The world needs Midnight Oil.
The world needs Midnight Oil. A week before the band, defunct since 2002 (barring a brief 2009 reunion), announced its reformation and subsequent world tour in February, I sat listening to Diesel and Dust, lamenting to my wife that I would love to see them again. After the election of Donald Trump, the group’s brand of agit-pop music was sorely missed, a clarion call to push against all the horrid political fustian spewing out of Washington and the world. I wasn’t the only one. When Midnight Oil announced its initial run of shows, which covered multiple continents, every show in the United States sold out within hours.
The tour stopped in Portland on Memorial Day to find a town reeling from tragedy. Three days before the show, a white supremacist began harassing two teenage girls on a commuter train, shouting anti-Muslim rhetoric at them. When three men stepped in to intervene, he attacked them with a knife, killing two and viciously wounding the other. This incident gained national attention and shattered the notion of the liberal bubble that encases Portland. I wondered if the band had heard of the event, or would even address it during the show.
Midnight Oil kicked off its 23-song, two-hour-plus show with the appropriately titled “Redneck Wonderland,” a 1998 single from the album of the same name. Though it had been more than 15 years since I’d last seen the band, frontman Peter Garrett doesn’t look like he aged a day. Despite being 64 years old and spending much of the ‘00s as a member of Australia’s Parliament, Garrett looked every bit the rock star, working the crowd with explosive energy and his strange brand of dancing.
The setlist touched on every album in the group’s discography, barring their self-titled debut. Midnight Oil has played a radically different setlist on each night on the tour so far, breaking out new songs almost nightly. Garrett and company alternated well-loved favorites such as “Best of Both Worlds” with deeper cuts like “Sins of Omission” from Breathe, a song they haven’t played live since 1998. Along with “Omission,” the band also debuted “Stand in Line” and “Armistice Day,” appropriate for it being our Memorial Day.
During the past week or so, Garrett has been pausing the show before “Put Down That Weapon” and donating a full minute of silence to the people who lost their lives in the Manchester bombing at the Ariana Grande concert. Here, however, he took that moment to address the heroism of the men who stood up for those girls on the Portland train. Garrett kneeled and the lights went down and for a full, powerful minute we stood there in silence. Then the band resumed the show.
Revolution Hall is one of the city’s best venues, a former high school auditorium transformed into a place with pristine sound. The pit in front of the stage was shoulder-to-shoulder, mainly with men who shouted along with the songs. A tall Australian guy pushed his way to the front and tried to start a mosh pit, but he was quickly shoved to the side. Garrett commented on the more “intimate” nature of the venue, limited to 850, as the band would be playing a place in Seattle at its subsequent show that could hold 1,000 more. Intimate is good, especially for fans who have been waiting for 15 years for the band to come back.
The back half of the set was dedicated to Midnight Oil’s more popular material from Diesel and Dust and Blue Sky Mining. The crowd erupted in cheers during the opening notes of “Beds Are Burning” and sang along with “Blue Sky Mine” before the band ended its first set with “Forgotten Years.” They returned for two more encores, mixing up fan favorites such as “Dreamworld” and “Don’t Wanna Be the One” with surprises like “Tin Legs and Tin Mines” before closing with a triumphant “King of the Mountain.” Garrett intimated Midnight Oil could be back soon. Let’s hope so. As long as Donald Trump is a president, they need to keep playing music.