The Sydney stop of Midnight Oil’s final Australian tour was always going to feel pretty special.
Here, some five decades after forming, in the city where they cut their teeth with furious live shows across swathes of sweat-soaked pub floors. Tonight, at Qudos Bank Arena – a stone’s throw from where they performed Aboriginal land rights anthem ‘Beds Are Burning’ with the word ‘sorry’ emblazoned on their clothes, 22 years ago, to a packed Olympic stadium and an estimated one billion television viewers.
But first, East Arnhem Land rockers King Stingray take the stage. In the year and a half since they released attention-grabbing debut single ‘Hey Wanhaka’, they’ve become a tight, dynamic live act, keenly locked in to each other while brimming with exuberance. Newer cuts like latest single ‘Camp Dog’ and last year’s disco-tinged banger ‘Milkumana’ shine – the band’s presence and chemistry are a joy, their continued rise well-deserved.
Lights go dark and as five silhouettes take the stage, the sombre opening guitar line of ‘We Resist’ begins to sound throughout the arena – a reflective slow-burner from the band’s new album ‘Resist’ that speaks to the need to defy “those who sell fear.” As it draws to a close, the band pivot sharply into one of their earliest songs, with a triumphantly zealous performance of ‘Back On The Borderline’ from 1979’s ‘Head Injuries’.
It’s a testament to the Oils’ consistency that songs from ‘Resist’ like ‘Rising Seas’ and ‘At The Time Of Writing’, as well as ‘First Nation’ from last year’s excellent ‘The Makarrata Project’, fit as well into a setlist that draws from all corners of their lengthy catalogue, celebrating their enduring legacy.
When announcing that this tour would be their last, guitarist and keyboardist Jim Moginie explained that the band had been playing “intensely physical gigs” since their inception and didn’t ever want to compromise that.
Certainly, there’s no compromise here tonight. The band rip through the breakneck title track from 1998’s ‘Redneck Wonderland’ with ferocity, delivering crowd favourites like ‘The Dead Heart’, ‘Blue Sky Mine’ and ‘King Of The Mountain’ with all the dramatic aplomb they deserve.
Peter Garrett has always been a magnetic frontman and tonight’s no different, the 69-year-old rarely staying put anywhere on stage for too long. The rest of the band may not be as consistently animated, but together they’re a thrill to witness; Rob Hirst’s drum solo during ‘Power And The Passion’ is a particular highlight.
Leah Flanagan – one of the band’s two backing vocalists on their current tour, along with Liz Stringer – is absent, Garrett explains, due to “the dreaded C” (which the frontman himself recently caught). Nevertheless, Stringer alone is a force, elevating each song she performs on.
Of course, someone else is missing from the stage tonight. The Oils’ “brother in music” Bones Hillman died in 2020, and the shows are, in part, a tribute to the bassist who performed on all albums from 1990’s ‘Blue Sky Mining’ onwards. His touring replacement, Adam Ventoura, is a more than capable stand-in, deftly anchoring the songs with buoyancy and visibly stoked to be there.
Arenas are always a tricky balance, and Qudos – built as the Sydney Super Dome for the Olympics – sometimes falters in terms of sound. Nevertheless, the band take it in their stride, and it does little to dampen the atmosphere of the audience that fills out the enormous room.
Plus, what’s always underscored the Oils, that intersection of art and activism, is what takes centre stage this evening. Years of protest footage – both archival and more recent – project onto the screen behind the stage, along with images of the natural environment, both in its majesty, and its rapid deterioration from bushfires and flooding. Between songs, Garrett addresses the failures of the current ruling party, and the urgency needed to take dramatic action on climate change.
“Once upon a time, when you sang about politics, when you called out an empty piece of vacuity like the current prime minister – who doesn’t deserve that office – people would say, ‘Oh, I don’t know. Music and politics shouldn’t mix,’” Garrett explains at one point.
“As I remember, that former Tory Prime Minister, Mr. Howard said exactly the same thing. ‘You can’t mix them up, they’ve got nothing to do with one another.’ That’s not true. This is life that we sing about.”
As the one-two punch of ‘Beds Are Burning’ and ‘Hercules’ closes a 24-song journey through the Oils’ long and fierce career, it’s clear that the band are going out on top: seasoned performers as passionate and energised as ever, with their message of resistance – threaded through almost every element of tonight’s show – raging on.
Midnight Oil played:
- ‘We Resist’
- ‘Back On The Borderline’
- ‘At The Time Of Writing’
- ‘The Barka-Darling River’
- ‘Don’t Wanna Be The One’
- ‘Put Down That Weapon’
- ‘Stand In Line’
- ‘In The Valley’
- ‘US Forces’
- ‘Only The Strong’
- ‘The Dead Heart’
- ‘First Nation’
- ‘Redneck Wonderland’
- ‘Rising Seas’
- ‘Forgotten Years’
- ‘Power And The Passion’
- ‘Blue Sky Mine’
- ‘King Of The Mountain’
- ‘Best Of Both Worlds’
- ‘Wedding Cake Island’
- ‘Beds Are Burning’