If you think Wall Street is awash in blood, you should've seen First Avenue last night. At 7 p.m, a healthy hour and a half before Oasis was set to go on, my buddy scalped a pair of tickets in the fourth row--$68 face value--for thirty bucks apiece. Thirty bucks. Fourth row. Floor. Zero negotiation. That was the scalper's IPO.
It was a massacre out there.
When I graduated from high school in 1994, I also graduated from Soul Asylum and Nirvana and Guns N Roses, and matriculated into Britpop. After Dave Pirner went adult contemporary and Axl went Howard Hughes and Kurt shot himself in the head, I felt both abandoned and disgusted with all the rock-god-as-poet narcissism of both metal and grunge. Oasis's Gallagher Brothers drew me in with their mega-sounding Beatles-rip-offs, and their cheeky swagger and brotherly antagonism. They were mouthy bastards, but their narcissism was less calculated, less complex, than the pretty boys from the grunge era. And they were Irish Catholics from Manchester, so I could relate to their macho braggadocio in a way I couldn't (or hadn't yet tried) with say, Tupac Shakur's.
I know it's counter-intuitive, but to me there was something unpretentious about announcing the desire to be, as they did, "bigger than the Beatles." Oasis became my favorite band, and they've stayed that way for almost fifteen years. As a (nominally) more fully formed adult, I went on to love a million other performers and songs, but there's something adolescent about picking a favorite band--maybe akin to picking a "best friend"--and Oasis was the last one I picked. Or at least the last one that I really committed to.
But walking into a half-empty Target Center with my cutthroat associates last night, I realized that I was dreading this show. Like full-on, angsty, existentialist, Kierkegaardian, weird dark Danish dread. I don't know if it was all the disappointment swirling around this particular place (let's review: the Wolves fired their coach and their GM this week and somehow, in this brutal economy, Kevin McHale still has a job?) or if it was the fact that Dig Out Your Soul , Oasis' new record, was the first Oasis record that I've been deeply disappointed with since...well, ever.
I know, I know, but I'm a fanatic--one of those people that thought Be Here Now was both comparable in quality to the other big British success that year, OK Computer, and a natural artistic progression (it was their we're-finally-coked-out-rock-stars-with-Johnny Depp-on-slide record!) after Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory . And I think their three middle-period records, were, ahem, "misunderstood," first fighting against a new wave of boy bands and then a new wave of hipster boogie. So trust me when I tell you: Dig Out Your Soul legitimately sucks.
So it was probably everything (and Ryan Adams playing plaintive country songs amidst all the
empty T-center seats surely didn't help--for a second I thought the Cardinals were going to break out into Tennyson's "A Dream of Fair Women"). Inside my tightened chest, I realized I was losing love for my boyhood pantheon of Irish heroes--Noel and Liam and Kevin. Long buoyed by my nostalgia for their past accomplishments, in middle age, they were finally being exposed as mere mortals, with weaknesses for synthesized faux sitar and tweener power forwards with slow feet, respectively.
But then Oasis played "Rock and Roll Star" and everything was okay again. If nostalgia's Greek roots ( nostos meaning "return home" and algos meaning "pain") mean "return home to pain," then the Target Center was a glorious cardiopulmonary abattoir. "Rock and Roll Star," with its Beatles-meets-the-Sex Pistols wall of guitars and Liam's nasty Mancunian bray--"toniiiiiiiiiight, I'm a rock and roll star,"--written by Noel, incidentally, way before they were actual rock and roll stars, when they were just another hungry Manchester bar band, sounded nostalgic the first time I heard it sometime in 1994, and it just gets better (or worse, depending on your attitude towards painful longing) each year on.
Fact is, Liam's voice was in great shape last night and all the old songs sounded fantastic: "Cigarettes and Alcohol," "Slide Away," "What's the Story (Morning Glory)?" "Wonderwall." I mean, c'mon--those are all great songs if you're an Oasis fan, and not just some rubbernecker there to check out those zany Gallagher Brothers you've heard so much about. And Liam always exits the stage in the middle of the show for a little Noel set, and The Chief's "The Masterplan" was ebuillent, and Noel also played "The Importance of Being Idle," a favorite of mine (for obvious reasons) off 2005's Don't Believe The Truth . Yes, every single one of their new songs stunk, but they only really played three of them, and "The Shock of the Lightning" wasn't disgusting.
Do I sound defensive? Am I giving off a little Tom Cruise-holding-court-on-Scientology vibe? You're probably right. But that's one of the aspects of being an Oasis fan in America. Part of it is kind of culty--I mean, we bootleg audio tapes of famous Gallagher brother fights and read nme.com like it's PerezHilton. It's a real niche, middle-brow Anglophile dork thing. There's not that many of us--other than a couple weird buddies, my fellow countrymen have just never really bought into the Gallagher's schtick. Check out Riemenschneider's review of the show, entitled (tellingly) "Oasis Cool to a Fault at Target Center." And then read the comments. Whoa. Is it just me, or do people seem disproportionally pissed at Noel's little "It's so cold here--you people are aware that there's a place called California, right?" joke.
Americans, specifically American rock fans, just don't get Oasis. Everything--their music, their lyrics, the way they stand when they sing, their put-down jokes--seems to bug. Is it primarily because Americans don't understand the concept of swagger? We seem to get it when Lil Wayne or T.I., or even Toby Keith puffs out, but outside of Kid Rock, who's reviled by most "pure rock" fans, there's not a lot of swagger in our major rock stars. I used to blame this on the over-sensitive, humorless indie boys, but last night I had a little bit of a revelation. After the show, I went across the street to First Avenue to check out the Black Crowes (evidently, as did the Gallagher Brothers themselves, who were spotted up by the control room). The audiences were contrasted for me immediately. In retrospect, Oasis' crowd almost had a Trekkie vibe--clean-cut thirtysomethings wearing a Northern English uniform (Manchester City Soccer club scarves or jerseys that they bought on the Internet), whereas The Black Crowes' crowd seemed to be exclusively comprised of Ford Plant workers and contracted carpenters--rugged blue collar dudes in Carhartt drinking NASCAR beer.
So I'm a Trekkie.
This revelation is profoundly embarrassing to me.
But why aren't all these tough guys into Oasis? Is it just because they have funny foreign accents? C'mon, it's Mancunian English, not Masterpiece Theatuh. And I mean, the Crowes are good and all, and the whole band is full of aggressive facial hair, but their music and their stage presence are both more generic and more sensitive than Oasis'. And beard or no, the Crowes' lead man, Chris Robinson, does a version of Mick Jagger's rooster tail shimmy the entire time that out androgynouses Mick's, for God's sake. Contrast this to Liam's persona, which consistently gets labeled "wooden" or "arrogant" by our music press--to me, it sounds like these rock writers are collectively suppressing a latent wish or fear (or both). During his brother's guitar solos, Our Kid (as he's known by the aficionados) will turn around and admire himself on the gigantic video screens, standing there like a statue, with his legs spread four feet apart. Other times, he'll walk around, hunched over like an ape, spitting into the corner of the stage. Or he'll point at the crowd, gesturing and screaming over the noise like a fighter before the beginning of a boxing match. Throughout, he demonstrates a bitter disdain for his tambourine.
Isn't that how rock stars are supposed to act?
So what happened to ours?
(photo credit: Adam Switlick)