Live Review: Midnight Oil, King Stingray

22 April 2022 | 11:00 am | Mick Radojkovic

"Finally, we get to play in our hometown."

More Midnight Oil More Midnight Oil

Saying goodbye is never easy and when it’s a hometown crowd bidding farewell to a band that has been a part of Australia‘s history for over 40 years, it’s even harder. Midnight Oil have been a part of this country’s backbone from sweaty pubs to high art to dirty politics and back again.

The final Midnight Oil tour has not been without its challenges. The remnants of the pandemic have already resulted in cancellations in Darwin and Cairns before the elements forced a late postponement in Canberra earlier in the week. The large indoor Qudos Bank Arena was a suitably large venue to house the huge local contingent of fans, a long way from the pokey haunts that hosted their early gigs.

The opening acts on the tour have all been of a very high quality and it was a joy to experience the up-and-coming Arnhem Land quintet of King Stingray. This Yolngu surf rock band have only released a handful of tracks, but already are gaining a reputation for being a powerful live act. It’s a descriptor that was thrown around for the headliners when they started and if King Stingray’s trajectory is anywhere close to Midnight Oil, you can be sure we’re only seeing the start of something special.

There seemed to be little nerves, despite playing to what is surely one of their biggest audience yet. Their songs, representing camp-life, being one people, coming together and generally uplifting subjects, combined with a stomping guitar and driving drums, ensured the rock-thirsty crowd's appetite was sufficiently whetted.

The Midnight Oil show has never been about anything more than the music. You won't find confetti, over the top production or even smoke machines. The corrugated water tank behind drummer, Rob Hirst, is about as elaborate as they get. They have, and do, let the music do the talking. Oh, and of course, frontman, protagonist and antagonist, Peter Garrett.

A video, representing RESIST, the title of their final album and tour, set the scene for the always conscious image of the band. A rotation of images representing the beauty and the beast of Australia would appear on the screen all night and provide a backdrop to many of the band’s repertoire.

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"Finally, we get to play in our hometown," declares Garrett. There was a massive cheer from the stadium where you'd be hard pressed to find an empty seat, even in the nosebleeds. Despite there being seating covering the floor, many had already chosen to stand and this would increase as the night progressed.

Pic by Glenn Pokorny

The band took the opportunity to play some tracks from their latest album and they sat neatly beside classics like Back On The Borderline and Don’t Wanna Be The One. The timelessness of their sound resonates through even the newest tracks, but one of the highlights of the night had the be the edgy, tight and powerful rendition of Stand In Line. An under-rated punk-inspired track from 1979’s Head Injuries record. Fill-in bassist, Adam Ventoura (for the sadly passed Bones Hillman), nailed the complex bass line with aplomb.

US Forces and Kosciusko saw drummer Hirst position himself front of stage, still smashing the equipment with his ever-present veracity. The inclusion of 1998’s Redneck Wonderland highlighted how relevant it still feels, as does most of the band’s catalogue, covering climate change, Aboriginal rights, mining magnates and the futility of war.

Jim Moginie switched between guitar and keys, providing the eccentricity that sees Midnight Oil dance between the lines of prog, punk, surf, pop and rock. Apart from Garrett’s trademark dancing and wail, Moginie is the Midnight Oil sound. Martin Rotsey’s guitar was solid and the inclusion of Liz Stringer (Leah Flanagan was sadly unwell) on backing vocal was a masterstroke. Her vocals and acoustic guitar cutting through on tracks at the finest moments.

Pic by Glenn Pokorny

The concert helped us remember those lyrics that have cemented themselves into Australia’s psyche and on protestor’s placards – “We carry in our hearts the true country”, “It’s better to die on your feet then live on your knees”, “Who’s gonna save me?”, “The time has come to pay the rent”.

Garrett took to the mic, on more than one occasion, to highlight his disgust of the current government, indicating that we “have a current PM that doesn’t deserve that office”. The topic of mixing music and politics, a theme that has often hounded the band, was raised with Garrett declaring, “This is life that we sing about” and that the two are intrinsically linked.

Almost every song you would want to hear was played (sadly no Truganini). A rare rendition of surf-rock styled Wedding Cake Island from their 1980 EP, Bird Noises, was given a run in the encore, surely to help satiate the hardcore fans and give a little something special to the home fans.

The final two tracks of Beds Are Burning and Hercules rounded a near-perfect set. “This is something I will remember”, rang around the arena as a poignant note to end the night and the careers of a band that may stop, be will never be forgotten.

Pic by Glenn Pokorny