BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
The last time Midnight Oil played Center Stage – in 2001 –the venue was known by another name: EarthLink Live.
That branding might be long forgotten, but the opposite is true of the mighty Australian rock band that stampeded back onstage at Center Stage Saturday night for the first concert of an extensive U.S. tour – dubbed “The Great Circle” – as well as its first show in the U.S. in 15 years.
Drummer Rob Hirst, guitarist Martin Rotsey, bassist Bones Hillman, guitarist/keyboardist Jim Moginie and mad scientist lead singer Peter Garrett led a sold-out crowd through a parade of songs from their 11-album career with unwavering fervor.
Launching the two-dozen song set with “Don’t Wanna Be the One,” from 1983’s “Place Without a Postcard” album, Garrett immediately captivated. His right index finger was practically another member of the band, leading him around the stage into his patented wrist-snapping, high-stepping dance moves.
The imposing Garrett is not only distinctive because of his look – the lanky frame and bald head which haven’t changed much from the MTV days – but also because of his voice, a muscular instrument that remains remarkably intact.
Whether bellowing through “Bullroarer” or harmonizing with Hirst and Hillman on “Kosciusko,” Garrett, 64, indicated that he’s built for the duration of this eight-month world tour.
The root of many Midnight Oil songs is politics, and the band throughout its career publicly championed environmentalist and anti-nuclear causes. Garrett, a native of Sydney, Australia, departed Midnight Oil in 2002 and two years later was elected as a federal member of Parliament.
Throughout the Atlanta show, Garrett chatted frequently with the crowd, sometimes about politics, sometimes about the band.
Before “No Reaction” he joked, “This describes the music industry’s response to us the first few years,” and after a stirring “Ships of Freedom,” remarked, “There’s lite, light and deadly serious,” before ticking off topics such as the environment and politics and continuing, “we’re just as serious about those things as we’ve ever been.”
But as politically charged as their lyrics can be is as electrifying as the songs are musically.
Hirst exhausted himself on his drum kit, and also brought an inverted bass drum/snare combo to the front of the stage to sing “When the Generals Talk” with Garrett. Rotsey and Moginie produced a serrated guitar attack on “No Reaction,” but also colored the poignant “Arctic World,” about the perils of oil drilling, and its album complement “Warakurna,” with lovely melodic strains.
Those two songs were lifted from 1987’s potent “Diesel and Dust” album, Midnight Oil’s biggest in America that spawned their best-known song, “Beds are Burning.”
It wasn’t neglected at Saturday’s concert, nor was one of the poppiest inclusions in their repertoire, the instant singalong, “Forgotten Years.”
The band had its reasons for taking an extended hiatus. Just be thankful that the guys are back, with their message, moves and sound solid and whole.
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