Everybody loves an anthem, and Aussie rockers Midnight Oil—on their first U.S. tour in 15 years—eventually gave the people what they wanted at House of Blues on Thursday, capping a near-two-hour set with a wave of levitating anthems that helped make the Oils arguably the best live band of the ’80s into the early ’90s.
But the group took a while to put the hammer down, following the opening broadside of “King of the Mountain” with lesser-known tunes from 1993’s Earth and Sun and Moon and a mid-set unplugged stretch that went too long. Hulking bald singer Peter Garrett also seemed uncertain of the packed crowd’s reception to his jabs at President Trump, though the reality was that Midnight Oil laid bare its politics in still-relevant oldies like “Read About It” (“The bombs never hit you when you’re down so low”) and the slow-building “Short Memory,” an early highlight despite Garrett fumbling the first verse of that brooding indictment of imperialism.
Garrett proved an imposing figure as usual with his intense delivery and sweeping herky-jerky motions as he danced like a Frankenstein with purpose. And the band of guitarists Jim Moginie (who also played keys) and Martin Rotsey, bassist Bones Hillman and drummer Rob Hirst remained a kick-ass unit on their own. However, the pacing of the set seemed deliberate. Garrett, 64, seemed rightly gassed at times between songs, as the Oils showed edge and drama if not the kind of ferocity they flashed when they burst out of ’70s surfer bars with an arty blend of punk and pub rock.
But the Oils showed there was plenty left in the tank when they exploded in a home stretch that included its late ’80s hits “The Dead Heart” and “Beds Are Burning” with chiming anthems “Power and the Passion” (Hirsh banging a huge sewer pipe behind his kit), the harmonica-laced “Blue Sky Mine” and “Forgotten Years,” Garrett looking into the front row of the crowd with a smile after he sang, “We will remember.” And when he paused in the encore to mull requests from the crowd, the band settled on “Sometimes,” another anthem to resiliency (“And you don’t give in!”) that surged to peak-era Oils power, kicked home with the slashing “Dream World,” Garrett whipping around the stage with arms outstretched in affirmation. They still have it like no other band.