PASSION AND POLITICS STILL FUEL MIDNIGHT OIL

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The jaded rock fans who decided to skip Midnight Oil's show at Avalon Saturday night because they expected sorry gasps from just another doddering '80s band got what they deserved.

So did the fans who decided to attend.

The Australian rockers surged through 90 minutes of charismatic, high-potency rock 'n' roll that proved they are as vital and relevant as they've ever been. The selections they plucked from their quarter- century of songs still burst with life, and the new tunes they played were among the highlights of the show.

This was never more true than on their midset tear through "Golden Age," a super-driving tune whose high point was a screaming solo by Jim Moginie, one of the three guitarists who give backbone to the band's sound. The song, slated to be the first single off the new "Capricornia" when it is released in February, drew a sustained roar from the fully involved full house.

"It's fun to do that rock thing every now and then," said lead singer Peter Garrett. But there was nothing "now and then" about the show; "that rock thing" rolled almost from start to finish. Only on a stripped-down version of "In the Valley," from 1993's "Earth and Sun and Moon," handled by Garrett on vocals and Moginie on keyboards, did the pulse slacken even a bit.

Garrett, a fascinating bald behemoth who holds a law degree and is in his second term as president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, was his typically manic self throughout the performance: vaguely robotic and entirely energetic. He sweats and spits as he spins his way through a show.

Equally active, if mostly stationary, was drummer Rob Hirst, who powers the band's unrelenting rhythms. But even he was able to move a bit during a five-song stretch that began with "Beds Are Burning," the anthemic opener to the Oil's 1988 break out album, "Diesel and Dust." They brought out a spare standing drum kit, and Hirst played as part of a united front, five across.

Just before "Beds Are Burning" was "Say Your Prayers," a song in support of the Timorese people, who have been fighting for independence for Indonesia since 1975 and are to begin their independence in May. It was standard Oil: lyrics that are passionate and controversial, wrapped in a tight musical package.

Garrett did not delve much into politics beyond the songs themselves, which are drenched with issues of economics and justice, except when he introduced "Blue Sky Mine." He let loose on Al Gore for having environmental ideals but being too gutless to push for them, and then bore in on Prince Charles, pausing midway only to say, "I promised I wouldn't talk about politics tonight." But without political content, there would be no Midnight Oil.

The good news for the jaded is that Oil not only is, but will be. Garrett said after the show that they intend to come back through Boston in the spring.