Music: Peter Garrett, Artbar, Perth
Outside it was cold and wet. Very wet. Inside everyone was dry and warm and waiting. Waiting for something special to begin. A roadie came onto the stage for a last minute check and stood behind the microphone at the centre of the stage. Standing on his toes he could just reach the mike with his chin. It was the right height. Aboriginal singing and clap sticks ushered from the speakers as the crowd chattered in anticipation until, as the music died away, Peter Garrett and his band The Alter Egos walked onto stage.
Peter started not with a song but by talking. By his own admission last night he has always been a ‘wordy bastard.’ We wouldn’t want it anyone other way. The big man was clearly in awe of where he was standing, his first public singing event in more than a decade was being held in an art gallery. Commenting on how he, and many others in the room, had spent time in places far dirtier in the past he challenged the crowd to name great singers who were also artists and asked for requests to be handed in before the end of the gig. They would play a song from one of the artists if they knew it.
Peter introduced the first song ‘Kangaroo Tail’ and it began. The voice, the passion, the emotion of Peter Garrett is something that you can only get from seeing the man live. He feels each single note, every single word. It is fair to say that Peter’s new album, ‘A Version of Now’ is not an Oils album. It’s missing the edge that Midnight Oil have, that deep power urging change in the world, but watching Peter and the band last night the crowd understood why the new album existed. It’s a deeply personal album, it’s about Peter’s life and his family, it’s about his history and it’s about his now.
At the end of the first song Peter talks again. He’s a wordy bastard. He urges people to put down their phones and enjoy the experience. It’s a sign of the great respect that the man holds to his fans that this is what everyone did and for the remainder of the concert I only saw two or three people sneaking a photo on their phone. After attending so many recent gigs were your view was blocked by swaying smartphones recording video this was something special in itself. The two photos we took below were taken before Peter asked phones to be put away. Far be it from me to ignore this great man’s request.
The band ripped through the songs on the album. They played the ‘dance track’, as Peter calls it, about his wife Doris - ‘Only One’. Peter pleaded with the audience to believe him when he sang ‘It Still Matters’. The lyrics ‘first principles, concrete action, reconciliation, no more talking, fix the system…’ rang around the room. He convinced me. They played some covers. To fill out the set but also to set some context to the album. A song I didn’t recognise about mojo. A roaring and, literally, breathtaking harmonica solo by Peter. The Skyhooks classic ‘Ego is not a dirty word’.
The band was tight through it all. Abbe May on guitar, Mark Wilson from the Jets on bass, the Rockwiz drummer 'Lucky' Luscombe, Rosa Agostino on keyboards and of course Martin Rotsey. Rotsey’s face the same as it has always been on every Midnight Oil live show and video clip - no smiling, little emotion, just awesome guitar playing.
The last song before the encore was ‘Tall Trees’. A fitting song to end the set with Peter singing loudly ‘I’m back’ while dancing in the only way that he has ever danced. It was 2002 when Midnight Oil last stood on a stage in Perth and, for me and many others in the room, that was the last time we had seen Peter Garrett singing lyrics. This song pulled everyone in before they wrapped up and left the stage.
When Peter returned he was holding a notebook. They would sing one of the requested songs. Someone who was a great artist. The great Kev Carmody’s song ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’. But Peter didn’t know the lyrics so he sang them from handwritten notes in the book. A tribute to Kev and a sign of Peter’s humility and greatness that he is not afraid to show he doesn’t know it all. At the end of Kev’s piece, Peter bid everyone goodbye but there was one last song to go and it would be the one that would bring the crowd together to complete a very special night. The thumping drums, the pounding beat of the bass, the rhythmic strumming of the guitars. The Dead Heart.
Thanks Peter and the Alter Egos for an unforgettable night!
Can’t wait till the Oils themselves are back next year, it’s going to be incredible.