aussie band Hunters & Collectors) who came on only for specific songs, and he also added trumpet, but for the most part it was the same five guys who were touring thirty years ago, and it showed.
Although I have a great many of their albums, I can’t say that I know their complete canon, but it didn’t matter as every song was a revelation, and all of them were having just so much fun. Peter has lost none of his venom, directing most of it tonight towards Donald Trump, and went through a series of different political t-shirts and dedicated certain songs to the indigenous people of both Australia and New Zealand. Of course, the hits were the ones that got the greatest reactions, and I was surprised when “Beds Are Burning” made an appearance during the set as I would have expected it to be a closer, or encore. At one point Rob came to the front of the stage with just a tom and cymbal, taking lead vocals on one song, and the band were quite happy to move to full acoustic, just coming back to rock with a bang when it was the right thing to do.
All too soon the gig ended, and with “Forgotten Years” the band left the stage. So, what would they come back with for an encore? What I certainly didn’t expect was for them to come back with a cover, and for Peter to have to read the lyrics from a sheet. But, in some ways it was the perfect song, “Counting The Beat”. It was a massive hit in the early Eighties for kiwi band The Swingers, on both sides of the ditch, and everyone in the audience knew the words even if the lead singer didn’t. They played the song, according to Garrett, because they had a kiwi in the band – but I do wonder just how many people there realised that Bones Hillman was originally in that band, and of course played on the original. Two more songs, including a stunning version of “Best of Both Worlds”, and that was it. Many of the crowd started to make a move, including the woman sat next to me who had flown down from New Plymouth just for the show. “Wasn’t it amazing?” she asked me, to which I replied “Yes, but I wouldn’t leave yet, the house lights haven’t gone on”. “Oh, there won’t be anything else” she replied, and I wonder just how far she got before the crowd reaction let her know that the guys were back, and it wasn’t quite time to go home. “Dreamworld” was the very final number, and to say that we were all satisfied is something of an understatement.
On the way home I reflected on the gigs I have attended this year, and concluded that 2017 may just be the very best year ever for me. I saw Steve Hackett in July, certainly one of the finest gigs I have ever attended, then in August was taken to a whole new level by Richard Thompson and a very special Fairport Convention. Then tonight I had just witnessed the finest Australian band I could imagine (no, AC/DC weren’t even in the same league), possibly the tightest unit I had ever come across. When it comes to shows, it very rarely compares to what I had seen tonight. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen the Oils, as I never thought I would have the opportunity, now I just hope I will be able to do so again…
Setlist: Redneck Wonderland, Read About It, Sometimes, Put Down That Weapon, Shakers and Movers, Shipyards of New Zealand, Sell My Soul, No Time for Games, My Country, When the Generals Talk, US Forces, Kosciusko, Only the Strong, Arctic World, Warakurna, The Dead Heart, Beds Are Burning, Blue Sky Mine, Forgotten Years
Encore: Counting the Beat (The Swingers cover), Power and the Passion, Best of Both Worlds
Encore 2: Dreamworld