An Oasis performance in the year 2005 is like having sex or eating pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. Gone is the heyday of the group’s lean and muscular swagger that launched it into stardom more than 10 years ago. Gone is the novelty of the Gallagher brothers’ on and off stage double act. Gone is the entire original line-up apart from Liam and Noel themselves. But what remains is still enough to keep fans coming out in droves to see the group perform.
Like the Rolling Stones before them, Oasis has seemingly reached that nearly impossible-to-cultivate cushy stage of a career where it can draw massive crowds all over the world regardless of the success or quality of its new material. Yes, there is a new album, and it is significantly better than their last effort, 2002’s awful “Heathen Chemistry.” But the material still pales in comparison to the landmark battle cries of the band’s first two albums “Definitely Maybe” and “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory.”
On Sept. 12 in Los Angeles, the group — which currently features guitarist Gem Archer, bassist Andy Bell, drummer Zak Starkey and keyboardist Jay Darlington — drew heavily from those records as it greeted a jam-packed Hollywood Bowl with a 90-minute set of trademark tumultuous rock and roll.
Just the sight of Liam and Noel undeniably still delivers that magic, needle-prick star quality that seems to have evaporated from the current crop of guitar bands. Settling into the first notes of “Turn Up The Sun” from the new “Don’t Believe The Truth,” however, it became clear that the magic was not going to last long. By the start of the next song, “Lyla”, Liam was out of breath and looking a bit puffy, making no attempt whatsoever to even annunciate the lyrics, which he was already singing off-key.
A three-song nostalgia trip of “Bring It on Down”, “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory” and “Cigarettes and Alcohol” did little to steady the ship, as Liam continued to phone in a tired vocal effort. Musically, there were shades of former brilliance thanks to Noel’s much-improved and inventive guitar soloing throughout each track. The elder Gallagher thankfully took over lead vocal duties on current U.K. single “The Importance of Being Idle” which he delivered with a much-welcomed sense of finesse and polish.
“This one’s for all the deaf people,” yelled Liam as he waltzed back on stage for “A Bell Will Ring.” “Acquiesce” continued to highlight the disparity between each brother’s performance. The Liam-sung verses were dirge-like and painful, each time giving way to inspired and rousing Noel-sung choruses. It was as if someone injected the group with electricity during the sections where Noel took charge, and then unplugged them whenever Liam opened his mouth.
After Liam dedicated a slow and bloated rendition of “Live Forever” to the flood victims in New Orleans, Gem blew out a nice harmonica pad underneath the new album’s Velvet Underground-ish “Mucky Fingers.” A fuzzed-out “Wonderwall” then sent the Hollywood Bowl into a sing-along frenzy, even though Liam did little to impart any emotion. “Champagne Supernova” and “Rock’n’Roll Star” continued with more of the same, the former showcasing Noel’s excellent melody-drenched guitar solos.
For however lackluster and disappointing things had been up to this point, the encore began to turn it all around. Liam finally poured his soul into “Guess God Thinks I’m Abel,” which was bolstered by Darlington’s thick and gauzy keyboard layers. The song’s psychedelic pathos translated better than any of the new album’s other offerings and bodes well for Liam’s own future songwriting prowess. The 90-second long “Meaning of Soul” followed with a burst of stomping energy that perfectly set-up the evening’s climax, “Don’t Look Back In Anger.”
Naturally, Noel was in full command here as he belted out the melody of one of the more memorable songs of the past two decades. Finally, this was the moment that reminded everyone why they came to see the band. The Hollywood Bowl sang along to every word and if only for that moment, Oasis went right back to being your favorite band on the planet.
Starkey and Bell finally got a chance to cut loose on the Who’s “My Generation” which delivered the night’s most impressive stretch of musicianship. But then all of a sudden, the evening was over just as it started to come to a boil: an hour and twenty minutes of mildly titillating foreplay, 10 minutes of real pleasure.
On this tour, Oasis is completely ignoring its previous three albums of material, and that is a good thing. This forces the band to structure the set list around the first two albums, which is necessary to maintain such a broad appeal, but is tiresome for its dedicated following. Some of Liam’s brutish charms have worn thin, and his on-stage antics, hand gestures and tambourine choreography have changed little since 1996.
But we’re talking about Oasis here, and with Oasis, you have to take the good with the bad. Evolution is not their strong suit, and nor should it be. They are a guitar rock institution and the Gallagher brothers have become icons. Their appeal will remain intact for as long as they can sustain their own identity. And whether its 1995, 2005 or 2015, fans around the globe will surely give them a reason to do just that.
Here is Oasis’ set list:
“F*ckin’ in the Bushes”
“Turn Up the Sun”
“Bring It on Down”
“(What’s the Story) Morning Glory”
“Cigarettes and Alcohol”
“The Importance of Being Idle”
“A Bell Will Ring”
“Guess God Thinks I’m Abel”
“Meaning of Soul”
“Don’t Look Back in Anger”