It's One For The Road for Midnight Oil

ONE FOR THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED

Midnight Oil - Palais Theatre 14th September 2022.

Tonight at the Palais Theatre has to rank right up there as one of the most anticipated gigs this year: Midnight Oil reconvening for ‘One For The Road’, their farewell Melbourne concert. 

For those not fortunate enough to be seeing them in Canberra or Sydney over the coming days, it was the final opportunity to catch the band. And as expected, tickets were hotly contested for these final gigs – with demand far exceeding supply. Many were left ticketless with no other option but to live vicariously via a few video livestreams.

After delivering ‘One for the Planet’ on Monday evening, expectations were running at fever pitch - it had been an incredible performance few would dispute was up there with the best they’d ever seen. They’d blindsided us with a 150 minute setlist stacked with deep cuts and rarities and their watershed ’10-1’ album played in its entirety.

Tonight the fans were out in force and within seconds of doors opening, the line for official merchandise snaked up the stairs of the Palais, completely encircling the upstairs balcony. As we waited for the queue to slowly slither its way back down the stairs to the counter below, it was a fantastic opportunity to meet strangers who through the commonality of loving the Oils would soon be friends, and swap war stories. Everyone had their own ideas about which way the band would go. Some thought we might hear ‘Place Without A Postcard’ in its entirety,  others hoped for tracks from ‘Powderworks’ or the ‘Blue Meanie’.

Advertised as a three-hour gig with no support, it begged several questions. Would the band still have gas in the tank to comfortably make it to the end of such a long set? Also, if you’ve just played a blinder, what does any sensible band do to follow it? If you’re the unpredictable Oils, you probably don’t try to top it but change tack completely.

Early on in the evening, Garrett posed the dilemma the band had been wrestling with right back at us…

“So, which song has meaning? Words that were intended to land somewhere, occasionally to grow seeds, move mountains, end up being recycled and showing up somewhere else, even if they got nicked it didn’t really matter. We’re going to go on a little tour de force. A bit of geography as we drift around the wonderful terra australis.”

A few songs in and it became apparent that we were witnessing another rarity of sorts. The band, renown for their ‘flat chat’ approach, seemed to be taking their foot off the pedal slightly, slowing down to take in the scenery and reflect more on the actual journey. It was also a trip along a somewhat less travelled path. A twenty nine song travelogue of sorts. 

During the evening, we also saw the band dust down rarely played songs, like ‘Common Ground’ from 1996’s ‘Breathe’

“One of the things we were talking about was playing the songs that people haven’t heard before because sometimes songs just take up into the ether and other ones, they kind of slide around with the lizards and the native grasses, and others end up unloved for years.”

With the Oils, politics is something that is never far from the surface. It’s an underpinning factor in pretty much everything they do and it wasn’t long before there was also this reflection from Peter.

“Politics is life, it’s not an optional extra in this world, as I think everyone fully understands when they’re watching non-democratic nations make a mess of things… I remember a time some years ago when people were getting fed up - this is before I was up there in Canberra - everyone thought, ‘Jeez, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have Paul Hogan as president of Australia…’ And people’s minds sort of thinking ‘yeah not bad… barbecues, beer, jokes… that sounds like a pretty good idea…’ They might have voted him in and found out that Paul Hogan was actually terribly fascistic… deterministically wanting to put people in jail because he didn’t agree with what they said. Now, I’m not saying that Paul is actually like that at all by the way… but there are plenty of people who are. That’s why we preciously preserve every little bit of what we have in this wonderful world, including our rights to say it as we feel, and vote for who we want to.”

The band appeared remarkably fresh after Monday’s epic gig but also seemed slightly more measured on stage, keeping a lid on the emotion of the occasion. Peter even remarked as much at one stage, saying if they didn’t keep it in check, they probably wouldn’t get through the enormity of the evening.

The Oils still possess plenty of power to accompany the passion. Peter’s primal howl at the end of ‘Nobody’s Child’ was jaw-dropping, ‘Redneck Wonderland’ aurally shirt-fronted everyone in the house. Warakurna’s anthemic chant of ’This land must change or land must burn’ reminded us of the incredible ‘conscience-pricking’ impact that typified the Oils during their Diesel & Dust phase.

Peter donned a "I Stand With Ukraine" t-shirt for a brilliant bracket of songs dealing with the subject of ‘Home’. This segment began with ‘My Country’ and ‘In The Valley’ featuring superb backing vox from Adam Ventoura, taking Bones’ parts. Pete took a short vocal breather to dance along to ‘Wedding Cake Island’ while Rob fired up to the cocktail kit at the front of the stage to provide a sense of immediacy and help power the quieter bracket along. They played:

My Country
In The Valley
Luritja Way
Wedding Cake Island
Wind In My Head

Kosciusko marked the turning point on the show where the band went back into overdrive. What followed was an unforgettable ten song masterclass that mixed the quirky offbeat Moginie and Rotsey guitar interplay of earlier material with the heady heights of Oil’s commerciality. Rapturous.

Some Kids
Cold Cold Change
Koala Sprint
Who Can Stand In The Way
We Are Not Afraid
Power and the Passion
Dead Heart
Brave Faces
Blue Sky Mine
Forgotten Years

After a brief towel down and breather, the band responded to the baying call of ‘Oiiillllllls’ and returned to encore.

Armistice Day
Beds Are Burning
Hercules

It's fair to say that we'll all have different highlights when we think back on this show but isn't that the mark of a great performance?

Personally, hearing ‘Wedding Cake Island’ live for the first time, a blitzing ‘Kosciusko’ where the band just took flight once Rob returned to the main kit and then the collective lump in the throat moment when the crowd sang the refrain from ‘Hercules’ back at the band, will always be ‘something I will remember’.

It has to be said too, that any opportunity to witness this band perform as they are currently, at the height of their shared power and passion, is an absolute privilege and honour. Honourable mention must go to Adam Ventura who has learnt over ninety songs during his short tenure with the band, a list to which the band take great delight in changing, just to keep him on his toes. He has grown into the role formidably, playing strongly and faithfully, just as Bones Hillman would have wanted it.

In a time where nothing is promised, one thing is still a dead cert. Midnight Oil fans have always been able to rely on their band to deliver the goods. Over decades of touring and recording, they have proven themselves formidably principled, caring and energetic.

And nothing encapsulates their mandate better than these lyrics from 2021’s ‘Nobody’s Child’.

‘Yeah, beauty, love, and compassion
Look around the world
'Cause nothing less will do
Yeah, I say beauty, love, and compassion
Spread it everywhere
'Cause nothing less will do’

Setlist 
One For The Road (Melbourne - Sept 14)

Read About It
Don’t Wanna Be The One
Nobody’s Child
Stars Of Warburton
Under The Overpass
First Nation
Bullroarer
Redneck Wonderland
Common Ground
Warakurna
————
My Country
In The Valley
Luritja Way
Wedding Cake Island
Wind In My Head
Kosciusko
————
Some Kids
Cold Cold Change
Koala Sprint
Who Can Stand In The Way
We Are Not Afraid
Power and the Passion
Dead Heart
Brave Faces
Blue Sky Mine
Forgotten Years
————
Armistice Day
Beds Are Burning
Hercules

A scrunched-up provisional set list rescued from the venue as we were leaving, reveals that ‘Surfing With A Spoon’ from the debut album ‘The Blue Meanie’ was originally slated for inclusion before the set list was altered. So it appears its exclusion on the night was an oversight or just down to human error.

Words by Harry Williams
Photography by CarbieWarbie
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