As one of the most overtly political bands to ever top the charts, Australian rockers Midnight Oil have long stood out for their strong stances on issues such as Aboriginal relations, the environment, and worker’s rights, amongst others. Tracks like “Beds Are Burning” (about Aboriginal land rights) and “Blue Sky Mine” (about working conditions in Australian asbestos mines) remain radio staples to this day, proving that it is possible to both have a conscience and still rock out. Singer Peter Garrett took his convictions farther, leaving the band for over a decade to concentrate on a political career that saw him occupy a position in the Australian Parliament as well serving stints as both the Environment Minister and the Education Minister for the country. When his time in politics was over, Garrett reunited with the band, and they’ve toured and recorded extensively since. The group announced their thirteenth album, Resist, last November, along with the news that their 2022 tour would be their last.
The band’s final show in North America took place at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC, on Saturday night. It was a bittersweet night for many in the audience, knowing that it would likely be their final time seeing a favorite band perform, but the mood was far from somber. While they may have found themselves wondering what, exactly, they were doing in a casino (a seemingly incongruous environment for a band of Midnight Oil’s leanings), neither they nor the band let the setting get to them, and the packed 3,000-seat theater proved to be the perfect place for the group’s final send-off from our shores.
The band opened with three tracks off of the new album (“We Resist,” “At the Time of Writing,” and “The Barka-Darling River”), but didn’t focus on it, instead choosing to play a mix of songs from throughout their long career, going back as far as their 1979 album Head Injuries (with “Back on the Borderline”). Of course the hits like “Beds Are Burning,” “Blue Sky Mine,” “Forgotten Years,” and “King of the Mountain” made an appearance (how could they not?), but less well-known tracks like “Lucky Country” (from 1981’s Place Without a Postcard), “Kosciusko” (from 1984’s Red Sails in the Sunset), and “Hercules” (from the 1985 EP Species Deceases) filled the setlist as well.
With ages ranging from 66 to 69 years old, the amount of energy the band showed on the stage for their over two-hour-long set was phenomenal. Of course this is a large part of the reason that they’re calling it quits now, making sure to go out on a high note while they’re still capable of doing so. Garrett danced and strutted around the stage, drummer Rob Hirst pounded his drums, and guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey filled out the sound with barely a moment to rest. Long-time bassist Bones Hillman unfortunately passed away in 2020, but his spot was filled admirably by touring member Adam Ventoura. The group was rounded out by saxophonist Andy Bickers and backing singers Leah Flanagan (who also opened the show) and Liz Stringer.
“We recognize that some of the decisions that have been taken people probably don’t agree with,” noted Garrett at the start of the first encore (referencing, likely, the day before’s disastrous striking down of Roe vs. Wade), “and for that reason they’re probably going to take to heart one of your great pop-rock singers and guitarists, and we thought we’d play this song just for fun tonight.” The band broke into a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” They followed this with a track of their own with similar sentiments of hope and resilience, “Sometimes” – “Sometimes you’re beaten to the call, sometimes/Sometimes you’re taken to the wall but you don’t give in.”
And then it was over… Or, well, almost. The band returned to the stage for a second encore, with Garrett noting “There’s quite a lot of emotion in the room for us, so we’ll let the music do it for us.” The band closed out the night with “Now or Never Land” (from Earth and Sun and Moon, 1993) and “King of the Mountain” (from Blue Sky Mining, 1990). The audience left knowing that they’d witnessed something special, likely the very last time that Midnight Oil will appear on this continent.
But the band isn’t quite done yet. They’re off to tour Europe now, after which they will play some final dates in Australia and New Zealand. And they’ve already stated their intent to continue making music together, and to possibly play one-off shows when the right opportunities come up. So fortunately it sounds like we haven’t heard the last of Midnight Oil, and though we may not get to see them live again, we can still hope for lots of great music to come.
Midnight Oil setlist
We Resist At the Time of Writing The Barka-Darling River Truganini Lucky Country Sell My Soul Gadigal Land The Dead Heart My Country
US Forces Kosciusko Only the Strong Arctic World Redneck Wonderland Last Frontier Blue Sky Mine Back on the Borderline Beds Are Burning