It wasn’t long ago at all that it seemed inconceivable to be experiencing and sharing that type of public excitement. The feeling of being right in the middle of a crowd of thousands, the specific type of en-masse-buzz that generates.
In fact, the anticipation had gotten the better of some patrons at Duneed Estate, including a gentleman behind me who squealed with booze filled joy throughout the support acts and was asleep before the main attraction. Others (many others) wisely transmuted that same joy into lining at the merch stands to gain proof that this had really happened. That after a year of staying at home and avoiding contact with the outside world they were there, watching one of the most legendary live acts in Australian rock history.
Midnight oil are as committed as ever to using their power to promote positive change and to amplify marginalised voices. They could easily have used a run of Day On The Green shows to play the hits to the cashed up grey set and no one would have complained. Instead they were promoting the movement to establish a Makarrata (meaning to come together) Commission to oversee relations between governments and First Nations, and the proposal of ensuring that a First Nations voice is heard and represented on a federal level by having it constitutionally enshrined to parliament. These were proposals issued in The Uluru Statement of the Heart in 2017 and form the basis for The Makarrata Project, Midnight Oil’s first new album in 18 years.
Behind a red, black and yellow backdrop with the words of The Uluru Statement written large, the band leapt straight into the take-no-prisoners thump of ‘No Time for Games’, the opening track from their 1980 debut EP, Bird Noises.
I’d never seen Midnight Oil perform before but was aware of their reputation as a live act, and any trepidations that the years may have mellowed their fire were immediately dismissed. The band, with the addition of bassist Adam Ventoura in place of the late Bones Hillman as well as backing vocals from Liz Stringer and Leah Flanagan, were fiercely committed and locked in step. Peter Garrett rushed around stage like an electrocuted lizard, his voice dripping with attitude while running through melodies with a ballerino’s ease.
Jim Moginie switched between keyboards and various Gretsch guitars, achieving an affective balance with Martin Rotsey’s Fenders on the other side of the stage, while Rob Hirst worked the band’s motor from behind the drum kit. While Garrett stalked the stage, Hirst was equally in motion, pummelling the drums to the extent that he looked like he could use some oxygen, and singing the entire time.
As the focus of the show, The Makarrata Project was performed in full, with several of the First Nations guests featured on the record making an appearance. The guest vocalists all worked fairly well, even if some of the songs seemed a little over simplistic when compared to the back catalogue material. The standout by far was ‘Terror Australia’, which was sung beautifully by Alice Skye and accompanied by just Moginie’s piano. Skye has opened the show with her band, but more than rose to the occasion of performing in such a stripped back fashion in front of 13,000 hardcore Oils fans.
The quality of songcraft, arrangement, execution and the overall consistency throughout the show was what really impressed. The songs are so densely packed with hooks and still sound fresh no matter how familiar they may be, I now realise that I haven’t been paying enough attention to Midnight Oil over the years.
The rest of the set list was comprised of songs that similarly delt with indigenous issues which, luckily enough, included some of the band’s biggest hits. Liz Stringer’s voice, so distinctive on its own, was wisely mixed quite prominently and added to the rich quality of the harmonies. Hirst’s drum solo in ‘Power and the Passion’ was an eyebrow raising display of dexterity that had me wondering about his fitness regime. ‘Redneck Wonderland’, a spiky, riff-heavy slice of rock dating back to Pauline Hanson’s initial rise, was a welcome addition, and the inevitable show closer of ‘Beds Are Burning’, with all of the guests onstage was equally as relevant to the times as when it was first released. The time has come to pay the rent indeed.
Written for Beat Magazine.