Various venues, various years
Parcan and amp
A trickle of publicity. Infrequent tour dates. No Countdown appearances. Just worn-out vinyl and homemade mix tapes.
Overcrowded venues. With their biotoxic mix of aggro, volume, spew and carcinogenic haze. No place for coin-collecting koalas, or couples on first dates.
The bloke in front built like Sergeant Small. Shouting every chorus into his mate’s eardrum. The same mate who pinched your hard-earned spot, just moments before the house lights dimmed.
Your favourite song rarely played. Pleas for longed-for encores unheeded. The bar wrung dry two cans into the set – pleasing few but the unsmiling New Breed bouncers.
Drummer Rob Hirst once quipped that he only joined the band to extract himself from the audience maul – and he was right: it was tough being a Midnight Oil fan!
And of course, there was always that nagging fear. The fear that any show from about 1984 onwards might be the Oil’s last. So you stayed alert for snippets of tour news via the street press and hoardings.
Like footy fans at finals time, we queued at the local Bass outlet for tickets. Revelling in the early morning banter with the diehards, who were lucky enough to have witnessed the band at full tilt in the ‘early days’ of the late 1970’s. Other standout gigs were re-lived: Astor Theatre ’82, Kooyong ’85, Venue ’86 and Festival Hall ’87.
As the lines grew, so too the folk tales – populated with characters like Giffo, Bear, Glad, Charlie and the band’s hard working kelpie, Michael Lippold. The lead singer’s hot bitumen dance steps always got a mention. And a laugh.
It wasn’t long before you started to argue the merits or otherwise of the latest Midnight Oil long play release or side project. Inevitably culminating in someone proclaiming or defying the expression “They’ve sold out!”
At the concert (usually sold out), yanking on the new Acme tour tee-shirt over your faded Head Injuries top. Nodding discreetly to the familiar faces of the Mentone fanatics gig after gig. Giving the send-off to the support band no matter how hard they played, before observing your favourite ritual: the raising of the lead vocal mic before the main event.
Anticipating the first song of the set and roaring in approval if delivered. Thrilling to the duelling riffs of guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey, while coveting their Gretsch, Fender and Richenbacker instruments.
Taking the cue from Bones Hillman when a big chorus was about to break like a wave over us. Trying to make sense of Garrett’s unholy rants delivered between hymns for peace, love and probity. And all the while, soaking up Hirst’s heroics, his crash-ride cymbal reigning supreme.
Afterwards, pestering the stage crew for a setlist or drumstick. Then reeling off into the night with soul revived and body three-part wrecked. Already, desperate for the Oils to return, for just one more stand.
And stand they did, lugging their road-cases anywhere and everywhere from the strict rules of Warakurna, to the windswept plains of Winnipeg, and back again to the regular swells of Wollongong.
Performing the showgrounds, beerbarns, campuses, amphitheatres, and famously, a flat bed truck – with all the energy, artistry and resolve that somehow managed to propel this parcan and amp spectacular for 25 years.
Until one Saturday night in November 2002 at the Forum Theatre. The last gig they played in my town.[Or so I thought!]
There I am, still a 17-year-old novitiate ducking flying arms and open hands at a wild Myer Music Bowl benefit in early ’82. Still being entertained, intrigued and affirmed by this band of seekers from Sydney Australia who sang so resoundingly about my one lucky country.
Parcan And Amp was part of The Basement Flat Tapes (Melbourne) and My One Lucky Country (Darwin), spoken word events curated by Leo Grogan in 2017 in celebration of Midnight Oil.