Spark Arena; Auckland
Saturday, September 9
I’ll admit straight up it was always a dream to see Midnight Oil, they’ve a constant in my life since I was 10 years old, maybe younger even. But the first tape I ever bought was Diesel and Dust and from then I’ve forever been a fan. The early stuff a series of revelations, discovering some of it at the time, and then more of it across the years after buying that first – vital – cassette tape. The band last played in New Zealand in 1995 – I could have gone, and didn’t. And regretted it. I remember working in music retail when Capriconia was released; blown away, surprised it didn’t quite catch on. I remember where I was when I read that Garrett was leaving – and then that the band was calling it a day. All of that is to say that I had high expectations…
So when a band reforms, and hits the world tour circuit you look forward to it – but usually figure it goes into the pot with a whole lot of nostalgia.
Midnight Oil bring the hits – so that’s the nostalgia-factor I guess. But each night is a new show, a new setlist, no two sets the same, and yet they almost always deliver all of the things you want to hear.
For a band to meet the high expectations – and then go beyond (and to still be able to leave out some of your own personal favourites) well that’s a rarity with gigs; with cultural experiences.
It’s a fresh, tight sound as they open with Redneck Wonderland – but if that sounds ‘good’ it instantly goes to a whole other level for Read About It and Put Down That Weapon. Should we applaud the prescience that these lyrics still sound so profound, or should we shake our heads that 30+ years can roll by and we’ve actually ignored the message? Peter Garrett is 64, he had a dozen years at the coalface of actual politics – he didn’t want to sell his soul, that’s what he sang, and then he did. Chewed up, spat out, he’s back where he belongs. On this particular version of the world stage. And as he moves about – and lets the songs move through him – in the most gloriously unselfconscious way, he is conduit for the music. He is conductor-as-dancer, he is a spastic robot, a first time roller-blader, whatever he is it’s incredible to watch and see. He might never have been the best singer in the world but he was the best person to be singing for Midnight Oil – in a band of singers by the way. And tonight he sounds as good as he ever did, maybe better. It’s miraculous that a decade and a bit away can have him return this strong, this brave, this good. The rest of the band has continued with side-projects and triumphs, their match-fitness then was never in doubt. But the collective assault of this band is just wonderful to take in.
Rob Hirst’s muscular dynamic is a big part of the drive. Bones Hillman’s lyrical, exploratory basslines are proud and strong. Garrett sells each and every message and his banter is slick without ever feeling too slick.
But it’s the twin guitars of Martin Rotsey and Jim Moginie that are the glue, the true magic too. Songs have spiky, punk-ish riffs. Songs have glorious, towering melodies. Songs have peaks and valleys. And all of this is because of Rotsey and Moginie. They take turns soloing, they are both terrific. Moginie spends parts of many songs with his guitar on his lap as he provides a crucial keyboard/piano part. He’ll step away from the keys to peel off a just-perfect lead lick or solo. And there’s cow-punk country twang in some of the songs (Truganini) and driving acoustic force in others (Kosciusko).
The band digs deep – very deep – how deep? Well, after a killer opening section of the show where Don’t Wanna Be The One almost threatened to very much Be The One, we hear the lonesome keys of Shipyards of New Zealand. And as the song slow-builds to a tower of strength you just know they didn’t play that elsewhere. They saved that for us. (They’ll give it to Christchurch the next night, but it’s an album-track, a near rarity).
Garrett then tells us of his special affinity for the country, he thanks us for years of support and a superb Hercules is pumped out in reference to the band’s earliest days of visiting our shores.
Then the acoustic set – Hirst at the front of the stage on a cocktail kit and providing many of the lead vocals. It’s When The Generals Talk and Luritja Way and US Forces. And it’s all great. Magical even.
But then Tin Legs and Tin Mines. One of those songs that just lifts you up and takes you away with it.
There was no Maralinga tonight, but Tin Legs (from the same album) is a good sub. A mighty fine sub. And Midnight Oil knows how to do this, how to deliver, how to pace a two-hour set. Plenty of favourites, and plenty in reserve.
Kosciusko starts off with the acoustic charge and Hirst still on the stage apron, but it really goes up a gear when he returns to the big kit.
Straight into Only The Strong and then Now Or Never Land.
You know that Power and The Passion is going to come and a few more from Diesel, surely But where’s anything from the Blue Sky Mining album. And where’s a few more of the anthems…
Well, next thing a run of tunes arrives that has all the strength and hit factor that really only a band like The Rolling Stones can compete with – in terms of big show dynamics.
It’s Warakurna and The Dead Heart and Beds Are Burning all with lump-in-throat choruses, the audience chanting every world, very nearly hand on heart. In between Warakurna and The Dead Heart we get probably the single highlight of the night: Power And The Passion. It is extraordinary that such a song can still be played with the twin vestiges that serve as its title. The riff – magic. The lyrics – brilliant, sly, a summation still of an attitude. And then Rob Hirst’s drum solo – a thing of beauty, the perfect mix of true talent and raw energy.
Back for encores we have another rarity. A cover of the Swingers’ Counting The Beat to acknowledge Bones Hillman’s Kiwi status and the band – and bassline – that first made him famous. Garrett is sight-reading and it’s okay, better in theory and spirit than in actual practice. And he knows this – adlibbing a line about not being so sure they passed the audition. The gesture of even attempting it is profound with the audience however. It is a sensation.
But to show that this band has such a poise and can really hit the old songs out of the park we have a note-perfect River Runs Red to follow and then Dreamworld just charges. Bull at the gate.
Best of Both Worlds to send us off.
One of the best concerts I’ve ever – ever – seen.
Click here to see the full setlist