What's this? Midnight Oil - one of the world's leading rock bands - playing Mudgee instead of larger country centres like Bathurst, Orange or Dubbo?
Perhaps it was just their way of thanking the fans who they may not usually play for. Perhaps they were getting "back-to-basics", away from the international venues. Frankly, I don't care what brought the Oils to Mudgee - I'm just glad I had the chance to be there. It was one of those shows that you leave with a big grin on your face, shouting "awesome!" repeatedly to your similarly grinning friends.
The support band were "The Genes", who I'd never heard of before. I suspect I may never hear from them again - they were very competent but rarely rose above the ordinary. Their music was energetic, in the style of "The Sharp" but it didn't make up for plain tunes and unexciting performance. The mixing up of the drums and bass ensured that even if originality was a little lacking, at least they sounded solid. The bass player detracted from the show by wearing a stupid grin and moving around a lot to look exciting, and quickly became the target of some ridicule by some bald-headed Oils fans at the front of the crowd.
When the Oils wandered on stage, they looked almost bored, as if it was just another day at the office. Peter Garrett wore baggy pants and sweatshit over a t-shirt, and the others were dressed simply in shirts and jeans. Clearly, they didn't give a shit about making some big fashion statement. And when the music started, it was easy to see what they did give a shit about: rock music played really, really well.
Unlike some other contemporary rock acts, Midnight Oil did not use the equation "good music + loud volume = powerful music". Indeed, as the first song started, I was genuinely surprised that it didn't assault my eardrums. They rely on the simpler principle that if they play well and put a lot of passion and energy into it, they might be able to pull off a decent show. It's little surprise that this approach tends to work bloody well.
There was no easing in to it: it began brutally and kept up for most of the 90 minutes they were on stage. The material was an often-frantically played cross section of their entire catalogue. Rhythm-based tracks like "My Country" and "Now or Never Land” (both from last year's "Earth and Sun and Moon" album) sat comfortably beside Oils classics such as "Beds Are Burning" and "US Forces". Throwing in the occasional slower song like "One Country" may sound ambitious, but it worked well.
The performances was nothing short of excellent. Rob Hirst (surely one of the great rock drummers) pummelled his drum kit as if his life depended upon it, and I found it exhausting just watching him. Peter Garrett was his usual self, his arms flailing as he instinctively reacted to the music. Bones Hillman worked up one helluvva sweat just standing on the spot playing bass and supporting Garrett's vocals. Martin Rotsey expertly powered chord after wicked chord into the sound, while Jim Moginie stood quietly at stage right, barely raising a smile or sweat as he eased sounds from his rhythm guitar and occasionally tinkered on the keyboards. Together, they were a stunningly focussed band.
An Oils show wouldn't be an Oils show without some sort of preaching from the stage, but Garrett kept it to a minimum, and even when he did speak it seemed a bit pointless. The pumped-up crowd didn't seem particularly interested in political statements, not straight after the in-your-face power of tracks like "Progress".
In conclusion, I could make some neat, concise statement about the brilliance of this show. Instead, I prefer to quote one of my friends, who summed it up rather eloquently as we left the venue: "YA-HOO!!"
© David Gilliver 1994
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