It was a different kind of set to the ones I’m used to from The Living End. This is a band that headlines festivals, starts mosh pits, and causes all ’round chaos in Australia. But on this sticky Monday night in New York, they were very much a support act.
It wasn’t from lack of trying. Opening with arguably their biggest hit, “Second Solution”, and blasting their way into “Roll On”, this would have been enough to send an Australian crowd into a frenzy. Not so for this one. The crowd was appreciative, but lacked the enthusiasm The Living End usually inspire.
They played a 45 minute set of highlights from their close to 20 year career, giving us the aforementioned “Second Solution” and “Roll On”, as well as “Who’s Gonna Save Us?”, ‘White Noise”, and “Prisoner of Society”. It was strange to be the only one in my area who knew to sing “1, 2, 3!” in the right part of “Prisoner of Society”.
They closed the set with “West End Riot”, which saw Cheney stand on Scott Owen‘s double bass to play his guitar solo, and Owen lift his double bass over his head as he played. They delivered a punchy, tight and rocking set. It’s just a shame the crowd weren’t along for the ride.
Midnight Oil turned up angry, and ready to tell us why. I’ve seen them a few times now, and while political issues have always been discussed between songs, tonight was different. Their anger made their songs feel so much more powerful and passionate, and turned their usually strong showmanship into an aggressive set that made us listen to the truth from start to finish.
After opening with two huge hits, “Redneck Wonderland” and “Read About It”, Peter Garrett removed his long -sleeved shirt to reveal a black t-shirt with a drawing of Donald Trump on it, above the words “You’re Fired!”
The shirt was later given to someone in the crowd who claimed they voted Republican in the last election – though not sure if actually a Republican or just wanted Peter Garrett‘s sweaty Trump shirt – and replaced by one that said, “To sin by silence when you should protest makes cowards out of men.” Garrett wasn’t silent about anything and reminded us we shouldn’t be either.
“Short Memory” started stripped back and slow, only on keys, and every word rang out over the crowd, until Garrett screamed, “If you read the history books you’ll see the same things happen again and again! Repeat, repeat short memory they’ve all got it!”, as he marched around the stage.
After the song, Garrett said, “It shouldn’t have to be said again because so many people have said it already, but if you don’t learn the lessons of history, you are condemned to repeat the mistakes – and disappear into black holes – of stupid, nasty, racist people… any time anybody, whatever public office they hold, sticks up their hand and starts talking in a way that D Trump did in the last couple of days, it needs to be called out as WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!”
“Dreamworld” and “Truganini” were played in quick succession, before a surprise cover of The Clash‘s “London Calling”, as a tribute to the late Joe Strummer. For a band so focused on Australia, who sound so Australian, they did a great job of honouring his memory with this classic.
Garrett delivered another speech before playing the three standout songs of the show: “Anyone who disempowers themselves with this ridiculous fantasy that there’s no difference between the left and the right side of politics. Let me tell you brothers and sisters and friends, there’s a friggin’ big difference and you’re seeing it right now in your country. The further to the right you go, the more the rhetoric of free enterprise and freedom screw people over and becomes louder than a hurricane gale coming up from New Orleans and Texas. And if any person in any country thinks that they can peddle hate, and invite the human community which has got better instincts and better values and a better heart than that into that little party of horror, then they have another think coming.”
Grouping these songs together in the set was no coincidence. Drummer Rob Hirst moved to the front of stage to sit at a second, smaller drum kit and sing a keys-only version of “My Country” alongside Garrett. The words “I hear you say, the truth must take a beating. The flag a camouflage for your deceiving,” held so much weight.
“When The Generals Talk”, was electrifying. The lyrics “So the General has a purge, cause he wants to win elections,” were delivered to cheers in the crowd. Garrett snarled, “Sitting on the fence both ears to the ground. The fat cats still push the thin cats around,” as he moved around the stage pointing at different areas of the crowd.
“US Forces” was always going to be the song of the night. The band stood in a line facing the crowd around Hirst, as Garrett stared out into the crowd, and stood completely still as he delivered the first lines of the song. As he sang, “Will you know it, when you see it?” he nodded and mouthed “YES”, then threw himself around the stage as he delivered the end of the verse.
While Garrett takes most of the attention with his dance moves and gestures, credit must be given to the rest of the band. The relentless guitar work from Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey, the tight bass lines from Bones Hillman, alongside Rob Hirst’s powerful drumming often aren’t mentioned enough. It was no surprise they sounded perfect from start to finish – this was not their first rodeo – and they know exactly what to do and how to work together to make the music really come alive.
They stream-rolled through “Power and the Passion”, “The Dead Heart”, ‘Beds Are Burning”, “Blue Sky Mine”, and “Best of Both Worlds”. They moved off the stage after ‘Best of Both Worlds,’ and many thought the show was over.
When they came back, Garrett was holding his Trump shirt and threw it at the person who claimed to have voted Republican in the last election. “Forgotten Years” was the last song of the night, and they walked off having delivered a show everyone will remember for years to come.
None of what they are saying is news. It will remain relevant for as long as the real world is not as calm as it appears to be from here. Watching Midnight Oil last night made me realise if you’re not angry, you haven’t been paying attention.
But with all of the troubles, the uncertainty, and wrong we see each day, how lucky we are to still be able to go and see Midnight Oil deliver a huge wake up call and ignite the caring, active side of us that is often buried.
1. Redneck Wonderland
2. Read About It
3. Golden Age
4. Brave Faces
5. Short Memory
6. Heart Is Nowhere
9. London Calling (The Clash cover)
10. Is It Now?
11. My Country
12. When the Generals Talk
13. US Forces
14. Tin Legs and Tin Mines
16. Now or Never Land
17. Power and the Passion
18. The Dead Heart
19. Beds Are Burning
20. Blue Sky Mine
21. Best of Both Worlds
22. Forgotten Years
MIDNIGHT OIL AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
October 2nd | ANZAC Oval, Alice Springs | 18+
with Dan Sultan and Apakatjah
October 4th | Darwin Amphitheatre, Darwin | 18+
with Dan Sultan and Irrunytju Band
October 7th | Kuranda Amphitheatre, Cairns | 18+
October 10th | Townsville Entertainment & Convention Centre, Townsville | 18+
October 12th | Great Western Hotel, Rockhampton | 18+
with The Living End and Jebediah
October 15th | Riverstage, Brisbane | All Ages
with The Jezabels
October 17th | Riverstage, Brisbane | All Ages
October 19th | Hockey Fields, Coffs Harbour | 18+
with Jebediah and Jack River
October 21st | Hope Estate, Hunter Valley | 18+
with Birds of Tokyo and Ash Grunwald
October 24th | AIS Arena, Canberra | All Ages
with Something For Kate
October 26th | The Village Green @ Adelaide Oval, Adelaide | All Ages
with Spiderbait and Bad//Dreems
October 28th | Perth Arena, Perth | All Ages
November 1st | Derwent Entertainment Centre, Hobart | All Ages
with The Jezabels
November 3rd | Gateway Lakes, Wodonga | 18+
with The Living End
Photo by Oliver Eclipse.