The Oils are back in Northern England after a 20 year break, their politically charged songs still surprisingly remain current.
Words and Photos – Nils Van Der Linden & John Hayhurst
It has been over 20 years since Midnight Oil graced a Northern UK stage and they are quick to apologise –vocalist Peter Garrett saying “Sorry we’ve been away for so long, but I see they are about to induct a new idiot into Downing Street”.
You see NOT a lot has really changed in those 20 years, we are still fighting wars overseas, environmental catastrophes and unjust and inhumane practices happening both here and in their native Australia, and that’s without mentioning the Brexit word. Plenty for the ‘Oils’ to get excited about and see their lyrics standing the test of time despite two decades of political chaos.
However, Manchester Apollo venue is only half full tonight and I can’t understand why, perhaps that gap was a little too long, and people have forgotten all the fierce live performances from years ago, perhaps the majority only remember 1 song, but if ‘Beds are Burning’ is their only big hit anthem for the casual listener, then there are a few hundred die hard followers here tonight that would point to many other tracks that hold greater importance.
“Any Australians in here tonight?” a big shout comes back, and possibly greater than the reply to “Any Mancunians in?”.
Like crafting the perfect mixtape, they’ve picked the right songs in the right sequence for the biggest impact tonight – ‘Blue Sky Mine’ and ‘Beds’ will feature later but they are fired up and come out blazing to ‘Lucky Country’ and everyone is up out of their seats and some even make it down the aisles to get a better glimpse.
The sound is spot on as their set blisters along and every song is like an instant reminder that this band’s songs are as physical as they are emotional and intellectual. Ex Australian Environment Minister Garrett constantly breaking out his signature dance moves (flailing his limbs with wild abandon), and one cracking tune after another. A quick last-minute set swap when they ditch ‘Blossom and Blood’ for the musically and lyrically complex ‘Truganini’ which takes aim at British colonialism.
Whether it is the plight of native Australians symbolised by their huge red backdrop or T-shirt slogans for Gender equality, powerful lyrically astute music is still the sheer driving force of this band, and they showcase some real depth to their back catalogue.
Even the Acoustic section sounds mighty with tracks from ‘My Country’ to ‘Dreamworld’ from 1987’s all-conquering ‘Diesel and Dust’ album. But what’s surprising is the voracity with which they do so. For nearly two breathless hours, these men in their 60s seem just as invigorated as they were on their seminal live album ‘Oils on the Water’, recorded back in 1985. Add 30 years of experience and they actually sound better than ever before.
The Oils are simply unstoppable by the time they play a raucous ‘The Dead Heart’ which is greeted by the audience singing its opening bars en masse, that makes way for a collectively chanted ‘Blue Sky Mine’, complete with that Garrett harmonica solo. You follow that with ‘Beds Are Burning’, played even faster than their anthem version from 1988 and we are done!
However, that’s not all – After closing tune ‘Best of Both Worlds’ the punters here got ‘River Runs Red’ and ’Power and the Passion’ before time ran out, they did actually have ‘Sell My Soul and ‘Sometimes’ down as a second encores on the setlist, but we may have to wait a while to hear those played in Manchester, let’s hope it’s not another 20 years!
They are now really regarded as a cult band where fans follow them almost religiously from gig to gig, as the setlists change each night. They are only in the UK on this tour for 2 nights, London and the opener here in Manchester, but there is promise of more new music and another tour when it is released according to drummer Rob Hirst when I interviewed him for Soundsphere Mag last week – see here.
Grab a chance to see the Oils while you still can, you have 24hrs to get a ticket for their London show on Thursday night!
Lucky Country / Too Much Sunshine / Safety Chain Blues / US Forces / Section 5 (Bus to Bondi) / Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers / Truganini / Read About It / My Country / Luritja Way / Short Memory / Tarkine / Dreamworld / Only the Strong / Hercules / The Dead Heart / Blue Sky Mine / Beds Are Burning / Best of Both Worlds / ENCORE: River Runs Red / Power and the Passion