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Live Review and Photo Gallery: Midnight Oil at the Riviera Theatre • Chicago

| June 11, 2022

Midnight Oil

Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL

Friday, June 10, 2022

Review by Jeff Elbel; Photos by Curt Baran

It was the final hurrah in Chicago. The last dance. When Midnight Oil performed Friday night at the Riviera Theatre on what has been dubbed Resist: The Final Tour, the band and its dedicated fans joined forces to blow the roof off the building. The Australian rockers performed a pair of the most feral songs from the new album Resist early in the set, opening with the adrenaline-fueled optimism of “Nobody’s Child.” Technical issues with Garrett’s in-ear monitors plagued the performance of the 1993 single “Truganini,” but the trouble was swiftly overcome. The Oils resumed new fare with the surf-rock sound of “Undercover” and the politically-charged “The Barka-Darling River,” which drew upon imposing frontman Peter Garrett’s time as a Minister in Australia’s Parliament.

The eloquent singer spoke to the audience with words of welcome, adding that it was both a warm hello and bittersweet goodbye to longtime fans in town. “Chicago has always been a very strong town for us, and I’m not just saying it,” said Garrett. “It’s true.”

Garrett frequently spoke about the group’s foundation in progressive politics. He mentioned that the group was paying close attention while traveling to the special hearings on the January 6 insurrection and later criticized the cost of health care in the world’s wealthiest country. Other social and political issues were amply evident in the band’s songs and presentation. “Tarkine” was an environmental ode to Australia’s largest rainforest, driven by the soothing jangle of acoustic 12-string guitars. Rob Hirst’s kick drum bore the Resist album cover’s graph symbolic of the climate crisis, and the band’s backdrop featured a human hand holding a globe on fire. Haunting Diesel and Dust’s track “Put Down That Weapon” felt more relevant than ever following news of persistent gun violence. “It happens to be an emergency,” sang Garrett. Garrett also mentioned the band’s prior visit to Chicago during 2017’s Great Circle Tour, passing through the United States during a season he characterized as “Trumpistan.”

The activist band supported its uncompromising rhetoric with engaging songs and memorable melodies while exhibiting musical strength at every position. Drummer and songwriter Rob Hirst played jackhammer beats to songs, including the furious 1998 title track “Redneck Wonderland.” Hirst stepped to the front of the stage to play a minimalist cocktail drum set and stoke a rowdy singalong to the anti-interventionist/anti-nuclear “US Forces,” offset by sweet chorus harmonies reminiscent of The Hollies. Hirst sang lead vocal for the opening verses of Red Sails in the Sunset favorite “Kosciusko.” Garrett remarked on the name associated with the Kosciuszko Cab company in Chicago and Australia’s highest mountain peak.

Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Jim Moginie shifted from roaring power chords on tracks like “Only the Strong” to sinewy psychedelic leads during “Tone Poem.” He played an 8-string bouzouki on songs including the chugging “The Dead Heart,” trading licks shoulder to shoulder with spring-heeled lead guitarist Martin Rotsey while the audience sang with abandon. Moginie played bristling organ fills during “Blue Sky Mine” while Garrett blew his harmonica. Moginie and Rotsey intertwined lines again during a rafter-splitting version of “The Power and the Passion,” featuring baritone saxophone and Hirst’s muscular drum solo. The guitarists played chiming 12-string guitars for the anti-war anthem “Forgotten Years.” Rotsey lashed into his battered 1963 Fender Stratocaster during most of the set, playing an instrument revered among faithful fans for its use in the creation of Midnight Oil albums since 1979’s Head Injuries.

“First Nation” from 2020’s The Makarrata Project expressed the desire to provide justice and a voice in government to the original inhabitants of Australia. During the song, Garrett was joined at the front of the stage for a duet with background vocalist and opening act Leah Flanagan. The song echoed the sentiments of the global smash hit “Beds are Burning,” which the band performed to close the main set. The performances and banter underscored related concerns for the rights and treatment of indigenous Americans and got the crowd dancing in the process.

Bassist Adam Ventoura stood in for dearly-departed bassist Bones Hillman, who died from cancer in late 2020. Ventoura proved to be a deft and sturdy player, locking into propulsive grooves with Hirst during songs like “Gadigal Land” and playing nimble lines during the frenetic “Don’t Wanna Be the One” from 1981’s Place Without a Postcard. Background singer Liz Stringer joined voices with Flanagan on high harmony throughout the set and played acoustic rhythm guitar to add richness and depth to several songs.

Midnight Oil encored with a spirited version of “King of the Mountain.” Rotsey played a classic 12-string Rickenbacker while Hirst conjured bizarre sounds from his Gibson Les Paul and foot pedals. The band then finished with an ecstatic version of the Cold War-era nuclear protest of “Hercules,” joined by the audience at a fever pitch. “This is something I will remember,” sang Garrett and countless fans, encapsulating the sentiment of the evening.

In the end, the devoted audience’s wall-shaking response earned a rarity: an unscripted second encore. Despite the band’s well-deserved reputation for serious themes, the good-natured players were all smiles and offered lighthearted moments. After asking himself what night it was and quoting the “Saturday! Saturday!” chorus of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting),” Garrett course-corrected to Friday by singing the opening verse and chorus of Australian pop legends the Easybeats’ 1965 single “Friday on My Mind,” with wonky impromptu accompaniment by Moginie. Garrett praised the spirit of Illinois and spoke fondly of the relative global calm of an earlier presidential era without mentioning Barack Obama by name. When a fan threw an Australian flag into his hand, the fiercely proud Australian said he respected the flag but found it to be a bit “too British” and tossed it back. Garrett encouraged fans to take hold of the gears of government to build a better society as the band launched a white-hot version of “Dreamworld.” The Diesel and Dust favorite was followed by the first performance of firebrand “Best of Both Worlds” in many years. “Sing as if our hearts depend on it,” encouraged Garrett before the final song. “As they do.”

The band has described the decision to retire from the road as a way to maintain control of its destiny and legacy. The Oils began the process by releasing Resist, an album brimming with songs that stand among the best in a rich catalog. That quality was proven at The Riv. Despite Midnight Oil’s loss of a beloved band member, fans at the show will carry the memory of their heroes exiting the global stage in peak form and at full power.

SETLIST:

Nobody’s Child

Truganini

Undercover

The Barka-Darling River

Put Down That Weapon

Don’t Wanna Be the One

Redneck Wonderland

Tone Poem

First Nation

Gadigal Land

The Dead Heart

Tarkine

US Forces

Kosciusko

Only the Strong

Whoah

Blue Sky Mine

Power and the Passion

Beds Are Burning

Forgotten Years

Encore 1:

King of the Mountain

Hercules

Encore 2:

Dreamworld

Best of Both Worlds

 

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