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More than 20 years since they last played Selinas, Midnight Oil return on Thursday to that Coogee beer barn. Wind Back Wednesday takes in a night 19 years ago when some were questioning if they had it in them to do more - let alone return a generation later.

Well did they?

Midnight Oil

Enmore Theatre, 21 July 1998

Just under two years ago, the last time Midnight Oil were reviewed in the Herald, I wondered whether they had it in them to reignite a crowd's interest in new songs.

Despite the quality of the material, their softer, more crafted album Breathe was getting little attention on the charts and the Selinas audience often listened politely while waiting for the next golden oldie.

Apart from avoiding newer material, there are two ways to remedy that peak-lull-peak-lull flow in your shows with new songs: if you are not so confident, you put them into one block of the show; if you are confident, you give the crowd some new songs that they can't help but leap upon.

Curiously, Midnight Oil - with a No 1 greatest hits collection, 20,000 Watt RSL, and a brand new top 10 album, Redneck Wonderland, released since that Selinas show - chose to do both.

Irony has never been an Oils strong suit, so the stage setting - an RSL club lounge, complete with pokies, mirror ball and electronic message board scrolling information "for members and guests" - was a nice touch.

And so too, nearly, was the chocolate wheel which tantalised by promising the chance to see the band spin the wheel and playing songs at random. But it was only a tease, a two song-gimmick.

More consistent was the pure energy and pleasure of the back catalogue: the swirling patterns of King of the Mountain, the simple pounding of Only the Strong, the pop smarts of Blue Sky Mine.

This band is still a startlingly good live act. But after an hour it was over and the band disappeared. When they returned, Garrett was in a red suit and the stage was shorn of its RSL trappings.

Here was the test for the audience, and the band didn't make it easy by starting the second set with some of the most interesting but least accessible songs from the new album.

There was not going to be a hit coming around the corner soon and there were some in the audience unsure what to do. But then Cemetery in my Mind reminded them of Blue Sky Mine and they realised they could sing along, and Concrete and Redneck Wonderland seared ears with some monstrously heavy guitars.

If this audience wasn't going to be won over with subtlety, then maybe brute force would do it.

Or maybe not. Closing the night, bravely, excitingly, Midnight Oil dangled the carrot of an old favourite, Power and the Passion, before the audience and then fried their minds by sending in a snaky drum loop, stripping the melody right back and giving us almost a trance/house remix of the hoary beast.

There was many a confused face in the stalls, but it was as if the band was declaring: "You want us to stay in aspic? Well, take this!"

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