Unexpected rain and chilly temperatures were no deterrent for the 81,000 fans who turned out today (March 14) for the Sound Relief bushfire benefit concert at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Thousands of ticket holders in the open-air section sheltered under bright plastic ponchos and umbrellas, but remained exultant — from when Jet kicked off their set at 12:15 pm with "Rip It Up" and "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" through to headliner Midnight Oil's encore "Sometimes." By that time, 25 millimetres of rain had fallen over the MCG.
Kings Of Leon, who played a sell-out show at the Rod Laver Arena later that night, opted not to play their chart-topping "Sex On Fire." Singer Caleb Followill explained, "We know it's a sensitive thing so we aren't playing that song." But Midnight Oil included "Beds Are Burning" in their set. "These songs stand in their own right, they stand in their own time," singer Peter Garrett told media backstage.
Acts acknowledged the magnitude of the show with interesting pair-ups. A set by Neil Finn's son, singer-songwriter Liam, became an unexpected Crowded House reunion. High-energy hip-hop duo Bliss'n'Eso brought soul singer Paris Wells out for a relevant "Field Of Dreams." Country music wife and husband team Kasey Chambers were joined by Troy Cassar-Daley for a set that included the title track of the duo's chart topping "Rattlin' Bones" album which included the poignant line "Sorrow came scratchin' at my door".
A string of artists used the platform of the concert to highlight the cause. Teen singer Gabriella Cilmi, whose family home was near the bushfires, threw in Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love". Jack Johnson, another international act who answered the call, finished his seven-song solo set with "Better Together".
Veteran local troubadour Paul Kelly wound up his five-song set with a biblical image-laden ode to the victims, "Meet Me In The Middle of The Air."
Kylie Minogue arrived in Melbourne, her hometown, earlier in the day from shooting a Bollywood movie in India. The pop singer delivered a rendition of the late Peter Allen's, "I Still Call Australia Home."
Crowded House dedicated "Better Be Home Soon" to firefighters who risked their lives to save homes. A minute's silence at 7:45 pm for the dead was followed by a pre-recorded message from London by British princes William and Harry praising the emergency services "who have done so much to save so many lives."
For younger fans, it was as much a chance to see esoteric outfit Augie March and the new line-up of heavy rock band Wolfmother (who, like Jet, played both cities) as get their first taste of '80s bands Hunters & Collectors and Split Enz, who matched onstage charisma with hit-filled sets.
There had been reports earlier in the week that Peter Garrett's day job as environment minister had cut into rehearsal time for Midnight Oil. The lanky politician returned from environmental meetings in Papua New Guinea for two warm-up club shows in Canberra two days before. By the time the Oils charged onto the MCG stage to a resounding roar with "Redneck Wonderland", "Read About It" and "Blue Sky Mining", they were operating on all eight cylinders. The rockers then went on to devour "One Country," "Beds Are Burning," "King Of The Mountain," "Dead Heart" and "The Power And The Passion."
Before they went onstage, Oils drummer Rob Hirst had joked, "A cabinet minister going back to being a rock musician. Surely that's a world first."