TVD Live: Midnight Oil
at the Fillmore Silver
Spring, 5/9

I had an odd thought as I watched Midnight Oil at the Fillmore Silver Spring last Tuesday—how many Americans in the sold-out crowd first discovered the band because of MTV back in the mid-to-late ’80s?

They weren’t a radio staple, with their songs about the plight of indigenous Australian populations and desecration of the environment, even if their post-punk music was incredibly catchy. And they weren’t video-pinups like their Aussie brethren INXS. While INXS frontman Michael Hutchence set fire to hearts and crotches of men and women alike as he slithered around the screen, Oils frontman Peter Garrett was about setting fire to brains, damn near reaching out of the screen to shake your moral conscience awake.

Midnight Oil stopped as a band in the early 2000s because Garrett ran for political office and wound up serving three terms in Australian federal politics. But, in an effort to sound an alarm in this current political climate, Garret said on Tuesday, “It was time for us to come and play for you again.” The Oil’s performance was stocked with as much power and passion as it had 30 years ago, complete with vocal commentary on Trump (or “The Dumpster,” as Garret called him), and politics in general.

Two statements of note: “I couldn’t find one person who voted for the Dumpster…all I know is he’s made a lot of late night show hosts very happy. The growth industries the new president is generating in this modern technological, digital, kinetic, and sarcasm age are unparalleled. And we’re a part of it, we’re consuming it, we’re lapping it up, we’re getting into it,” and “I think it would be good if the US agreed to stay in the climate change accord.” But Garret did say he remains hopeful. “I think that when you look at periods of political madness and stupidity—and there’s no question that we’re living in one—that this is a time that’s going to bring out the good stuff in people.”

The band played as if no time had passed, tight and perfectly synced. Garret twirled and stamped about the stage, his jerky Ian Curtis-like dance moves full of spastic energy and conviction. And that conviction can drive a person. In the hands of a lesser band, 22 songs at the usual Midnight Oil song pace would probably exhaust a group. But, apart from “Arctic World,” the slow-churner from 1987’s Diesel and Dust which Garret sang kneeling on the stage, the rest of the show never slowed. Songs from eight of their 11 releases were represented in the set list.

On this, Midnight Oil’s first US tour since 2001, it’s interesting how people view them. One person I met said he’d never heard of the band and had to look them up. Another proudly showed me a photo of his first concert ticket, from a Midnight Oil show in 1988.

What’s known is that songs from their discography, three decades old, about man’s destruction of the environment, and the struggle of refugees half a world away, still ring true. And based on the rabid crowd reaction at Tuesday’s show and all the sold out shows on their current US tour, it seems very real that the word of these post-punk preachers of universal rights are a bell that still rings clearly and warmly embraced.

It’s tough to gauge what’s worse, that 30 years later, the issues raised in Midnight Oil songs still ring true in our current time, or that MTV, which once brought such a world education to the masses, is today nothing but reality shows about teen moms and scripted lifestyles. Either way, it’s wonderful to hear such a voice of reason back among us shining bright.

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