Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne,
November 6, 2017
There are plenty of descriptors that get thrown around when talking about Midnight Oil. Icons, legends, elder statesmen, Aussie rock veterans. But how about we just cut to the chase and call them The Greatest Australian Rock Band Of All Time?
The evidence is in, the votes are tallied. Across 11 incredible albums and a handful of legendary EPs, they have carved out a career that is unlike any other in Australian contemporary music. If you had to pick one rock band whose back catalogue summed up what it is to be Australian, warts and all, it would be Midnight Oil.
I say this not as a dyed-in-the-wool Oils zealot. In fact, I only have a couple albums and one EP. I wouldn't even say they were my favourite Aussie band (that's probably You Am I or Something For Kate or Custard or Regurgitator or Crowded House, depending on the day of the week).
But looking at this as objectively as possible, Midnight Oil are the kings of our music scene. Lyrically, rhythmically, dynamically. The songs, the musicality, the message. All these elements are exemplary, but add to that a live show that is second to none. Who else has - dare I say it - the power and the passion to match? AC/DC and The Living End put on a hell of a show, but they can't match the Oils in terms of content. The Oils are actually saying something, even if it's more than likely going over the heads of a certain percentage of their audience. The closest The Living End got to saying something of great import was "we don't need no one to tell us what to do". Compare that to the lyrics of Truganini or US Forces or Beds Are Burning or any number of Oils songs.
If there was any doubt to the Oils' claim to the throne, the Great Circle World Tour should put those questions to bed. The first of their three shows in Melbourne was an absolute triumph (and I hear the Hanging Rock gig was even better).
|*Note: they didn't play Ships Of Freedom.|
From there the five-piece (with bonus horn section borrowed from Hunters & Collectors) rolled into the deep cuts with Species Deceases' track Hercules and Head Injuries' fan favourite Section 5 (Bus To Bondi) (which suffered from Martin Rotsey's guitar issues). With a reported 150 songs worked up in rehearsals, the band could flick between forgotten gems and hit singles with ease, keeping every show different and fans on their toes. The first Melbourne show was good evidence of this. Dreamworld (more of a hit in the US than in Australia) was followed by Redneck Wonderland non-single Safety Chain Blues, the very old track No Time For Games slotted in front of crowd-pleasers When The General Talk and My Country, while Warakurna was dropped in before a heavy run of the big-hitters.
What's most affecting about seeing these guys in the flesh for the first time was the way the old classics you've heard a million times come to life again with renewed vitality in a live setting. The likes of Beds Are Burning and King Of The Mountain - played to death by commercial radio over the past three decades - erupt from their instruments shorn of baggage and carried by the voices of the throng, and it's like hearing them for the anew and realising what makes these songs so great to start with.
And unlike a lot of other big bands I've seen live, Midnight Oil still look like a real band in the sense you can picture them in a sweaty shed rehearsing together or playing in a sticky carpet pub to 25 people. This gig was pre-Jim Moginie doing himself an injury, so I can honestly say they looked as though age had not wearied them. Peter Garrett has always had an old head, so he looks much the same as he did in the '80s, and Rob Hirst is still a machine.
Here's the setlist in Spotify playlist form:
In summary, Midnight Oil are the rock band all Aussie rock bands should aspire to be, making them utterly deserving of the GOAT title. Some bands can put on a show to rival Midnight Oil. Some bands can boast a back catalogue to match Midnight Oil. But no other Aussie band has both those qualities while simultaneously boasting the ability to stare deep into the heart of our country and its people, and deliver all our flaws and triumphs back to us while we sing along with gusto.