“This means a great deal to us, and there’s quite a lot of emotion in the room for us, so we’ll let the music do it for us,” Peter Garrett, frontperson for “The Oils,” as their fans call them, said before the last encore of the last performance Midnight Oil would give in the States.
“The first time we jumped in one of those big planes with the kangaroo on the tail with a stop in Honolulu on the way we got up to San Fransisco — I think we played a sketchy club to about 400 people; 300 people didn’t know what we were singing about, didn’t have any idea,” Peter added. But at the MGM National Harbor theater Saturday night, in front of a sold-out audience, everyone knew what this band — who started out nearly 50 years ago — was singing about. Singing with an urgency that remains as vital now as it did back then.
Midnight Oil is one of those rare creatures that has become more important over the decades than, perhaps, at any time before. Songs such as “Armistice Day” is just as moving and important as the songs on their recently released RESIST — the last with bandmate Bones Hillman, who passed away in late 2020.
Taking the darkened red-lit stage, the band started on the meditative “We Resist,” setting the table for two and a half hours of love, rage, and tears as fans of Midnight Oil shared in this communion one more time. Following with newer songs, “At The Time of Writing” and “The Barka-Darling River,” you could feel how electric (both figurative and literal) the messenger was. Peter’s manic delivery as vibrant as ever, playing off guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey as he seemed to beckon to the crowd. But it was drummer Rob Hirst who appeared a man possessed with an unending energy as the camera picked up on the magic being cast from the oft-flung drum sticks.
One of the subjects Midnight Oil has become a passionate advocate of has been putting an eye on the harm that colonialism has had on the First Nations people of Australia and, really, around the globe. The most searing example of this is in the song “Gadigal Land,” and witnessing it live was powerful as singers Leah Flannigan and Liz Stringer lifted the chorus — one of the tightest performances I think I’ve ever seen — as New Zealander, Andy Bickers on saxophone set a tone that cut through that rich sound held down by bass player, Adam Ventoura.
Noting the recent US Supreme Court decision that stripped the protections for millions of women to legal autonomy, Peter came back to the stage for the first of two encores with a t-shirt stating, “To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men.”
“We recognize some of the decisions we’ve taken some people probably don’t agree with,” Garrett told the audience. “For that reason they’ll probably take to heart one of your great pop-rock singers and guitarists,” before going into “I Won’t Back Down,” by the great Tom Petty — a fantastic rendition that had Peter Garrett reaching out into the crowd for one of the last times.
Watch the official music video for “We Resist” by Midnight Oil on YouTube:
After the first encore, the band returned. “So I guess we’re not going home,” Peter quipped, before Midnight Oil performed two more finishing this last concert with the great “King of the Mountain,” getting this crowd moving back and forth — “Across the wilderness / Out further than the bush / I will follow you, I will follow you…” A brilliantly moving finish by a band who not only puts on a great performance but who still keep the pulse of the world that it inhabits.
Midnight Oil wraps their final tour across Europe in the coming month. Certainly a band whose presence will remain a beacon in coming years.
The brilliantly extensive set list included:
At the Time of Writing
The Barka-Darling River
Sell My Soul
The Dead Heart
Only the Strong
Blue Sky Mine
Back on the Borderline
Beds Are Burning
Power and the Passion
I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty cover)
Now or Never Land
King of the Mountain
Here are more photos of Midnight Oil performing at MGM National Harbor on June 25, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.