Photo by Ashley Mar
Enmore Theatre, February 25
It would be easy to put it down to the temper - and tempo - of the times.
An all-seated Midnight Oil gig is weird enough. A “don’t sing/don’t stand/wear a mask if you can” gig, complicates that further. Add the fact the show was centred on The Makarrata Project, an album of collaborations on an Indigenous voice to parliament and respect for First Nations people, which are varied in style but generally lean towards mid-pace.
Then factor in not just ring-rust from an extended break but the bedding-down of a new bassplayer (their fourth in 45 years), in Adam Ventoura. And yes, these are mostly men in their mid ‘60s.
All of these might be responsible for what was, for want of a better or less provocative term, a measured start. A start which confirmed their quality – the mix clarity meant we could revel in the guitar interplay of the always superb Martin Rotsey and Jim Moginie, for example – but did feel contained, controlled …polite.
However, I suspect it was in the main a deliberate decision to build into this show, to program the first section thematically rather than dynamically, and meld with the Makarrata material. It’s a decision that makes sense, but for me didn’t work: Lucky Country, If Ned Kelly Was King feeling thick around the middle; Dreamworld and Bullroarer slightly sluggish; Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers fine but not inspiring.
After this, the best elements of the Makarrata material did shine and justify their place: especially a delicate-with-bite Terror Australia, with Alice Skye; an attractive Desert Man, Desert Woman, with Troy Cassar-Daley, having the time of his life, standing in for Frank Yamma; the heat haze of Wind In My Head and sea shanty-isms of Change The Date (which leant into gospel when Dan Sultan took over); and the first real push of the night in Gadigal Land.
That said, when Gunbarrel Highway followed the crunch of Redneck Wonderland, and Warakurna was sandwiched between Kosciusko and Beds Are Burning, in the return to older material, it became clearer still that what that first half hour had lacked wasn’t force (that’s never been the only selling point for this band) but swing, the under-estimated Oils special sauce.
It was potent in the busy-ness of Best Of Both Worlds, subtly underscored the visceral thrills of Stand In Line (Ventoura’s “audition” piece that explained why he got this gig) and elevated further Luritja Way and The Dead Heart.
It was too in the cascading thrills of the final third of the night a counter-argument to the structure of the show, and any questions of relevance, age and interest. That’s how Midnight Oil still work.