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Midnight Oil - Riverstage (Brisbane, Australia) - October 17, 2017

26 October 2017

What better time could there be to visit Brisbane? It’s springtime, the jacarandas are in bloom, and firebrand Australian rockers Midnight Oil are back on tour for the first time in 15 years.

Even four days of steady rain weren’t enough to dampen the spirits of local punters, who snatched enough tickets to sell out the 9500-capacity Riverstage for two nights.

Papua New Guinea native George Telek and Not Drowning, Waving veteran David Bridie opened Tuesday’s concert with a collaborative set that fused Telek’s spirited Tolai folk and keyboardist Bridie’s moody, social-protest pop. The set included haunting Not Drowning, Waving single “Blackwater.” “One people, one soul,” Bridie sang in mesmerizing repetition. The set finished with a dream song led by Telek that was both yearning and sublime.

The Oils began with a ferocious version of “Redneck Wonderland,” setting the tone for a show that dug deeply into a potent catalog. The set list veered sharply from Sunday’s soggy concert, rewarding fans who braved the rain for both shows. Deep cuts included early chestnut “Stand in Line.” “We’ve got to play the oldies and the goodies, especially when they still resonate,” said towering frontman and former parliament member Peter Garrett. The singer was in fine voice, powerfully delivering the high chant of “Now or Never Land.”

(L-R): Peter Garrett and Martin Rotsey at Darwin on October 4, 2017 by Amy Hetherington

Spring-heeled guitarist Martin Rotsey played sinewy leads throughout the cathartic and roaring “Hercules,” an early highlight from the show. The intertwining guitars of Jim Moginie and Rotsey tangled and chimed through “Truganini,” as Garrett wailed on harmonica and drummer Rob Hirst kept the tempo hot.

Lanky bassist Bones Hillman propelled tracks like “The Golden Age” from the band’s final studio album and crowd favorites including “Only the Strong” from 1982 breakthrough LP 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. His high harmony rang like a bell, elevating songs like protest anthem “Short Memory.” On the same song, Moginie took an extended keyboard solo that fused the style of David Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson’s jazz-inflected piano with an icy synthesizer lead reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.”

The dire warning of “Minutes to Midnight” was performed mid-show with Hirst standing at the front of the stage behind a cocktail set. The band experienced a rare stumble at the beginning, but settled in with Moginie on an exotic 8-string guitar.

As usual, the band had pressing matters to share with the audience. Reflecting recent social media focus on key women’s issues and the #metoo hashtag, Garrett peeled layers of clothing to reveal a shirt with the message, “I am making noise to end violence against women.”

Midnight Oil from the crowd at Riverstage, Brisbane by Jeff Elbel

Garrett gave new purpose to the lyrics of the stately “Arctic World” in criticism of Donald Trump’s domestic and foreign policies, many of which were closely examined during the Oils’ recent sprint through the United States. “Don’t wanna be the president of a country without sense,” sang Garrett. “There is nothing that grows in his Arctic world.”

“Blue Sky Mine” was bent toward local issues dominated by concern about the proposed Adani mining project and its threat to the Great Barrier Reef, a massive living organism and important component of Australia’s ecology. Profit from certain items at the merchandise booths were dedicated to protection campaigns.

Touring bandmate Jack Howard of Hunters and Collectors led a three-piece horn section that added fanfare to Hillman’s rumbling groove for “Say Your Prayers,” and provided the essential hook to “Power and the Passion” as Moginie snuck a bit of surf-rock classic “Wipeout” into his guitar solo. The song was also aided by a thousands-strong choir of fans who sang the closing chorus mightily. “That’s sweet!” exclaimed Garrett with transparent enthusiasm at the crowd support. It was emblematic of the communion that was shared from stage to crowd and back throughout the night.

Midnight Oil at Darwin on October 4, 2017 by Amy Hetherington

Evergreens including “Beds are Burning” and “King of the Mountain” concluded the main set. The moody pulse of “The Dead Heart” and 12-string jangle of “Forgotten Years” made a feisty first encore. The show finished with a ripping version of “Dreamworld” that sent the loose-limbed Garrett careening and wheeling for a final flight around the stage in ecstatic dance.

With the extensive The Great Circle Tour 2017 barreling toward its final date in Sydney, the reactivated Midnight Oil showed no sign that it ought to return to retirement. The band’s activist posture and reinvigorated music are more potent and relevant than ever. Hopefully, the band will re-emerge in 2018 with new earth-rattling anthems that speak to the temper of the time.

Midnight Oil from the crowd at Riverstage, Brisbane by Jeff Elbel