Midnight Oil, Hammersmith Apollo, 23 July 2017

The music of Midnight Oil is part of my youth/early adulthood. There was a time when Antipodean music was all the rage with the likes of Icehouse, Men at Work, INXS and Split Endz. Midnight Oil also belonged to a rare popular genre of protest rock. Here one found The Jam, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Chumbawamba and Latin Quarter whose Album, Modern Times, still reverberates, having been exposed to it on a rather-poor quality Radio Caroline incarnation just-about audible in Hull. These were also the days when I used to read music papers and look at the gig list and see the Hammersmith Odeon hosting countless familiar names. It was a long way from home and I never travelled a long way from home. Like the ferries from Hull that also eluded me, now was the time to go to this art decor temple of sound and vision (below right).

Being Australian, however, Midnight Oil had this additional quality – a familiarly unfamiliar history. I was once in a school musical (I was perhaps 8 years’ old) where I had to choose to be either a cowboy or an indian. The downside of the latter was that as part of the make-up, one had to be covered in dissolved Oxo in order to get a darker skin tone. Those who know me, know only too well that I dislike being sticky or being face painted, or whatever.  The idea of having Oxo painted onto my skin may have swayed my decision to be a cowboy. Not a bit of it. It was a few years later, prompted by Midnight Oil’s song, Beds are Burning, that I realised why I had elected to undergo the Oxo treatment. Indians were indigenous people pushed to extermination by, largely, white settlers. With guns.

Beds are Burning is not an ernest song; one of the problems I find with regular protest music. It is a stonking rousing tune that you can dance to. And probably should. Beds are Burning, and the album from which it comes, Diesel and Dust, is a body of work (which dominated this gig), but it is not the whole story. The lead singer, Peter Garrett, forced the band to break up in 2002 on his decision to enter politics and become a senator in the Australian Parliament (he was eventually elected under a Labor banner in 2004). But seemingly their early career relied on live performances due to the controversial nature of their lyrics and Garrett’s particular brand of outspokenness which rendered regular airtime difficult to garner. Thirteen years’ after the break, Midnight Oil are reformed and doing a world tour under a largely original lineup of Garrett, Rob Hirst – drums, vocalsJim Moginie – lead guitars, keyboards; and Martin Rotsey – lead guitars. The band’s bassist is Bones Hillman.

Beds are Burning got the audience to its feet after the relatively quiet and contemplative start with Outside World, even though the venue was all-seat. It was a bit of an anthem-after-anthem performancePut Down That Weapon, Dreamworld, Bullroarer, Sell My Soul, Ships of Freedom, Power and the Passion, Blue Sky Mine and the final encore, Best of Both Worlds. Just under two hours in total giving plenty of time to watch as well as absorb the music. What does one observe? Garrett has always been a striking figure – tall, bald and charismatic. Rob Hirst, from what I understand has, not surprisingly, been the beating heart of the band on drums and vocals. So much so that they are lugging around a giant metal corrugated bin (right) that comes into its own when he gets his rock-set drum solo during Power and the Passion – goodness knows where he gets the energy from. Moginie and Rotsey concentrate on guitarship – both being leads (Moginie is also the band’s keyboardist). Feasible, one senses, from an over-familiarity with one another, Garrett’s quirks and Hirst’s direction/conducting. This was great stuff. Another bit of my cultural history retrieved and shared with my beloved.

 

 

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