BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Playing the first US date of their final North American tour, Australian rockers Midnight Oil opened their brief seven city sprint across the country with an electrifying performance at the Fox Theater in Oakland Saturday night.
Returning to the Bay Area for the first time since a 2017 performance in the same hall, the Oil’s are on the final leg of what’s being promoted as their farewell tour some 44 years after their self-titled debut album laid the groundwork for what would evolve into one of the greatest bands to ever come from the land down under. Formed in the suburbs north of Sydney in the mid-seventies, the groups name is derived from the Jimi Hendrix song “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”
Lead singer Peter Garrett, 69, a towering and sometimes menacing figure at 6’4” with his shaved head, has lost none of the high octane frenetic energy that he first brought to the stage those five decades ago. His spastic, jerky dance moves across the floor demand your attention. Sometimes it almost appears as if he’s gliding. Well known as a political activist and strong advocate for worldwide nuclear disarmament, the always expressive Garrett left the stage and retired from performing for the better part of two decades to concentrate on politics after the band’s 2002 album Capricornia. Just two years later he was elected to the Australian House of Representatives and later appointed Minister for the Environment in 2007.
Touring in support of their thirteenth studio album Resist, released three months ago, the nucleus of Garrett and fellow co-founding members guitarists Jim Moginie, Martin Rotsey and drummer Rob Hirst have performed together for over 45 years, excluding the 15 year stretch where the group was dormant aside from a few benefit performances while Garrett focused on his political career. It’s their first album and tour without longtime bassist Bones Hillman who passed away in 2020. Although their life on the road might be coming to an end, it’s great news that all principle members have signaled their intent to continue working together in the studio.
While it likely won’t sell as many copies as some of its predecessors, Resist is yet another splendid collection of highly charged upbeat rockers complimented by beautiful harmonies throughout its twelve tracks. The anthemic opening song “Rising Seas,” according to Garrett, “adds the band’s unique voice to billions of others around the world seeking a safe, habitable, and fair future for our planet.” Midnight Oil also conveys their message with the opening lyrics of “Reef” stating, “We’ve got the green light / We’re gonna dynamite / A World Heritage site.” Full of passionate vocals and tantalizing riffs, the band’s first full length album in 20 years continues to emphasize the Oils well-documented environmentalism and the never ending songwriting genius of the uber-creative Moginie, who also shines on keyboards and backing vocals.©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Midnight Oil guitarist Jim Moginie double dips on the keyboards at The Fox in Oakland Saturday night.
The depth of quality songs on the passionate new album is so strong that they fit right into Midnight Oil’s sets without the slightest disruption in momentum or causing a mass exodus to the lobby. And it’s not just a few select cuts. Of the four songs played from Resist on the opening night of this leg of the tour three nights earlier in Vancouver, only one was repeated at The Fox.
In the aftermath of Uvalde, the band seemingly chose to take the stage with the most appropriate “We Resist,” and it’s opening line of “Putting flowers into guns / This is not the summer of love” setting the stage for the nearly two hour concert during which selections from nine different albums were played. Fan favorites like “King of the Mountain” and “Dreamworld,” the first of six cuts from 1987’s blockbuster Diesel and Dust, along with “Redneck Wonderland” highlighted the early portion of the show.
The unmistakable intro and chants from “The Dead Heart,” written to raise awareness about the forcible removal of Australian Aboriginal children from their families, saw most of the audience bobbing their heads to the infectious beat before the band followed up with “US Forces”and “Short Memory,” both from their breakthrough 1983 album 10, 9, 8, 7,6,5,4,3,2,1.©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Midnight Oil performs Saturday night at The Fox Theater.
While the larger than life presence of frontman Garrett surely creates the face of Midnight Oil, anyone that thinks this is a one-man band would be vastly underestimating the talent he’s surrounded by. Rotsey was flawless and the always smiling Hirst excelled throughout the night without missing a beat, even briefly taking center stage with an acoustic drum kit for the first part of “Kosciusko.”
The remainder of the set was nothing short of a full-on over stimulation to your senses, with the entire 20 minutes making the movie, similar to the way that Queen’s Live Aid performance was portrayed in Bohemian Rhapsody. Perhaps the producers can convince 6’8” name sake Brad Garrett to shave his head and take the leading role.
Starting with the rousing adrenaline boost of “Power and the Passion,“ climaxing with Hirst’s trademark drum solo, the assault continued with debatably three of the Oil’s most recognizable songs thanks to the MTV era. You could feel the floor shaking throughout the acoustically solid ornate Fox during “Beds Are Burning” as seemingly the entire crowd bounced to the beat in unison. Briefly addressing the crowd he commanded, Garrett mentioned the 2019 New Zealand mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, alluding to how change is possible by referencing how the country’s parliament voted 119-1 to change its gun laws, less than a month after the twin massacres.©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Peter Garrett and Rob Hirst perform during Midnight Oil’s June 4th performance at The Fox in Oakland.
Garrett’s intense trademark harmonica signaled the arrival of “Blue Sky Mine” from 1990’s Blue Sky Mining, and the highly infectious “Forgotten Years” from the same release brought the set to an end before the band left the stage briefly prior to returning for a generous three song encore featuring “Under the Overpass,” “Sometimes,” and finally “Hercules” from their 1985 EP Species Deceases.
Long known as a group that likes to mix it up from night to night, and having pledged to never play the same setlist twice, Midnight Oil has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of just a handful of elite bands with an abundance of enough quality material to justify seeing them multiple times on the same tour since you’re basically assured of seeing a different show every time. Their concerts exude raw energy and a punch that connects squarely to your adrenal glands.
Midnight Oil will next play what promises to be an electrifying set at the Hollywood Palladium on Tuesday night before performing their final North American show in the suburbs of Washington DC on June 25th.