Concert Review: Midnight Oil Burns Bright in Portland

Midnight Oil at Revolution Hall in Portland, OR

Finally. The Oils are back.

One band you thought lost in the annals of 1980s rock history, Australian rockers Midnight Oil made a triumphant return to Portland on Monday playing a blistering two-hour set to an ecstatic sold-out Memorial Day crowd at Revolution Hall.

It’s been a while since these guys performed on stage. Well, at least, before the current Great Circle 2017 World Tour which started in April. Lead singer Peter Garrett took some time off to put his money where his mouth is so-to-speak getting elected to the Australian House of Representatives so the band went on hiatus. It’s been 15 years since their last studio album and nearly as long since any semblance of a tour but for the fans these are not the forgotten years. Nor have Midnight Oil lost their ability to play.

Every song – every song – bested the original studio versions.

Monday’s show defined a rock concert performance. The Oils played 23 songs covering all the favorite radio staples that put them on the charts in the United States, a number of deep album cuts and perhaps a few only the Powderworkers probably appreciate.

Midnight Oil started the night with the rocking “Redneck Wonderland” off the 2002 album of the same name followed by “Best of Both Worlds” and the moving, but so very fitting, “Armistice Day” the only cut off 1981’s Place Without a Postcard with Garrett changing one section of lyrics to “Memorial Day.”

The contemplative “Antarctica” the final track off their smash Blue Sky Mining was oh so good, and they mixed it up on “The Dead Heart” with an acoustic opening that led into the traditional version which started a string of their most popular fare – “Beds are Burning” featured some cool guitar effects, “Blue Sky Mining,” and stellar guitar interplay from guitarists Martin Rotsey and Jim Moginie on the great “The Forgotten Years” which closed out the opening set.

Midnight Oil returned for two encores the first featured three songs ending with the awesome “Dreamworld” off 1997’s Diesel & Dust and finally closing the show with “Tin Legs and Tin Mines” and “King of the Mountain.” The setlist touched every album (thankfully the totally under appreciated “Golden Age” off their “latest” album Capricornia made it) except their eponymous debut from 1978.

Leave it to the Australians to decide whether Garrett was a force to reckon with while in office, but who could disagree that he’s certainly one on stage. Nominate him for the hardest working man in music, please, because even at 64 he put on his own show as only a leading frontman can do. Gregarious, animated and sometimes over the top wild gestures, he looks a bit like a towering Michael Stipe with the antics of OMD‘s Andy McCluskey. Garrett’s vocals stood up the entire evening and with such a strong cast of musicians around him it was one of those shows that started with a bang and never had an ounce of whimper.

Rotsey and Moginie traded on solos while Moginie also took to the piano playing beautifully on “Short Memory,” but so special was the two playing, often the same chords and notes together tightly, perfectly synced – totally killed it on “Truganini” – giving all the songs so much balance and life. Don’t think bassist Bones Hillman was a background shadow offering set-up beats either and drummer Ron Hirst was sometimes nearly as fun to watch as Garrett. Midway through the set starting with “When the Generals Talk” Rotsey and Moginie traded in the electrics for acoustics while Hirst effectively used a simple snare/cymbal set-up as the five-some and Jack Howard, who piped in the occasional horn, worked the stage upfront and slowed the pace a bit.

OK, Midnight Oil doesn’t shy away from speaking about politics or other world affairs. It’s pretty much how they got started. And how they rose to fame. But thankfully Garrett doesn’t preach, because well you know we attend for entertainment purposes of hearing a great rock concert. Instead he gives mostly respectable quick bites in between songs. He doesn’t like jet skis. And wonders about a world with less for military budgets and more for those helping with peace efforts.

Alas, no surprise, he doesn’t like President Donald Trump though he seemed surprised at the number of professing supporters at a recent show in New York after calling for a show of hands. He sort of, kind of, asked for a show of hands in Portland but seemed to recuse himself and got on with the show.

Yes, Midnight Oil practically exemplifies politics and social justice and the environment and all that but it just seems inappropriate when a band hailing from another country attacks the sitting president of the country they’re touring freely and making money and entertaining and all that. Seriously, what good could come from the Foo Fighters verbally attacking Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull while on tour Down Under? NOTHING. A last minute jab at Jared Kushner (huh?) “and the creeps in the White House” near the end of the show was uncalled for and hardly left an impression.

But, Garrett also led a minute of silence for those slain in Portland on Friday trying to protect two women (one a Muslim) from harassment by a deranged, white supremacist, fanatical Bernie Sanders supporter with sympathies to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and hatred towards Christians and Muslims. Despite a packed house, you could hear yourself breathing. It was a moving, rather emotional and something to experience. Thanks, Mr. Garrett.

Fortunately, the Oils seem rejuvenated with no plans to disappear again. Supposedly a new album is in the works. And based on this success of this tour, expect Midnight Oil to return but probably not in the small, intimate, grand venue that is Revolution Hall.

Midnight Oil – Great Circle Tour Setlist in Portland:

1. Redneck Wonderland
2. Best of Both Worlds
3. Armistice Day
4. Say Your Prayers
5. Stand In Line
6. Put Down That Weapon
7. Golden Age
8. Sins of Omission
9. Truganini
10. When the Generals Talk
11. Short memory
12. Luritja Way
13. Kosciusko
14. Antarctica
15. The Dead Heart
16. Beds Are Burning
17. Blue Sky Mine
18. Forgotten Years
19. Mountains of Burma
20. Don’t Wanna Be The One
21. Dreamworld
22. Tin Legs and Tin Mines
23. King of the Mountain



4 thoughts on “Concert Review: Midnight Oil Burns Bright in Portland

  1. As an Australian let me say that the Foo’s are welcome to have a crack at any of our politicians (small price to pay to get them down here 🙂 ). Bulls**t knows no boundaries.

  2. I saw the Oils’ shows in Seattle and Vancouver this week and I thought you wrote a pretty fair review of what it’s like experiencing them live.

    You lost me though when your review went off the rails into political diatribe. Why shouldn’t Peter Garrett criticize the President of the United States? Any true Oils’ fan knows that speaking out against greed, stupidity, and environmental destruction is something this band has consistently done for forty years. To suggest that it’s hypocritical for the Oils to say anything negative in, or about, this country because they’re getting for playing is a specious argument.

    And what’s with the insinuation that the recent horrible killings in Portland are somehow related to Bernie Sanders? The Son of Sam Killer got his instructions from a dog. I don’t suspect you hold dogs, or dog lovers, responsible for him, do you?

  3. Saw the Oils in Philly in May. “Defined a rock concert performance” is not hype, but the truth.

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