Review: Midnight Oil 1984 is one for the fans

A personal note – I was never a fan of Midnight Oil. When the band was at their peak I was just a kid, and they were frankly a bit scary. Heading into my teens Peter Garrett and his lurching frame had stopped being scary, and were just plain uncool. Musicians who cared about stuff like the environment? Ugh!

Nowadays as a mostly-formed adult who appreciates his place in the world, I regret my apathy, and can appreciate what an awesome outfit they were. And the thing that cements their place is, of course, the stuff I found so cringe-worthy. They were great because they cared. Marry a sense of purpose with formidable musicianship and you have lightning in a bottle.

The bulk of this documentary is a trove of unearthed concert and behind-the-scenes footage, which offstage finds Midnight Oil preoccupied with nukes. As drummer Rob Hirst points out near the start of the film, it wasn’t long ago that the threat of nuclear oblivion was constantly on the horizon. Keeping it out of their music wasn’t an option.

A series of present-day talking heads form the spine of the movie, while the 1984 narrative concerns Garrett’s first foray into politics with the Nuclear Disarmament Party. Offstage Garrett is an eloquent, gentle man, but he’s captured onstage at the height of his fearsome powers, totally unafraid, according to stage manager Michael Lippold, to “make a dick of himself”.

It goes without saying that this is one for the fans. It’s largely concert footage, so familiarity with the songs goes a long way. The thing is, I found I had most of them lodged in my head somewhere, waiting to be remembered. They’ve stood the test of time, even with someone who wasn’t always that fussed.