O2 Academy Brixton, London
13th June 2019
Midnight Oil prove that they’ve still got the power and the passion as their 2019 World Tour made a pitstop at Brixton Academy in London. Louder Than War’s Andy Duke was on hand to take in the noise and discovered that wine is preferable to an elbow in the ribs.
An earlier version of myself sustained an injury at a London-based Midnight Oil gig many years ago. The band’s figurehead, Peter Garrett, made a cheeky but accurate comment onstage about their being “a lack of POMs” in the audience. With the speed of a ball being aggressively intercepted in Aussie Rules Football, a large antipodean fan elbowed me in the ribs while shouting “there’s one right here, mate”. Garrett heard this loud reply and giggled while saying “I can just about make out a few pale faces in the crowd”. It hurt to laugh, let alone move, for a good five weeks after enjoying my first experience of The Oils live. Fast forward to the present day and the veteran band’s loyal audience, while still largely emanating from down under, are a far more civilised entity here in the capital. But this time around, however, I’m treated to plonk rather than a punch. A couple who are visiting England from Adelaide are most accommodating. “We brought an extra glass. Would you like some?”, said one of the dynamic duo while simultaneously pouring Australian Shiraz into a plastic receptacle. I happily accepted their offer and heard tales of Midnight Oil’s many triumphant tours during the 1980s in Oz. A perfect way to prepare myself for the quartet’s welcome return to Blighty.
Before the band fully launch into The Dead Heart, the captive audience are already singing the track’s infectious vocal hook. “He looks exactly the same”, says a fan to his mate just behind me as Pete Garrett struts up to microphone like a teenager who is remotely being administered with sudden electric shocks. And he does look the same. The years have been very kind to the frontman and there’s no shortage of energy and ferocity during the band’s 22-song set. Everything is as you remember and expect. Hirst’s drums still have to be nailed down onto the riser to prevent them flying off and the twin guitars of Moginie and Rotsey are as tight and versatile as ever. Bones, still the ‘new boy’ to some fans despite being in the fold for three decades a la Ronnie Wood in the Stones, consistently delivers authoritative basslines that anchor the group’s highly dynamic set perfectly.
While the group are impressively reverential to the sounds of their recordings live, they’re not averse to adding modern flourishes to their more 1980’s sounding efforts. The Power And The Passion, for instance, is given a new lease of life and muscle onstage. Hirst augments the track with a percussion solo that’s performed on a vast steel drum that Slipknot would be envious of. The whole experience is a feast for the eyes and ears as guest Saxophonist Andrew Bickers adds an exciting layer of sound with solos that surf across Hirst’s wood-on-steel paradiddles.
Shortly after Garrett expresses his excitement to be back in the UK, he’s delivering amusing jibes about the state of our government and shows no fear in pulling punches about the ascent of Boris Johnson and the uncertainty of Brexit. He quickly balances his criticism of British politics by addressing concerns about the state of affairs in his own country. The former Australian Environment Minister manages to examine all of this without being preachy or bitter and there’s a decidedly inclusive element to his attitude. “We’ve got a themed night for those of you that have spent time under the Southern Cross or have just visited”, he says, before pointing out the significance of the large red backdrop that addresses the plight of native Australians. With the audience’s focus now on the words emblazoned behind the group, The Oils launch into an emotive version of Truganini.
With Hirst exchanging his full drum kit for a small upright version located by the edge of the stage, Midnight Oil begins the acoustic portion of their set of which a surprising highlight is US Forces. This is a belter of an offering in full live band mode yet it surprisingly loses none of its punch when stripped down to its bare essentials. I was initially reticent when the lads were setting up to ‘do a Nirvana’ and go unplugged but the power of the material has the ability to transcend the allure of overdriven amps and the wash of loud ringing cymbals. The small details matter that little bit more when going acoustic. Short Memory, for instance, features lush harmonies alongside a great piano solo from Jim Moginie that may have not have been appreciated as much if the group were at full tilt. The same can be said of Hirst’s pitch-perfect tenor vocals that dominate with impressive effortlessness on Kosciusko.
As much as I appreciate the ambitiousness and deft execution of the acoustic set, I feel a sense of relief with the return of the electric guitars and full drum kit. A string of hits follows including Blue Sky Mine, Beds Are Burning and the twin-Rickenbacker guitar assault of Forgotten Years. There’s no let-up in the energy stakes and it becomes crystal clear that this a band who at the top of their game.
While my new friends from Adelaide generously pour the last few drops of Shiraz into my cup during the outro to One Country, the band’s final song of the night, I scan the audience who are transfixed by these four sixty-somethings onstage. I look at Garrett who is still hopping around like a kangaroo possessed. A professional photographer averts my gaze with “that singer’s a nightmare to take photos of because he moves around so much”. As I felt my unbruised ribs and took that last delicious sip of Shiraz, it dawned on me that Midnight Oil’s audience may have mellowed with time. But the same can’t be said for the band themselves.
All words by Andy Duke. Andy Duke is a London based raconteur, musician, writer, collector of soda syphons and the man behind ‘The Dukey Radio Show’ podcast.