6th September 2022
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand.
Review by Rob Harbers, photography by Garry Thomas.
Of all the numerous reviews I’ve written, this would have to be the most bittersweet. Midnight Oil brought just as much energy and passion to their performance tonight as ever they have done, but this is their final tour. Their.Final.Tour! So as brilliant as it may have been, it’s tinged with that sadness of impending cessation.
I can’t claim to have been a fan of the Oils right from the very start, in fact it took me about five years to cotton on to them – I’d seen some of the early videos (cos that’s what we did in them days kids!) but they hadn’t grabbed me. But that all changed when I saw the video for US Forces. With it’s intelligent lyrics and the acoustic guitar intro that heavily brought to mind some of what XTC (who had already inveigled their way deep in to my musical heart at that point) had been doing around that time, I was hooked! At the first opportunity, I got my hands on a copy of “10,9,8,7,6,5,4,1”, the album it appears on, and it worked its magic on my developing teenage consciousness. Helped to construct the values and beliefs I hold to this day (here’s a hint – they’re anything but blue!). But then every man and his dog got in to “Power And The Passion” from the same album, and it suffered from over-familiarity, to the point where I’d be inclined to skip it when playing the album! More on that later…
But I was definitely, incontrovertibly still a fan – those hooks were in deep! This carried on from those years, only wavering slightly with the “Capricornia” album, which didn’t really grab so much. But then it was a busy and complicated time in my life, and so this was probably as much my fault as theirs (“It’s not them, it’s me!”). So, if I’m honest, it probably made it a little easier to accept when they then announced their intention to quit, largely because of Peter Garrett’s intention to pursue political influence on a more direct level than seemed possible from within the confines of music-making.
But then, having grown disenchanted with the sphere of parliamentary politics, Peter started getting back in to creating music as a means of political expression, and eventually, against a backdrop of Trumpian idiocy, came the “We’re getting the band back together” moment, leading to the “Great Circle” tour. Fired up again, the band this year released the “Resist” album, showing that the fire still burned just as brightly as ever, before announcing a final tour, sadly giving way to the inevitable advance of years. It was after reading an interview with Peter where he discussed the tour, and the drive behind it, that I realised that I needed to see these guys again – and it’s one of the privileges of this job I do that this was able to be arranged, and I could write about it too! So off we headed to the big smoke, for a final one-night stand with the providers of a reasonable proportion of the soundtrack to my life – and here’s the story (finally, you say!): They’re going out on a high, still burning the precious Oil, and saving us all from the risk of being disappointed by a slide into anything less than top form. So as I said, a bittersweet symphony indeed!
The evening opened with a few songs from Oils backing vocalist Liz Stringer, in between long and endearing chats about the content of the songs, the coldness of the weather, and many other things. These songs were strongly delivered odes to such topics as dissolute lifestyles, prison escape, the science of measurement (!), i.e. pretty much the topic of any song (not really). She did suggest that she would play some rock and roll, and then the Oils would come out and calm things down – but I think, just between us, that she might’ve been joking about that!
Either that or the memo didn’t get passed along, because the band took to the stage with a balls to the wall rendition of “King Of The Mountain”, setting the tone for an explosive night’s entertainment, which left no-one disappointed. Peter’s sustained vocal delivery in “Nobody’s Child” was truly stunning, showing there’s still life in the old dog yet!
In his first bit of chat, Peter revealed that it was in Wellington that they first met the now sadly departed Bones Hillman, who told them they were the loudest thing he’d ever heard – but it was obviously inspirational to him, as he eventually became an integral part of the loudness!
The fact that “Put Down that Weapon”s themes are as sadly relevant today as they were 35 years ago was highlighted by Peter’s donning of a “Stand With Ukraine” T-shirt, and the expressed hope that sanity would prevail eventually.
Fans that’d been around a year or two, in Peter’s words, were promised that they’d be catered to, and the first instalment of this care took the form of “Is It Now”, from second album, way back in 1979, “Head Injuries”. But all present were hinted at that they’d be hearing much guitar, played a lot louder than a certain Flight duo from around these parts…
This was followed through on by a fast-paced “Truganini”, and a rendition of “Brave Faces” that conceded nothing to the passing of 41 years since it first saw the light of day, before “Who Can Stand In The Way” brought a lighter touch. Then it was “dancing time” – with the aforementioned “Power And The Passion”. Over the years, as its excessive exposure has receded, this has wormed its way back in to my affections – and tonight it proved how deserving it was of doing so. The full-noise approach continued through “Best Of Both Worlds” before easing off the pedal a little with “In The Valley”’s acoustic treatment.
“Somebody’s Trying To Tell Me Something” was just as powerful as ever, but obviously, due to the live setting, free of the close-out groove treatment that caused, back in the day, those who were listening on vinyl, with turntables sans auto-lift, to wonder if something was wrong!
Acknowledgement and praise for Te Reo’s increasing recognition in Aotearoa was given, particularly in the context of the possibility that Australia’s First Nation populations may potentially be soon to receive long-overdue constitutional recognition, leading in to “Beds Are Burning”.
The brandishing of a sign stating “I’m a drummer. Please let me play on “Blue Sky Mine” partially succeeded for Dan the drummer, who was invited on stage for the song to play… tambourine! But he kept the rhythm, so didn’t disgrace himself!
But all of this is just a (very) long-winded way of saying that I’m a fan of many years, and I was thoroughly satisfied and glad I made the effort to go. And the band were grateful that they finally had the opportunity to say goodbye, after the previous deferral of the party. And the assembled crowd were clearly very pleased to be there as well – so like the very best of encounters, all parties came away deeply satisfied! And what more can you ask (apart from the possibility that this retirement/final tour might prove to be as permanent as many of the ones that Mr Bowie, among others, have promised in years past)? One more chance in New Zealand to see them, in New Plymouth this Thursday, 8th September – and then that’s it, just like this review!
Were you there at the Michael Fowler Centre for this high energy political rock show? Or have you seen Midnight Oil perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Note: Ambient Light was provided passes to review and photograph this concert. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product using an affiliate link, Ambient Light will automatically receive a small commission at no cost to you.
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