OAKLAND — A sold-out crowd waited with anticipation for Midnight Oil to take the stage Saturday at the Fox Theater. It had been 15 years since the band had last played in the U.S. Frontman Peter Garrett departed the band in 2002 and became the environmental minister of Australia. With a new administration in, he’s out and back to music. And of course, Garrett is as political as ever. Perhaps Oakland caught a bit of a lucky break as it wasn’t all talk about Donald Trump, but it was definitely still a very political show.
Midnight Oil has pledged to not play the same setlist twice and started this show with a bang with the techno-infused, guitar-heavy “Redneck Wonderland,” off the 1998 album with the same name. It was clear that the band was ready to tear up the venue. The band showed how cohesive it still is on songs like “Now or Never Land,” off 1993’s Earth and Sun and Moon, with guitarists Martin Rotsey and Jim Moginie, and drummer Rob Hirst on backing vocals, creating a chorus of gorgeous harmonies.
Garrett talked about the future of the free world and how there are not as many Trump voters as he launched into “Put Down That Weapon,” a song about nuclear weapons, off 1987’s Diesel and Dust. The audience screamed out the lyrics, “And if we think about it. And if we talk about it.” Next, Garrett talked about how California would be showing Washington, D.C. the way. “If we had compulsory voting, the outcome would be different,” he said. It would not be a Midnight Oil show without these kinds of statements.
Garrett was a looming figure on stage with his bald head and 6-foot, 4-inch lanky body spastically jerking and dancing. Not only was he conducting his band, hands always expressive, but also the audience. He has a larger than life presence when he performs. As he started and stopped his moves, everyone followed suit.
Rotsey and Moginie were a powerful duo on guitars, and bassist Bones Hillman packed a wallop as well. The guitarists made the vocals stand out even more on songs like “Too Much Sunshine,” off 2002’s Capricornia, as Garrett landed them with a loaded punch on songs like “Sell My Soul” (Diesel and Dust).
The band slowed it down for a brief acoustic set that Garrett jokingly referred to as the cruise-ship portion. It was an intimate affair, as the band stood tightly together on the stage and sang out in beautiful harmonies.
Midnight Oil saved its biggest hits for the second half of the show. The fan chant beginning “The Dead Heart” was loud and continued throughout the song. As Garrett sang, the crowd never stopped. He had to scream over he cacophony of voices and guitars: “Collected companies/ Got more right than people/ Got more say than people!”
The singalong continued on “Beds Are Burning,” and Garrett worked the stage dancing and flailing back and forth across it. The hits continued, and it was easy to forget how many there were. “Blue Sky Mine,” from 1990’s Blue Sky Mining had Garrett’s trademark harmonica intro as he stood on the elevated drum platform. It pierced through the crowd before the guitars and vocals kicked in.
The main set ended with the upbeat, danceable “Dreamworld” but there was still so much more to come. Garrett stripped off his shirt to reveal another, given to him 15 years ago by San Francisco’s Rainforest Action Network, an organization focused on saving forests. The band then fittingly performed “Wharf Rat,” a Grateful Dead cover that it had not played since 1993.
“Power and the Passion,” from 1982’s 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 was finally played with Hirsts’ trademark drum solo. A second encore brought “King of the Mountain,” proving the 15-year wait was worth it.