The triumphant New York return of Australia's greatest band.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
If you're a reader expecting today's edition of Superconductor to be a roundup of the recently ended Metropolitan Opera season or a CD review, this is not that column. (Rest assured, those are coming.) No I'm here to talk about Saturday night at Webster Hall and the first Midnight Oil show in New York show since the band’s 2002 tour supporting their last record, Capricornia. Since then, “The Oils” have been on hiatus, as lead singer and political firebrand Peter Garrett served in the Parliament of the bands native Australia, putting his energies into politics instead of rock and roll.
Now that Mr. Garrett is out of Canberra, the band is back on the road, with all the fury of a Mad Max movie. Time away has not diminished the fire of this five-piece, who added . They made a canny choice for theopening band: New York all girl power trio Boytoy, whose riot grrrl rawk was well received by the packed house. Two guitars and a drummer writing short, tight original songs, Boytoy is a band that may be going places in the years to come. They left, and it was time for New York to get its Oil changed,
The band came on in darkness, opening with the P.A. playing a cut from their debut record. The closing-credits music from Blade Runner accompanied them onstage, before Rib Hirst clicked his sticks and the band slammed headlong into "Sometimes” from the Diesel and Dust record. The chorus was echoed by the crowd in a mighty shout of humanity, at times threatening to overwhelm the five-piece. And that's saying something because they play loud.
Bullroarer was the second song, foand the second of eight tracks from that album which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. It was followed in quick succession by "Bedlam Bridge" and "Stars of Warburton", a one-two punch from the band’s classic 1989 record Blue Sky Mining.The first has particular resonance for this New Yorker, with its middle eight setting the lyrics "How stands the city in this winter’s night?" They were followed by the deep cut "Somebody’s Trying to Tell Me Something.".
A reworked “My Country” from Earth and Sun and Moon opened the acoustic middle set, which had Rob Hirst moving to the front of the stage to bang on a minimal drum kit and sing lead on “When the Generals talk”. Th deep cuts continued, with the b-side "Ships of Freedom," "Lurjita Way" from Capricornia and "Arctic World." This last was the third of eight cuts from Diesel and Dust, an album that turned thirty this year. The band played acoustic guitars and bass here, but the songs were still sharp and acerbic.
This part of the set ended with "Warakurna," a song that builds slowly from gentle, descending chords and a muted refrain ("There is enough") before shifting keys and rampaging headlong into the chorus. Here, those chords become a battle cry, with the crowd faithfully singing along in massed choir. It was something amazing to hear and even better to be part of. Our spot was dead center on the floor, between two big bald brothers from Austrlaia. The crowd was a mix of Aussie and American fans, all very glad that their heroes were back at last,
"Warakurna" yielded to "The Power and The Passion," with Mr. Hirst taking a solo on the rusting, corrugated water tower that loomed next to his drumkit. And the "The Dead Heart" started, almost called for by the audience who began a droning, melisma of do-doo-do-DOO-dodo do-dah-doo, summoning the song into existence long before Jim Moginie could strum the first chords. From there it was all hits as the band blazed through the anti-asbestos mining song "Blue Sky Mine," about the deaths of asbestos miners at Wittenoom Gorge in Western Australia), the equally anthemic "Beds are Burning" and the raging "Dreamworld."
They weren't done. Mr, Garrett and the boys treated New York to two encores, starting with their raucous cover of "Instant Karma!" by Mr. John Lennon. This was specially dedicated to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was working for Exxon in 1990 when the band played a free protest gig in a flatbed truck outside the company ’s New York headquarters on the Avenue of the Americas. It was followed by "Sell My Soul" and a smoking hot "Forgotten Years." That left the crowd exhausted. Not the Oils though, they came back out and raged through "Best of Both Worlds," bringing this blazing two hour set to an end.