Midnight Oil @ Kuranda Ampitheatre, QLD, October 7 2017
Words Chris Mobbs
Sometimes a venue robs a gig of most of its sound and all of its fury – an aircraft hangar in North Melbourne that almost rhymes with ‘best-of-all small’ springs to mind. Then, sometimes a venue is so utterly imbued with atmosphere and character it’s virtually impossible for a band to fail. Midnight Oil are possessed of class and taste, and therefore booked a truly magical location for this Cairns-ish stop-off on their 2017 world beano: imagine The Thin Red Line with a brilliant PA and no guns or Sean Penn.
This “Great Circle” tour is heading into its home straight, with the Oils carrying a catalogue which weighs in at around 130 songs and counting. Think about that. Yet the only time 64-year-old Peter Garrett referred to a prompt for lyrics was during a Yothu Yindi cover (Treaty), 10 songs in.
By definition then, this is a tour for the tragics; those expecting two hours of Diesel and Dust and Blue Sky Mining will perhaps be disappointed. Try telling that to the Oils – they opened this gig with the cheeky gamble of Redneck. Many in the crowd seemed at best slightly puzzled.
But they’re a breathtaking band. There is such complexity in their songwriting and arrangements (you won’t hear US Forces on Australia’s Got The Voice any time soon), and yet they are PVC-tight. Guitarists Moginie (especially) and Rotsey chose unexpected inversions and fills, weaving from their Marshall and Vox, with a synchronicity only chronic bandmates can achieve.
The still, tropical night was a prayer answered for the sound tech and, after an early lack of bass was rectified, we were treated to a rare clarity in each slice of this sonic mango pie. The signature Oils sound was frequently of two or three voices in octave-divided union, and each rang clear and true into the night.
Pity the drum tech who has to cart a tin water tower around the world for his boss Rob Hirst. The iconic drummer, beneficiary of huge crowd affection, used it only during the Beds Are Burning crescendo but it too played its part – a symbolic Aussie cross between John Bonham’s gong and Lonnie Doneghan’s washboard. It somehow conjured blue skies and red dirt and all that sits between.
Meanwhile, Bones Hillman must have some nerve. To hold down bass and vocals while being danced at by a six-foot-five-inch amalgam of Michael Klim and Hong Kong Phooey must be unnerving, but he didn’t miss a note or a word. Which brings us to Garrett…
Cherish this man folks, for he is a unique treasure – physically of course, but vocally, and in his stage-craft, he is utterly compelling. Remove him from the mix and none of this works.
And yet the greatest vocal of this great Australian band has no words. With “do do do do do do do,” Midnight Oil showed us the difference between complex and clever, happy and sad, in seven notes. The minor-to-major change in that masterful melody from The Dead Heart changes mood and tone, and at this show it gives the crowd, punching the air, the euphoric release it craves.
A strict 10pm curfew brought the performance to an abrupt halt, but as we wove (or staggered) away into the lush arms of the Tablelands, none complained. We were witness to a show to be passed down in legend, like the Indigenous culture this great band champions so vehemently.
Essential Oils: The Great Circle Tour Edition is out now via Sony.