This Sunday evening commenced with a welcome to country by Senior Wurundjeri Elder, Aunty Di Kerr, whose every word was well chosen and important in reminding us of the very special ceremonial lands we were on.
It was then over to rising Melbourne punk rockers Amyl & The Sniffers to take stage at 6:45pm (an early timeslot that was reminding me of being at a concert in Japan.) Kicking off their set with the first single “Guided by Angels” from their latest album Comfort to Me, the ARIA Award winners did their best to get the crowd pumped – a more difficult task when they’re out of the sweaty pubs and on an arena stage with allocated seating still filling.
Front woman Amy Taylor bounced around the stage and commanded it in a purple ‘kini top and sparkling blue mini that was the perfect outfit for highlighting her fiercely toned body, as she venomously worked her way through songs like “Gacked on Anger,” “Maggot,” “Don’t Need a Cunt,” and my personal fave, “Some Mutts.”
By the scheduled time for Midnight Oil to hit the stage, Rod Laver Arena was finally packed to the rafters, as the audience took in the glorious site of a such a large (mask-less) sold-out crowd again. The house lights went down as the Oils’ instrumental “Kingdom of Flaunt” played over the PA with a video backdrop of a hand holding a burning planet Earth, while the band members took up their positions.
The video backdrop progressed to a montage of poignant, black-and-white protest images as they performed their latest single “We Resist” that was released just five weeks ago. Iconic front man Peter Garrett sang the first number from behind the drumkit (and corrugated iron rainwater tank alongside it), so he was closest to the video images. When he eventually came to the front of the stage and addressed the crowd, he simply said, “Good evening, friends. This is a five-set concert” to let the audience know they were in for a very long setlist tonight at the home of Australian tennis.
After opening with three tracks from their new album Resist, Garrett decided he was going to change his shoes. Rather than depart the stage, he instead told stories of playing shows in “their second home” Melbourne in their early days – including to 12 people in South Yarra, where they knew 9 of them – as he managed to switch into some more comfortable footwear. When the next song “Back on the Borderline” kicked off, he threw his uncomfortable black shoes to a fan in the front row.
The band took it up another level for “Dreamworld” and “Don’t Wanna Be the One” as I found myself completely mesmerised by Garrett’s truly unique and iconic stage movements, and marvelling at the energy of the front man who will soon turn 69 years of age (perhaps he’s powered by sun and wind, not coal.)
Stunning visuals of Australian landscapes throughout the night conjured feelings that our country is worth protecting, as their music soundtrack brought back memories of growing up in this fine land. The tunes were played by drummer Rob Hirst (who showed no signs of his COVID that forced the show to be rescheduled to tonight), Jim Moginie on guitar and keys, Martin Rotsey on guitar, and new guy Adam Ventoura, who has taken over on bass following the passing of Bones Hillman. For those unable to hear the music, the lyrics were performed behind the soundboard in Auslan, the majority sign language of the Australian Deaf community.
Midnight Oil has always been a band to actively speak out on environmental and social issues, and fight injustices in many ways, so it was inevitable that the war in Ukraine would be mentioned, as Garett donned a black “I Stand With Ukraine” t-shirt.
The main set finished with an absolute jaw-dropping powerhouse of back-to-back hit songs – “Best of Both Worlds,” “Power and the Passion” (dedicated to the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins who died the previous day), “Blue Sky Mine,” “Beds Are Burning,” and “Forgotten Years” – that reminded us all just how great their albums 10-1, Red Sails in the Sunset, Diesel and Dust, and Blue Sky Mining, from their multi-platinum heyday of 1983-1990 were… and still are.
After a short break and another shirt change for Garrett, Midnight Oil delighted the crowd by playing a three-song encore that culminated with their 1985 anti-war and nuclear disarmament song “Hercules” that includes the lyric, “Keep us radioactive free; strike a bell in Hiroshima park.” I remember then as a teenager, the threat of a nuclear war during the Cold War era was a very real cloud hanging over my head – our heads, and to think that all these decades later, the world is again on the brink of nuclear warfare is sadly staggering.
After 22 songs over the course of two hours, the band left the stage with raucous applause and a backdrop message “In memory of our dear brother Bones Hillman” followed by a visual tribute to Michael Gudinski, Shane Warne and Taylor Hawkins on the video screens as the crowd exited.
The world needs passionate performers and artists to keep taking a stand and leading – the world needs bands like Midnight Oil. With this being their final tour, I wonder who will carry their torch from here?