The following is from the July 6, 2002 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Indigos, Midnight Oil score a hit in concert

July 6, 2002


Many young musicians dream of scoring a hit single. In today's corporate rock environment, which is dominated by five multinational companies, a hit single is often the life preserver than keeps a band afloat. If an act is unable to scale the singles charts, it is often dropped by the record company, cast out into cold, choppy waters (but still required to pay back the money that the label spent on marketing and promotion).

This wasn't always the case. Thursday's Fourth of July concert in the Petrillo Music Shell featured three veteran acts who have built sturdy careers via quality albums and frequent touring.

The Indigo Girls, Midnight Oil and Marcia Ball have been recording for a cumulative total of more than 65 years. Combined, these three acts have generated one Top 40 hit in the United States: Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning'' reached No. 17 on the Billboard singles chart in the spring of 1988.

Thursday's show was sponsored and booked by WXRT-FM (93.1), a radio station born 30 years ago, in an era when there was a clear distinction between the music that was played on the AM and FM dials. The Indigo Girls may not be hitmakers, but it would be difficult to discern that by observing the Grant Park crowd, which lustily sang along with several of the Georgia duo's songs.

The audience reached its vocal peak during a performance of the Indigo Girls' best-known song, "Closer to Fine.'' For this transcendent, feel-good moment, the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers was joined onstage by guest vocalists Lisa Loeb and Chicagoan Cathy Richardson.

Backed by a trio of musicians who played on their latest album, "Become You," the Indigo Girls offered an hourlong set that featured their hallmark harmonies. Bassist Claire Kenny and drummer Brady Blade provided intricate, sinewy rhythms without calling undue attention to themselves. Carol Isaacs punctuated the proceedings with melodic lines from her keyboard, accordion and penny whistle.

The Indigos showed their prowess on both sides of the folk-rock equation. On "Get Out the Map," Ray's spirited mandolin riffs intertwined with Saliers' ringing banjo notes. The pair also strapped on electric guitars and rocked surprisingly hard on a couple of tunes, including "Go," a showcase for Saliers' screaming, low-on-the neck fretwork.

Standing in front of a sign that read "No Nukes,'" Ray encouraged the crowd to phone elected officials and voice their concerns about nuclear waste. This proved to be a theme of the afternoon, as it also was mentioned a couple of times by Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett.

Founded in 1975, Midnight Oil spikes its foot-stomping, anthemic rock with socio-political commentary on issues such as environmentalism, workers' rights and, most famously, the persecution of the Australian Aborigines, the indigenous people of the band's homeland.

In Grant Park, Garrett lived up to his reputation as one of rock's most charismatic frontmen, a hyperactive marionette with a bald pate, flailing arms and a 7-foot frame. Decked out in a long-sleeve red shirt and tan trousers, the vocalist's clothes were soaked in perspiration by the set's end. Garrett jogged through the pavilion and climbed atop the mixing-board booth for a rumbling reading of "The Dead Heart." It was an act of showmanship rarely seen on the Petrillo mainstage, and one particularly appreciated by fans on the lawn.

After 27 years in the business, Midnight Oil remains a vital act because of its heartfelt commitment to its beliefs and refusal to play on autopilot. This quintet has not stopped believing in the power of music to change minds and to get heads bobbing. Garrett introduced "Beds Are Burning,'' a tune about the Aborigines, with a typical quip: "This song makes us realize that there was life before Newton, Disneyland and Reeboks."

Ball opened the show with a raucous set of New Orleans piano boogie and barroom R&B shouters. A pounding version of Tampa Red's 1942 hit "Let Me Play with Your Poodle" was a glorious, though unacknowledged, tribute to the Chicago blues master.

© 2002 Chicago Sun-Times

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