An Insider’s Report Of Midnight Oil’s Surprise Show At Marrickville Bowlo Yesterday

Their first show in eight years happened just after the meat raffle.

Yesterday, legendary Australian band Midnight Oil played their first show in eight years… at the Marrickville Bowling Club. Music Junkee writer ADAM LEWIS was there to see it happen. 

Ever since Midnight Oil announced they were reforming for a world tour, speculation that they might play a small warm-up show had swirled.

After all, a lot of big bands do it on the eve of tours, and Midnight Oil had for their last two, much shorter, reformations. First, the rumours were put to bed with the band’s upcoming, ballot-only show at Sydney pub Selina’s. But then, hushed whispers and clandestine text messages started moving around. Sunday afternoon. Marrickville Bowling Club. Possibly. If we’re lucky.

Until they took the stage, no one was sure the show would actually happen – most of us were already there based on hearsay and at times there was a sense that it might just be too good to be true. Midnight Oil, playing their first show in eight years – and opening their first world tour in many more – at the Marrickville Bowlo?

If you were there, someone had both given you a very generous tip and sworn you to secrecy. Unlike some ‘secret shows’, this one didn’t hit social media at all before it started. Most greetings took a few exchanges of knowing nods before anyone actually acknowledged what was happening.

“Unlike some ‘secret shows’, this one didn’t hit social media at all before it started”

After all, it was a Sunday afternoon, and there were definitely a few passers-by who ended up having a pretty incredible day at their local.

Even with all the warning in the world, the club couldn’t have possibly known what hit them – bar queues spiralled, as thirty-somethings scrawled on sign-in sheets with jittery enthusiasm. The meat raffle, moved forward in an apparently unprecedented move, must’ve done its best ever numbers.

The raffle finished, the tables cleared, the floor started swelling and without any official word, we knew that it was on. Before long, the lights dimmed and out came Midnight Oil for the first time in eight years.


~ The boys are back in town ~

From the start, it was clear the band was there to kick down doors – they opened with 1985’s ‘Pictures’ and didn’t let up from there, making their way through a setlist that spanned their career but focused on their leaner, punchier tracks. The pace continued with tracks like ‘Progress’, ‘Renaissance Man’ and ‘Say Your Prayers’ – fast, brash rockers that were perfect for such a small, sweaty space.

They’d been rehearsing down the road for some time, and their excitement to be playing to an audience again was pretty clear. Peter Garrett, as iconic as frontmen get, hasn’t lost any of his passion. The moves were still there, the voice was still there, and above all else, the intensity still radiated off the stage – an essential part of Midnight Oil’s power, still well intact after many years and a stint in politics.

“Peter Garrett, as iconic as frontmen get, hasn’t lost any of his passion”

Save for some added horns from Jack Howard of Hunters & Collectors, there were no extra frills to the show – just guitars, drums, bass and vocals in propulsive unison, powering through their harder, faster material.

Where there was banter, it was mostly excitement to be back on stage, in such a small place, ahead of such a big tour. Politics were mostly kept to the songs, save for a few quick jabs at Turnbull, Trump and Bernadi – something we’ll probably hear more of as the tour progresses. After all, Midnight Oil have been one of our most effective political voices, putting songs like ‘Beds Are Burning’ and ‘Blue Sky Mine’ in our cultural DNA and championing important causes through their touring and activism. That’s something we really need at the moment.

For now though, it was the songs that did the talking. And they kept a quick pace, wrapping up with ‘Best of Both Worlds’, ‘Forgotten Years’ and ‘Dreamworld’. A quick encore of ‘King of the Mountain’ and it was done, a hard-hitting ten-song set that clocked in just under an hour.

It was a warm-up show, but it was so much more – it was short, and loud, and intimate, the kind of set that won’t be repeated across the rest of the tour as it heads from sold-out arena to sold-out arena. Midnight Oil went back to basics, reclaiming their legacy as one of Australia’s all-time pub bands by blowing the doors off our local one more time.

For the couple hundred in there, it was something to be treasured. For the hundreds of thousands who have tickets to the world tour, it was a message – Midnight Oil are well and truly back.

Adam Lewis is a music booker and enthusiast from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter.