There was a sniff of the Midnight Oil vibe before you even entered the venue, with Adani coal mine protesters, complete with politician masks, making their point outside the entrance. We missed Something for Kate’s opening song, due to the venue’s strict interpretation of ‘no backpacks’ irrespective that the bag was no bigger than some shoulder bags being brought in. However, that was soon forgotten in the euphoria of the band’s ‘Cigarettes and Suitcases’.
Having begun in a later period than the Oils, SFK may have been an unknown quantity to some long-time Oils fans. They should have been won over by the tide of passion projected by Paul Dempsey and the combination of hypnotising melodies, meaningful yet mysterious lyrics and the power of the undertow rhythms in the band’s songs. Bassist Stephanie Ashworth and Dempsey faced each other in their frequent mini jams, while drummer Clint Hyndman gritted his teeth in exertion. Ashworth balanced bass and maracas while the fourth touring member (Wally Gunn) jumped between guitar and keyboards. They reached a peak of energy in ‘Electricity’ and delivered a cool cover of Hüsker Dü’s ‘Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely’. It was great to hear oldies like ‘Captain’ again, before the band wrapped up with ‘Déjà Vu’.
The Oils all came on stage together, with no delayed entry show pony stunts for front man Peter Garrett. He switched on his staccato, robot-like gestures for opener ‘Outside World’, channelling a little Michael Jackson in the movements. His amazing energy was displayed when he amped up the tempo in ‘Only the Strong’. Garrett’s hands moved more than his legs, and his beckoning to the crowd drew a rapturous response. ‘Truganini’ saw Garrett do his signature spinning moves, as his dome shone increasingly brightly as the perspiration flowed.
There were references to his time in Canberra as a Senator: “Being in Canberra has some pungency for me, but there will be no political comment for at least five minutes.” He also thanked any punters who may have worked in the government departments he had responsibility for. A local reference was slipped into ‘No Time for Games’ (about hothouse children) with a reference to, “No time for roundabouts at Wanniassa.”
While social commentary was spread throughout the setlist, including a song about a solar powered ship that cleans up plastic, the serious spoken messages came later in the show. Garrett questioned why there had been no serious move on a treaty with the First Peoples, and condemned both the proposed Adani coal mine and the attitude to climate change portrayed by the government. The band’s tradition of making statements in its clothing continued, with ‘no violence against women’ and ‘Yes’ tee shirts on display.
Guitarist Jim Moginie took the lead on keys for ‘My Country’ while drummer Rob Hirst switched between his drum kit and the ‘cocktail kit’ at front of stage, which featured in ‘Short Memory’. The gear included The Oils’ corrugated iron water tank, which Hirst played upon in the closer ‘Power and the Passion’. Bones Hillman took his acoustic bass for a wander amongst the punters, siting in the pews, and accidentally squashing a muffin in a punter’s bag. There were covers too, including Yothu Yindi’s ‘Treaty’ and ‘Sorry’ in honour of the just recently departed George Young of the Easybeats and songwriting fame. Audience participation peaked in ‘US Forces’, with the crowd singing most of the first verse to give Garrett a brief rest, and in singing the opening doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo’s at the launching of ‘The Dead Heart’.