Midnight Oil selling out the modestly sized Vic was a foregone conclusion. But coming back from a 15-year break for a fiery set that felt like no time had passed at all? That was a welcome surprise.
Proselytizers place the Australian band in the pantheon of great live acts, and justifiably so, but it takes a certain sense of pride for a reunited group not just to coast on its reputation but push itself like it still has something to prove, and the world to change. As frontman Peter Garrett noted, the band's pointedly politically minded songs — many delivered with the desperate immediacy of a Molotov cocktail — remain as timely as ever.
Beginning with the menacing "Outside World" and continuing with the interlocking riffs and rollicking drum fills of the righteous "Only the Strong," the group (whose recent set lists have been impressively varied) proceeded to play its 1982 album "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1" in its entirety, and for those more familiar with Midnight Oil's subsequent work, the almost alien art-rock might have come off a little jarring had the tricky time signatures and weird arrangements not been held together by the band's inventive, impeccable musicianship.
But when the band shifted gears to play more acoustically driven material such as "The Dead Heart" and "Beds Are Burning," both from its hugely successful 1987 album "Diesel and Dust," Midnight Oil demonstrated how even more considered songcraft could course with barely contained energy. Later, when the group blazed through "Dreamworld" and "Sometimes" from that same album, you could discern the same passion and penchant for innovation that marked the band's early years, more refined but no less effective.
Midnight Oil can blow people away live and you do not want to follow them onstage. They have a catalog that will surprise you and the political immediacy of their songs has never dissipated. When they were singing about Reagan and Bush, they might as well have been singing about Trump. They are the band that America needs to hear right now, and how fitting is it that they are on the road at the same time as U2 in a country that has lost its collective mind?