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Live Review and Gallery: Midnight Oil at the Vic Theatre

| May 19, 2017

Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil. Photo by Curt Baran


Midnight Oil
The Vic Theatre
May 18, 2017

The glorious roar and jangle of Midnight Oil’s twin guitars and the band’s righteous fury have been sorely missed by many fans in Chicago since their last date here in 2002, when the group headlined Taste of Chicago in support of the Capricornia album. The politically-charged Australian quintet was forced into idle when Peter Garrett left for a career of public service in his country’s parliament. But on Thursday night they were back, larger than life and absolutely ferocious.

Recent set lists have shown how deeply Midnight Oil dug into its catalog to prepare for The Great Circle 2017 world tour. With well over a hundred songs apparently at the ready, the Chicago audience got the first performance of a very special treat.

The set began with a moody, red-lit “Outside World.” During an intense performance of the politically scathing “Short Memory,” birthday boy Jim Moginie alternated between jazz-inflected piano and a brooding synthesizer lead reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” Afterward, Garrett noted, “The things we were writing and singing about then have got this strange habit of meaning as much today as they did when they were first recorded.”

A buzz began traveling the room as it dawned upon longtime fans what was happening. Before launching into “US Forces,” the silver-tongued, fast-talking Garrett revealed the plan. “We’re like an endangered species of mollusk, or Australian mole that slowly makes its way under the ocean floor of the South Pacific to pop up beneath the Great Lakes and play the whole of 10-to-1 for you,” he announced to ecstatic cheers. The band continued, performing mainstays from 1982’s 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 like “Read About It” in addition to rarely-aired songs “Scream in Blue” and “Somebody’s Trying to Tell Me Something.” During “Tin Legs and Tin Mines,” Garrett ad-libbed one of several digs at the current US administration, singing, “Hey, Vladimir, come on down! Your friends are over here.”

The Oils also presented a couple of rarities recently released on their deck-clearing Overflow Tank set, performing “Spirit of the Age” and “Ships of Freedom.” During one of his frequent bursts of motivational banter, Garrett declared that two of the Oils’ driving forces were human rights and respect for Mother Earth. “Ships of Freedom” addressed the first of those convictions, with a chorus that implored, “Don’t turn back the ships of freedom, back to the South China Sea. Can you imagine the first taste of freedom for the refugee?” The words may have been written about concerns closer to home, but they were clearly meant to resonate with the tinderbox topic here. Speaking on the subjects of universal health care and compulsory voting, the retired-but-still-opinionated statesman remarked, “We don’t call it socialism. We actually call it common sense.”

An acoustically-oriented set during the middle of the show kept things simmering. Drummer Rob Hirst left his riser to play a stand-up cocktail kit at the front of the stage, taking lead vocal for “Kosciusko” and “When the Generals Talk.” The latter song provided a light moment when Hirst paused to take a second crack at his cannon-fire flams during the intro. “Let’s try that again, with the snares on,” he said, flipping the lever at the side of his drum. The corporate “generals” cited on the Red Sails in the Sunset album were updated to reflect the group’s collective take on the current political climate. Instead of General Motors, General Credit and General Insurance, Garrett called out General Confusion, Deception, Incompetence and Malfeasance. “They’re the worst generals of all, you know,” he sang in conclusion.

Even when keeping steady time during a chiming pop-rocker like “Forgotten Years,” Hirst hammered his kit (and battered water tank) as if his life depended upon it. The beaming smile permanently affixed to his face, however, seemed to be borne of pride and joy at having his band back together and fighting fit. The players may be 15 years older than when they last stopped by, but no element of chemistry was missing.

When Moginie and spring-heeled guitarist Martin Rotsey stood side by side to weave intertwining guitar figures on popular singles like “Truganini” and “Dreamworld,” the years vanished in a flurry of shimmering 12-string guitars. Bones Hillman was the consummate bassist, alternating between pivotal countermelodies and deep grooves with Hirst, while keeping the high harmonies with a voice clear as a bell. Jack Howard of Australian band Hunters and Collectors provided support on keyboard, percussion and vocal, and took the important brass parts on songs like “The Dead Heart,” “Beds are Burning” and “Power and the Passion.”

Garrett’s voice itself was powerful and passionate, from early songs including a feral “Only the Strong,” all the way to the spine-tingling conclusion of a positively euphoric “Sometimes,” as sweat flung from his glistening bald head. When he wasn’t singing, Garrett’s enthusiasm ran unabated and unfiltered through his signature spastic dance moves, as if his limbs were electrically forced into involuntary motion by the music around him. Collectively, the Oils proved more than ready to take on all comers for the title of world’s most exhilarating live rock band.

-Reviewed by Jeff Elbel; Photos by Curt Baran


Outside World
Only the Strong
Short Memory
Read About It
Scream in Blue
US Forces
Power and the Passion
Tin Legs and Tin Mines
Somebody’s Trying to Tell Me Something
My Country
When the Generals Talk
Spirit of the Age
Ships of Freedom
The Dead Heart
Beds Are Burning
Blue Sky Mine
Encore 1:
Put Down That Weapon
Forgotten Years
Encore 2:


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Category: IE Photo Gallery, Live Reviews

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Comments (6)

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  1. Joseph Miller says:

    It was a fantastic show! I had not seen them perform since September 1990 at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall.

  2. Andrew Playford says:

    Thank you.
    So looking forward to Denver. Wish they were playing Red Rock Amphitheatre.

  3. Valliere Jones says:

    Great review of a phenomenal show! It was fun standing next to you at the rail, Jeff!

  4. Jeff Elbel says:

    Thanks a million, Valliere! It was fantastic meeting you at the show.

  5. Anzac Jay says:

    We are so lucky that Pete & the boys live here…

  6. Jill franklin says:

    Best show ever had front row and my dream came true seeing them as i been a fan since 1980 and never got to see them live was simply amazing