Almanac Music – Midnight Oil at Kuranda: Still burning

Midnight Oil at Kuranda Amphitheatre, Queensland.

 

October 7, 2017.

 

It is a rare case of my being able to line up all my ducks in a row. At the tail end of a week-long holiday in Far North Queensland, I am driving up the winding road up to Kuranda, some 25 ks from Cairns. My wife Marg is in the hire car, as well as my old primary-school mate Matt and his wife Maree. We are on our way to see Midnight Oil. Family, friends, holiday, the Oils. I have actually managed to get this right.

 

I knew nothing about the Kuranda Amphitheatre, but when the gates open and we surge through the narrow entry-way with the rest of the early-birds, I am immediately struck by the beauty and intimacy of the venue. Its capacity is only 3,500. The tiers have a gradient steep enough to ensure it is impossible for anyone to have a poor sight line to the stage. The four of us stake our claim only 40 metres from the stage. Support act, rapper Urthboy, provides an entertaining set, and he seems stoked by the crowd’s genuine enthusiasm. It can never be easy being the warm-up for a much-anticipated main act.

 

Night falls, and a full moon reveals itself above the surrounding rainforest. The temperature remains a pleasant 26 degrees. The stage lights dim. And with no fanfare, suddenly here they are, launching into the opening track ‘Redneck Wonderland’. Peter Garrett bounds across the stage looking his old imposing self, impressively active for a man of 64. The band then move straight into ‘Read About It’, and the crowd is roaring. I turn to Matt and laugh, “This is like being transported back in time!” Along with a few mates, we first saw Midnight Oil in 1982 at the Astor Theatre in Prahran. Matt nods “They are on fire!” Garrett still sounds the same too, but then again the strength of Oils songs was always in the message, not the voice with which they were sung.

 

The acoustics in this place are fabulous, the band is indeed on fire, and are obviously enjoying performing. In truth, I had been a little suspicious of the Oils’ motives for reforming and embarking on the massive Great Circle world tour. In the past I have been witness to some appalling gigs by once-adored acts (no names, no pack-drill) who had obviously only returned for one last superannuation top-up. But this night is so obviously different: Midnight Oil are fit and in top form. Rob Hirst’s powerhouse drumming has not dropped off one iota and Jim Moginie remains the band’s driving force musically, on both guitar and keys. Possibly the only concession to the march of time has been the loss of force in Hirst, Martin Rotsey and Bones Hillman’s backing vocals, so pivotal to the band’s sound. Jack Howard from Hunters and Collectors is an excellent inclusion on trumpet. Unsurprisingly, Peter Garrett remains a compelling and eye-catching presence on stage.

 

It is a rip-roaring set, with many highlights. Surprisingly, Garrett does not talk too much between tracks, and definitely does not preach. This is possibly an acknowledgement that the band is playing to a crowd of 40, 50, and 60 year-olds; largely, our life choices have been made, we have made our political and philosophical choices. We are no longer an audience of teenagers searching for issues on which to hang our hats. Garrett realises this – and maybe even he has been bruised by his time in federal politics? But he cannot resist having a dig at Pauline Hansen (despite the possibility that 20% of the crowd could be her constituents). Unsurprisingly, given we are in Far North Queensland, the Adani coal mine and its effect on the Great Barrier Reef rightly gets plenty of airtime throughout the night.

 

I fall totally under the spell of a cracking show. It is beautiful to see my wife dancing joyously, enraptured by one of the favourite bands of her youth. Maree and Matt are also up and about. And why not? The final five songs ‘Warakurna’, ‘The Dead Heart’, ‘Blue Sky Mine’, ‘Don’t Wanna Be The One’, ‘King of the Mountain’ bring the set to a crescendo, and the crowd is pleading for more, chanting “Oils, Oils”. They are back, of course, for a mighty encore (‘Beds Are Burning’, ‘Power and the Passion’, ‘Best of Both Worlds’) and then they are gone, too quickly it seems, leaving us now only with the memory of a brilliant show. And I am chuffed that I have managed, for once, to get the stars to align.

 

The drive back down to Cairns is slow, but we don’t care, as we are buzzing. The following afternoon, the four of us convene for a debrief in the rundown Great Barrier Reef Hotel on the Cairns waterfront. There are few punters about. We rave about the show, and about how brilliant a band Midnight Oil was and still are.

 

We observe that the issues Midnight Oil began introducing to us when we were 16 years old – indigenous rights and reconciliation (‘The Dead Heart’, ‘Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers‘), the consequences of mining (‘Blue Sky Mine’), American influences (‘US Forces’), individual rights (‘Stand In Line’) to name a few – are just as relevant and seemingly unresolved today, some 35 years on. And we wonder what that says about our country.

 

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About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. Brilliant Smokie. How is old Pink Batts Pete these days? Good to hear that they can still belt out their big songs!

    Love the Oils. Right up there in Aussie rock greats.

  2. Anthony W Collins says:

    I attended their concert in Townsgrad, it was outstanding. There were more seniors cards than student cards, my guess was that the average age was over 45. The Oils smashed it. There was dancing in the stands. Garrett engaged in some politicking … after all Townsville and Adani go hand in hand. When he “bagged out” Carmichael Mine there was plenty of support … but … one lone voice of dissent was heard to suggest volubly that Mr Garrett undertake some “sex and travel”.
    The oils were energetic and entertaining with all my expectations met.

  3. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great stuff Smoke. I’m going to Cup eve gig at Sidney Myer music Bowl.

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Excellent Smokie,
    Oils at their peak were hard to beat. Always thought Rob Hirst’s drum work was superb. Wish Garrett never went into politics. He came out looking pretty neutered. At least the great music remains.

  5. E.regnans says:

    Wow.
    A lot to like there, Smokie.
    Ducks all lined up perfectly.

    I’ll be off to the Music Bowl too, Starks.
    I think I’m there the day after the Cup.

    If Julia Zemiro ever asks me, I’ll answer: Oils at the tennis centre; Blue Sky Mining Tour.

  6. Great stuff, Smokie. Fantastic part of the world. Although it’s been five or six years, Port Douglas still had a country town hiding beneath the day spas and resorts. The Combined Services Club overlooking the channel is a ripper.

    Good to see that The Oils were in form too. I’d love to see them play, “Place Without A Postcards” from start to finish.

    I wonder if this’ll be it, or they’ll record something?

  7. John Butler says:

    Ah Smokie. I Do Wanna Be The One! The one who was at this show.

    Great stuff.

  8. Everything’s set, everything’s fine, just gotta stand in line…….
    Can’t wait until the music bowl gig in November.
    Taking my 20 yo son along to show him what all the fuss is about.
    Here’s hoping he’s not too embarrassed!
    A set full of midnight oil self titled to 10-1 would be perfect, Mickey!

  9. A reawakening Smoke. And in FNQ. Brilliant.

    Phil, I agree re politics and Peter Garrett. It’s actually an interesting study of party discipline and why in my view art trumps politics.

    Gulbo, imagine that, political engagement in Queensland over development.

  10. Thanks for the comments, one and all.
    As someone who attends plenty of shows (not quite as many as A Fithall), this truly one of the best I have been to.
    Dips, they can indeed still belt them out!
    Anthony, how good? How bloody good?
    Lord B, I reckon Garrett has been left bruised by his time in federal politics – and that’s not surprising. Hirst is still one of the best on the drums.
    Starkers & e.r., I am off to the Bowl on Cup Eve also. These MMB shows will be huge events.
    Mickey, I see the Oils have announced a small benefit show in Freo at which they will be playing 10,9,8 from start to finish. There hasn’t been any talk of what will follow this tour, but they still have fire in the belly.
    JB, it was a seminal gig.
    Belly, your son will love it.
    JTH, it was indeed a re-awakening.

  11. Anthony W Collins says:

    Smokie, I was utterly gobsmacked by how good the Oils were my only regret is that they didn’t play “Sometimes” in Townsville. It has kept me going from time to time.

    I know that the sunset empire shudders and shakes
    I know there’s a floodgate and a raging river
    I say the silence of the ribbons of iron and steel
    I say hear the punch drunk huddle drive hammer and steel

    Sometimes you’re beaten to the call
    Sometimes you’re taken to the wall
    But you don’t give in

    I know that the cannibals wear smart suits and ties
    I know they arm wrestle on the altar
    I say don’t leave your heart in a hard place

    Sometimes you’re shaken to the core
    Sometimes the face is gonna fall
    But you don’t give in

    Always the line ‘But you don’t give in” came to my aid.

    They gave a beautiful performance of In the Valley”.

  12. bruce dowsing says:

    Smokie, they played in Singapore at the Star Theater and were brilliant-just like I remembered them at Selina’s in Sydney in the 80’s. Only hassle was that the theater and mall it is within are owned by an evangelical church so there was only one bar in the entire mall. Given the concert punters were mostly Aussies, Poms and other expats the bar was overwhelmed and frustration all ’round. AWC; the Oils played “Sometimes”. Their set changes virtually every gig so there will be someone’s favorite missing; nevertheless it was such a pleasure to see and hear them live again after their brief reformation for the fire relief concert at the G several years ago. For those with tix, you are in for a treat.

  13. Gentlemen, this little show at Flem Ken Bowls Club celebrating the Oils may be of interest:
    http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/celebrate-the-oils-at-the-flem-ken-bowls-club/

    PS: Think I was at the Astor in ’82. Ears are still ringing.

  14. Luke Reynolds says:

    Smokie, fantastic review. What an amazing, and apt, place to see the Oils I’m sure.

    My first gig was seeing the Oils in Geelong. My ears rung for two days. Had never seen a man (Garrett) sweat so much.

    Can’t wait to see them again at the Music Bowl in a few weeks. With The Smith St Band as a support!

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