[WORLD MUSIC ~ AUS]
King Rodney Park / Ityamai-itpina, Mon 8 Mar.
Midnight Oil and the First Nation Collaborators, The Teskey Brothers, Siberian Tiger.
It occurred to me last night that I have been going to see Midnight Oil pretty consistently for four decades. They are consistently one of the best live bands in the world. And there have been some incredible and special shows, like them playing a sweaty, packed, secret warm-up gig in the Adelaide Uni Refectory to 400 people. The Blue Sky Mine Tour at Thebarton Oval where giant jags of lightning split the sky mimicking the albums cover, but always there is the (I am going to do this so be prepared) power and the passion of a band that is always 100% at the top of their game. The music is a powerhouse, and Peter Garrett one of the best front man in the history of music. And if the sonics were not enough, they sing about stuff that is actually important; subjects that urge you to think and to act, politics you can dance to.
Last night was one of those extra special Oils gigs for their second night at the re-imagined WOMADelaide 2021, they performed their new song cycle The Makarrata Project along with many of the First Nation Collaborators who appear on the album. The logistics of gathering these artists together means there will only be a handful of shows presenting this work. Monday night was one of them. Back to the Oils shortly.
First up, Siberian Tiger. One of the great joys of WOMADelaide anytime, is stumbling on an act you have never heard of, that you fall instantly and deeply in love with. Adelaide’s own Siberian Tiger have released only one EP and, I suspect, have gone mostly unheard to the ears today. But, what a flippin’ joy they are. Excellent musicians, fantastic songs, lovely harmonies from Bree Tanner and Chris Panousakis (ex-Timberwolf), throw in a three piece string section and bosh! Amazing. Songs like Water The Plants, Call Me and Blue Sky Moon had me struggling to pinpoint who they reminded me of, and it might be Harry Nilsson… maybe. Especially the set closer Dear Angela. Siberian Tiger were the perfect act to be on this stage, in this beautiful venue, on this afternoon. I will be investigating this band further.
Melbourne’s The Teskey Brothers would go in the ‘blues & roots’ section of the record store, if there weren’t so few of those left. They are really good at it. Lead by brothers Josh and Sam Teskey they have been playing together for over ten years and putting out acclaimed and award winning CD’s since 2017. Skilful musicians, strong material and Josh Teskey’s voice juggles the soulful blues incredibly well, and Sam’s guitar playing is stellar. Again a really great fit for the event. Original songs like Let Me Let You Down, Carry You and Hammond organ soaked Louisa are all class and rapturously received. Set highlights include a fantastic cover of the INXS classic Never Tear Us Apart and the stylish a Cappella closer Hold Me.
While the stage was being re-set for Midnight Oil they screened the Uluru Statement From The Heart – a fifteen minute video explaining the statement and the history of this really important work. Sadly many people were not paying any attention and remained getting drinks and chatting with friends. It is something all Australians need to see. You can watch it HERE.
Saturday night had been a traditional set for Midnight Oil, solid gold Oil from start to finish. Tonight was structured differently. Kicking off with the ferocious Redneck Wonderland; still (sadly) relevant twenty three years after its release:
I don’t want to run I don’t want to stay
Cos everything that’s near and dear is old
And in the way
Emergency has gone, apathy rolling on
Time to take a stand
The immediate impact of the wound tight power of this band is visceral. The driving drums of Rob Hirst – one of the most musical beat keepers of all time – sets the pounding tempo. Bass player Adm Ventoura has stepped into some pretty big boots, left by the passing of long time Oils bass man Bones Hillman. The Oils music has always been driven by a formidable engine room of a rhythm section. Ventoura is a perfect fit, nailing the classic sound and feel but stamping his own touches and style. Welcome aboard Adm, great job. Both Truganini from 1993’s Earth And Sun And Moon, and Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers (Red Sails In The Sunset 1984) sees the stage bathed in red light, Peter Garrett with a scarf around his neck apparently nursing a sore throat, prowling the stage and doing ‘that’ dance of his in the midst of this glorious noise.
Often when bands that were political in their youth get a bit older, their concerns about social issues can end up feeling insincere. I am not necessarily looking at anybody in particular (Okay I am looking you at U2 and Rage Against The Machine – but that’s a Facebook argument for another time) but I have never for a second doubted the Oils sincerity, commitment and support of First Nation rights, the welfare of the down trodden, calling for corruption to be addressed and dealt with and the hope for a better life for everybody. Garrett reminds us today is International Women’s Day and when he mentions ‘It goes without saying everybody on this stage believes women are equal in every way and deserve respect’. It is not a point winning exercise but is a statement of fact that is itself so matter of fact, to underline the lunacy of anybody thinking otherwise. Peter explains what a rare treat tonight is and how it will be one only a very few times The Makaratta Project will be able to be performed in this way.
Released in October last year The Makarrata Project, a mini-album (seven songs) recorded with many First Nation collaborators with all proceeds going to organisations promoting the Uluru Statement From The Heart which pushes to address acknowledgement of Indigenous history and ways to move forward with treaty, recognition, sovereignty and peace. The entire Uluru Statement serves as a backdrop on the giant screens for most of this set. Opening with the spoken word track taking its name from the statement, and sets out the path of the project and then morphs into Come On Down. The thing I most love about this record is that is sounds exactly like a Midnight Oil record. They are all new songs but sound like old friends. The ‘come on down to the stamping ground’ refrain sticks in your head immediately and is an genuine invitation.
This also true of Gadigal Land – it’s a classic Oils song, driving riffs and killer horn section and lyrically asking us if we know the story, then the telling us that story. Guests include Troy Cassar-Daley, Bunna Lawrie, and Garrett says ‘‘Leah Flannigan, and Liz Stringer are helping out a lot.’’ with the vocals tonight. His voice has soon warmed up and he loses the scarf and he is sounding magnificent. Change The Date (also with Troy) implores us to do just that. It’s long overdue.
Alice Skye performs lead vocals on the haunting Terror Australia and Frank Yamma takes the lead on Desert Man, Desert Woman for a great story of going bush that paints a complex picture. The suite ends with Wind In My Head. It’s a special performance and thrill and privilege to witness.
They turn up the heat with a set of Midnight Oil classics. Only The Strong, Luritja Way (from Capricornia 2002). Rob Hirst smashes the hell out of his kit, a 24 gallon drum and anything else in the way for a drum solo like no other before taking lead vocals on Kosciuszko (Red Sails 1984). Garrett is now 67 years old (he has a birthday in April) and still dances like a praying mantis being electrocuted. Super high energy.
I have come to think part of the appeal of Garrett’s dancing has always been, he was a big, tall lanky surfer and he always moved like a small child who was at a wedding and didn’t really know how to dance but was compelled to move anyway. Lost in the joy and ecstasy of the music and the rhythm and not caring what anybody might think about it. It also gave a legion of fans permission to dance madly to Midnight Oil in a way they possibly never danced anywhere else in their lives – which I find a deeply beautiful thing.
To send us off into the night there is the triple knock-out punch of Best Of Both Worlds, Power And The Passion and an all in finale with all guest returning for Beds Are Burning. Everybody has been on their feet for ages and dancing and singing these songs that have been the soundtrack to our lives for decades. A band that in their forty-something-year, who can still make new, interesting and relevant music and destroy all comers as the best live band in the world when all the principal members are in their sixties.
Tonight was one of those special nights.
Images courtesy of Ian Bell