Music and activism still matter to Peter Garrett; and he still matters to us.
During the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil sent a profound, political statement regarding the plight of indigenous Australians. Shortly afterwards, he embarked on a political career.
Sixteen years later, as the Brazilian sun rose on Rio de Janeiro, the gangly and enigmatic environmental warrior shed his business suit, buttoned up an indigenous print shirt and took to The Gov stage (6 August) in a manner that suggested that his foray into federal politics was just a very bad dream.
While it is clear that he does not regret his decision to walk the walk, it was abundantly clear to all in attendance that talking the talk and dancing the dance on stage is where he belongs. With the return of Pauline Hanson and incarceration of indigenous juveniles dominating the headlines, the time is ripe for his musical resurrection.
While politics has dominated Peter Garrett’s life, it was distinctly absent from the first half hour of his debut Adelaide set. The audience was seated, hands clasped on laps, save for a few soused air guitarists who were hoping for a Midnight Oil greatest hits show.
Peter sang of romantic love and slow dancing with his wife. He talked about selfies. A lingering fear gnawed in the gut; had his fire been dampened. Suddenly, though, he unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a protest slogan beneath, emerging like a flaming phoenix from the ashes. Garrett then dedicated ‘Great White Shark’ to the South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, who was seated in the front row, using it as an opportunity to decry BP’s recent proposition to drill areas of the Great Australian Bight searching for gas.
From this point onwards, it was clear that not only did he still care, he cared more than ever, as summed up by the closing track from ‘A Version Of Now’, ‘It Still Matters To Me’. On ‘I’d Do It Again’, he admitted he had dirtied his hands and taken a beating, but this was a price he was willing to pay.
When the tall man finished the main set with lead single ‘Tall Trees’, he and his band had delivered a rollicking set of entirely new material and Oz rock covers that would have sent fans home happy, despite the absence of any Oils songs.
The Gov became unhinged during the encore, though, with the reconciliation double whammy of Kev Carmody’s ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ and Oils’ classic ‘The Dead Heart’. It only took a bar of that killer sing-a-long riff to render the allocated seating irrelevant. By the chorus, the Premier was swamped in an elated throng.
By the time the last refrains of ‘Don’t Wanna Be The One’ had rung out, the prospect of an imminent Midnight Oil reunion was irresistible. While we wait, The Alter Egos are an immaculately diverse selection of Australian talent old and new.
All is forgiven, Peter; don’t leave us ever again!