Saturday, May 20, 2017

Read About It: Exemplifying the Power and the Passion, Midnight Oil Still Burns Bright on a Tough Night -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Midnight Oil
w/ opening act Boytoy
The Vic, Chicago
May 18, 2017

"Sometimes you're shaken to the core 
Sometimes the face is gonna fall 
But you don't give in"
-- "Sometimes" - Midnight Oil

For me, Midnight Oil's return to Chicago should have been a completely exhilarating affair.

I have loved the Australian band for 30 years, as 1987's great "Beds are Burning" single--and soon after, the entirely fantastic Diesel and Dust album--was my entrĂ©e, as conceivably for many American fans, although that was actually Midnight Oil's 6th album. (Their self-titled debut came out in 1978.) 

Though I loved their next two albums, Blue Sky Mine and Earth and Sun and Moon, and bought not only everything that followed them, but almost all of the earlier ones, I never noted a reasonable chance to see Midnight Oil live during their "heyday."

While stateside popularity had waned, the band continued to put out (pretty darn solid) albums until 2002's Capricornia. The year prior gave me my first chance to catch Midnight Oil in concert, at the Rave in Milwaukee with about 50 other fans.

I would also see them in 2002 at Chicago's House of Blues and on a 4th of July Taste of Chicago bill.

Then they disappeared, with the band's hulking lead singer Peter Garrett entering Australian politics. He would serve in a variety of appointed and elected positions from 2004 to 2013. (See his personal Wikipedia bio.)

I continued to love Midnight Oil's canon, which combines politics, activism and humanitarianism with hard charging rock 'n roll better than almost anyone. (They were slotted in at #22 among my favorite rock acts ever, and in my most-ever read post on the 100 Best Alternative Bands of the Past 25 Years--compiled in 2012--I placed them 8th.)

Via YouTube, I became aware that the band did some Australian benefit shows in 2009, and with Garrett's retirement from politics, suggestions of a reunion tour started to swirl last year.

Especially with 2016 having seen a plethora of passings of cherished musicians, and then the election of Donald Trump, news earlier this year that Midnight Oil was hitting the road and playing Chicago's Vic Theatre on May 18 couldn't have been any more welcome.

And with four prime reserved balcony seats at the typically General Admission venue, accompanied by three music-loving pals--Paolo, Dave and Brad--I was so looking forward to seeing Midnight Oil.

Particularly as clips and setlists from earlier tour stops seemed great; the band was changing things up every night, playing songs from throughout their entire catalog, and I enjoyed Spotifamiliarizing myself with tunes I didn't know or well-recall.

But on Thursday morning, I awoke to the terrible news that Soundgarden's Chris Cornell had died, taking his own life just hours after a concert in Detroit. I loved Soundgarden and had seen them multiple times in recent years, also with Paolo and Dave.

I had also seen Soundgarden years ago, and Cornell on his own and with Audioslave. He is probably the most gifted rock singer I've ever heard.

Thus, while still greatly looking forward to seeing Midnight Oil, my ebullience was considerably muted.

And yet they still delivered a show as good as I could have wanted.

Though now into their 60s, the band members--held over from the prime years--are still in fine form; first-rate musicians all.

And Garrett remains one of the most singular front men in rock history, a rather kinetic skyscraping dervish whose passions remain emotively honest in his powerful voice.

Despite doing my homework, I still found myself largely unfamiliar with half of the show's first 10 songs (see the setlist on, not that they didn't all sound good.

It was only after the show that Brad revealed that Midnight Oil had opened by playing an album in full:

1982's 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1, from which I well-knew tunes like "Read About It," "Short Memory" and "Power and the Passion," but not several of the album tracks.

I actually like that the band had surprised me despite my studying earlier setlists, and even though a subsequent 5-song acoustic grouping with a few more relatively esoteric songs--"Ships of Freedom," "Spirit of the Age"--did have me wishing for a bit more ear candy, the blitz of prime Oils that did come proved all the more righteous.

"The Dead Heart," "Beds Are Burning," "Blue Sky Mine" and "Dreamworld" sounded as good as ever to close out the main set (see video below), and after three more rockers to begin the encores, the wondrous closer "Sometimes"--partially quoted at top--perfectly capsulized a show that was majestically therapeutic, even if not quite as exhilarating as expected given the circumstances.

And as the houselights came up, so too did Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" (on the PA, not played by Midnight Oil; I was somewhat surprised Garrett hadn't mentioned Cornell, but I guess he was content to let the music do the talking).

I really wish Midnight Oil followed Thursday's Chicago show by playing tonight in Milwaukee, as I would love not only to see them again, but possibly hear things like "Warakurna," "Bullroarer," "Hercules," "King of the Mountain" and others that may have been eschewed for the rare album playthrough.

But on a night when a lesser band could have kept me wallowing in sadness for the loss of Cornell, the tragedy for his family, the steady erosion of heroes of my youth and the dearth of truly great new rock 'n roll, Midnight Oil came back to reiterate their brilliance.

And the power, and the passion, to truly enlighten and enrich lives like mine.

Even--or perhaps especially--on the not so good days.

Here's a clip of "Beds are Burning" from Thursday night, posted by YouTube user named Rod MacQuarrie.

1 comment:

Ken said...

A wonderful tribute to the healing power of rock.