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Midnight Oil back to 'rub noses' with North American fans

Garrett: "We're not writing to set an agenda. This is just how we are as people."  

By Shanon Cook

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- People say Midnight Oil front man Peter Garrett is a giant -- a 7-footer, they say, with enormous hands, boat-sized feet and a bald, but terribly mesmerizing head.

No one says anything about his eyes -- how luminous they are, just how pale green they appear. If the eyes are a mirror to the soul, can his be anything but calm and self-assured?

Oh, and, yes, the guy's pretty tall, too. Now that he and his mates are touring in North America again, Garrett realizes crowds haven't forgotten his height, either.

"I'm only 6-foot-4," he said. "With basketball players bouncing out of sports pages every day… these guys are tall. I'm just built for good bodysurfing."

But when Garrett gets on stage, the hyperactive vocalist turned vocal activist doesn't just zoom past as though he's riding a wave off the coast of his native Sydney, Australia. He struts and frets. He gyrates and jerks, his long limbs flail about. His energy is angry, relentless, unrestrained, his form looming, imposing.

Gallery: On stage with Midnight Oil 
"Blue Sky Mine"
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"Beds are Burning"
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Peter Garrett on September 11: 'Keep doing what you normally do' 

You can't keep your eyes off him.

Dressed all in black, save for a pair of red shoelaces, his clean-shaven head reflecting red spotlights, Garrett gave an audience in Atlanta, Georgia, a recent reminder that after 25 years, he still packs a mighty punch as the Oil's lead vocalist.

The Atlanta stop was one of a series of coast-to-coast appearances across North America, which the band will wrap with a November 17 concert in Portland, Oregon. The tour marks the first time the Oils have appeared north of the equator since 1997.

"We've just come back to say hi, and we'll be coming back again," said Garrett.

'Cranky guys' from Oz

Midnight Oil -- "a bunch of cranky guys from Aussie" Garrett calls them -- belted out unforgettable songs like "Forgotten Years," "Power and the Passion" and an acoustic version of the late '80s Aboriginal land-rights hit, "Beds Are Burning" for the crowd of 800 in Atlanta last Wednesday.

They also played songs from their 15th album, "Capricornia," due for U.S. release early next year.

Known internationally for its no-nonsense, politically fueled music spanning three decades, Midnight Oil for years packed stadiums large and small. Yet, in recent years, the band's fan base outside its native Australia dwindled.

The Oil's last U.S. release "Redneck Wonderland" (1998) failed to make a dent in the Billboard charts. Before that, 1993's "Earth and Sun and Moon" didn't match the success of previous albums "Diesel and Dust" (1987) and "Blue Sky Mining" (1990).

Garrett: "We've always followed our musical instincts, and sometimes they lead you into places that the public doesn't follow. But I think really genuinely you've got to do that when you're an artist, otherwise you will just become a cookie-cutter band."  

In the star du jour world of popular music, Midnight Oil was in danger of becoming "midnight old."

Close to home

So where has this impassioned group that once produced such thunder from Down Under been?

"We've been where we've spent most of our lives," said Garrett. "In this country on the other side of the world on the other hemisphere, with a different time zone and a different climate … called Australia."

The Oils have been touring their homeland, and in their usual fashion, delivering music that pleases the band rather than pop's mainstream. Garrett says staying close to home has enabled the Oils to spend time with family and pursue personal goals.

Ever-fiery and passionate about social issues, Garrett is serving his second term as president of the Australian Conservation Fund, an environmental organization.

But Garrett says the Oils thought it was time to take their music beyond Australia's borders again.

"We recognize that if we're going to put our records out in other places we need to reacquaint ourselves with our mates in different places -- come and rub noses with the audience," he said.

Judging by the reception of their animated U.S. fans in Atlanta, the Aussie group hasn't lost its fire.

"I'm glad they're still going strong," said a fan whose ballistic, Garrett-like moves sent her long hair into a sweeping frenzy throughout the Oil's set.

Garrett puts the band's endurance down, in part, to the members' mateship.

"I think that we just have something between us as musicians that we understand is really rare and quite precious and is capable of bringing ourselves a great deal of satisfaction," he said. "And I think you'd probably have to be mad to throw that away."


• Midnight Oil official Web site

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