Midnight Oil @ Massey Hall, Toronto

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Midnight Oil at Massey Hall

When Australia’s Midnight Oil announced that they planned on touring one final time before retiring from live music, I felt a sudden burst of sadness. And when the tour itinerary was announced without a farewell stop in Montreal, sadness became devastation. How could they pass us up! Well, if Midnight Oil weren’t going to come to us, then by God; we’d go to them. And that is what we did.

We booked seats on a midnight coach, ironically, that would roll out of Montreal’s Bonaventure station and arrive in the rival city of Toronto, home to the rotten Maple Leafs, about six hours later. It must be a good twenty years since I’ve visited Toronto, and I couldn’t think of a better reason to do so than this. To see the mighty Midnight Oil one last time, and at their final gig on Canadian soil too, it felt too grand an opportunity to pass up. The only other Canadian date was the far away land of Vancouver, which despite being mightily enticing, eventually lost out to the more practical date. Massey Hall.

Weary-eyed and half-asleep, we left the bus at Union Station and began wandering in search of breakfast. Eggs. Bacon, and most vitally coffee. We came across a diner by the name of Fran’s – and after ordering up an omelet for myself, noticed that directly across the street, stood Massey Hall. Pure coincidence. Just minutes after six o’clock in the morning, and already people are lining up outside the venue. They too are on a pilgrimage to see Midnight Oil one final time before they hang it up. After all, this is the final tour in the band’s illustrious career. And unlike Motley Crue or Kiss, who have a final world tour each and every year, something tells me this really is the last hoorah for Australia’s best.

My omelet was divine and the coffee above average. The bill was higher than expected, thus being the burden of the modern backpacker. So be it.

Massey Hall was closed for several years due to the disintegration of the building. Much of the structure was the original building that was erected in 1894, while others parts were renovated in the 1930s. Talking to the fantastic staff that work the venue, I learned that somewhere around $35 million dollars had been sunk into fixing up the place. Part of that was turning the floor area into a general admission standing area – hence the fanatic Oil fans burning the umm …midnight oil.

Liz Stringer at Massey Hall

Midnight Oil have two very talented and well-known singer-songwriters on tour with them, performing backing vocals but also taking turns playing the opening slot on the tour. On this night, Liz Stringer, who briefly lived in Toronto, drew the spot. Stringer was phenomenal, playing a half-hour acoustic set made up of tracks from her six albums, taking time to talk about Canada’s mistreatment of its Native peoples, and recognizing that this evening’s entertainment took place on unseeded Native lands. An issue also shared by her native Australia. Clearly, Stringer has more than a few things in common with her mates in Midnight Oil.

Stringer played but four songs, solo, without her backing band – but those were enough to draw the attention of the theatre, and surely earn her some new fans. Stringer probably spoke to the audience as long as she sang, but what she had to say was equally intimate and as interesting as her impressive songs were. By the time her final track of the night had ended, that being the great Dangerous, the energy in the building had risen to scorching levels.

Midnight Oil are probably the most political band outside of the punk spectrum, which is even more interesting once you know that vocalist Peter Garrett was a politician himself once upon a time. Serving as President of the Australian Conservation Foundation for ten years before being elected for the Labor Party as the Member of the House of Representatives for the seat of Kingsford Smith in the 2004 election. After Labor’s victory in the 2007 election, Garrett was appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Following the 2010 election, he was made Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. In the aftermath of the 2013 leadership spill, Garrett resigned from the Ministry and announced he would retire from politics at the 2013 election.

Garrett moves so sporadically across the stage, dancing to the rhythm of his own beat, with moves that are often reminiscent of those of the late, great Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Garrett is a tall, thin man with a shorn head, a unique frontman in every possible way – and one hell of a performer. Nobody moves the way he does – nobody sings the way he does either. And on this night, Garrett’s voice is in pristine condition and primed to deliver.

Kicking off their final show in our fine, yet flawed nation, with Nobody’s Child – which just happens to also be my personal favourite number off their new album, Resist. Then At The Time Of Writing and Truganini, this well-oiled machine was truly off to the races and burning high octane fuel. From the soundboard where I was positioned to photograph, I can see the people I had met so many hours ago after breakfast, front and center and absolutely losing their minds at what was taking place before them. They too had come from far for this, Brockville to be exact. Although I didn’t get the man’s name, this was to be his thirty-fourth evening with Midnight Oil. From Canada to Australia and practically everywhere in-between. That is the power of good music.

Of course, the massive smash hits like Beds Are Burning and Blue Sky Mine were played – how could they not play those tracks on their final trek about the globe? However, when they played Land – it was the first time it had been played since 1996, in any town or venue on the planet. And when they played Arctic World and Bullroarer, it was for the first time on this tour. “We like to mix our set lists up a bit”, joked Garrett, “it keeps us on our toes”.

Watching and listening to these songs, many that I have been hearing since my early childhood, was surreal. When it struck me that this would more than likely be the last time I would ever share a room with them though, I felt sad, but truly blessed to have made it here. Those hours squished into a tightly fitted coach while being a tall geezer were suddenly well worth it. All the cramp and knee pains. The burden to my wallet seemed minuscule as you simply can’t trade financial wealth for experiences like these – I’ll pick the backpacking route every single time. Just being here tonight, in this room, with these people – all of these people, was magical. Singing in unison with total strangers a thing of beauty.

The customary encore came about, and when the crowd didn’t begin to sing the Ole Ole chant – I suddenly began to miss Montreal. In Toronto, you just make as much noise as you can until the band gets tired of it and comes back to play a few more songs to appease the masses. And why do this once, when you can do it twice? The Massey Hall masses were gifted a second encore, meaning that Midnight Oil had now played a whopping twenty-five songs in about two and a half hours. For those final moments, drummer Rob Hirst took the front of the stage, beating on bongos and singing, while Garrett sang back-ups for him. How can you not love this band?

What a stunning venue the revamped Massey Hall has become. I can’t speak to how it was prior, but today, it looks great and the sound is phenomenal. Having had the chance to walk about and see a little portion of each of the five floors in the building, I can say with all honesty, that I look forward to the day when our paths cross again. For this night, though; we had reached the end and must bid Midnight Oil adieu one final time on Canadian soil. Stolen Canadian soil.

One thing that is now a certainty, is that my next trip to Toronto will be far sooner than two decades from now. Hockey rivalries or otherwise, Toronto is a great city – one that I can’t wait to revisit again soon.

Written and photographed by Kieron Yates

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