Midnight Oil At The Spectrum

Posted: May 26, 1990

Too often in rock and roll, the brute force of the guitar/bass/drums instrumentation substitutes for genuine energy. The rock highway is littered with bands intoxicated by this leveling power; latter-day U2, for example, has more than once allowed its melodies - and message - to be overrun by raw, rather mindless muscle-flexing.

The five-piece Australian band Midnight Oil can match such big-sound bands decibel for decibel, and like them, can rouse powerful emotions with a simple change of chord.

But last night at the Spectrum, the band used bombast as just another tool - one that was no more important than lead singer Peter Garrett's ability to compress complex (and often controversial) ideas into the pop-song format. For this band, slogging power chords are the only logical punctuation for songs about the rape of the earth, the aboriginal land-rights struggle, the treatment of Vietnam War veterans.

Performing for 90 minutes in front of about 4,000 enthusiastic fans, Midnight Oil created and sustained an awe-inspiring intensity that turned its activist songs into a form of righteous - but not self-righteous - soul music.

Starting with the throbbing "King of the Mountain," the band wiped away the reasoned restraint and fey, delicate arrangements of its last two albums - Diesel and Dust and the recent Blue Sky Mining - with brutally evocative, thrashing, elemental treatments. Led by Garrett, whose gawky frame and jerking motions provided visual counterpoint to the rhythms, Midnight Oil played its first six songs ("Mountain," "Stars of Warburton," "Dream World," the elegiac "Put Down That Weapon," "Blue Sky Mine" and "Bullroarer") with a keening passion rarely matched in rock-and-roll.

Some of those songs carry the scent of smugness on record, but live, that feeling was erased by the urgent ministrations of Garrett and his band.

Following that heart-pumping opening, Midnight Oil surveyed material from its early albums, then employed the three-piece horn section from opening act Hunters and Collectors for "Beds Are Burning" and "One Country." The show's one encore included the current single "Forgotten Years" and a cover of Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding?" that tested Garrett's range and repertoire of contorted vocal mannerisms.

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