FAIRFAX, Va. -- God forbid that someone potentially having their
intestines compressed through the bars of a stage barrier would detract from the
scripted vision that Oasis leader Noel Gallagher has for his audience.
Three songs into that band's Friday (Jan. 9) concert at the Patriot Center,
the Britpop mastermind intoned dully, "I've been told to tell you that
people up front are getting hurt, so everyone please chill."
It only makes sense that Gallagher had to be prodded to inform the kids
not to gut one another -- he seemed to have little emotional investment in the 95-minute set. Announcements concerning audience
safety were likely not in his job description, and I'd be none too
surprised to find him demanding more pay for having to make them.
Friday's 16-song show (the second of the Oasis' North American tour) felt
more like a Pete Townshend rock opera than a concert from a band known for
their Beatlesesque pop singles -- everyone on stage had been handed their
lines and cues for the Gospel According to Gallagher.
Of course that left
those who treasure live performances for offering some of rock 'n' roll's
most incendiary moments wondering where on Oasis' stage was the spark.
It certainly wasn't behind the semi-circle monitor bunker that enclosed
singer Liam Gallagher. The younger brother appeared quite content to
follow his sibling's outline.
Rolling through a set almost equally
balanced among Oasis' three albums, Definitely Maybe, (What's the
Story) Morning Glory? and the latest, Be Here Now, Liam assumed
his signature bent-knee, arms-behind-the back stance whenever singing, and
spent most of his time otherwise peering out into the arena with his left
hand buried deep in his pants.
Early suspicions that the band was simply punching the clock on songs such
as "Stand By Me" and "Supersonic" were later confirmed when they eventually
conjured up their muscle for cuts such as "It's Getting Better (Man!!)" and
"Cigarettes and Alcohol." How fitting for Liam to kick off the latter with
the line, "Is it my imagination or have I finally found something worth
living for?": a half-dozen songs into their show, the band had found in themselves the muscle to execute a batch of T-Rex riffs and AC/DC thud. Here Noel
Gallagher's guitar was as gritty as it should have been throughout the
evening, and the band afforded drummer Alan White the space he deserved to
pound his kit fully.
Unfortunately, the five-piece group (augmented by two keyboard players)
never found -- or couldn't be bothered to look for -- that pocket again.
This sad situation was particularly evident during Noel Gallagher's now
rote acoustic set, which was nestled into the middle of the show.
Those who had seen Oasis' strictly plotted show before and were hoping for
the opening act Cornershop to offer a more stimulating performance must
have been sorely disappointed.
Throughout Cornershop's seven-song set, which concentrated heavily on their
amazing 1997 album, When I Was Born For The 7th Time,
singer and songwriter Tjinder Singh stood as straight and unmoving as a
rail, as did his bandmates (save for drummer Nick Simms). In a club, such
an utterly unengaging presence would have made little difference to an
audience intent on getting down to Cornershop's thick beats and velvety
sonic textures. In a 10,000-seat arena, however, the crowd's focus is
invariably concentrated on the stage and the performer, so much so that it
is nearly impossible for an audience to rise above and rock out in
spite of a band's boring stage presence.
Although many people there recognized Cornershop's new single
"Brimful of Asha," they failed to be reeled in by other cuts such as "Sleep
On the Left Side" and "We're In Yr Corner." That Cornershop were unable to
harness the crowd's attention was especially lamentable because Tjinder
Singh's eclectic combination of styles -- all undergirded by the
universally appreciable beat -- should have lured dancers into sweating it
out in the aisles. Instead it was as if the band had treated their music
as a warm and fatted sacrificial animal, slitting its veins for all the
energy to drain, wasted on the floor.
"This band forgot they are playing in front of an audience," said a bored
Deb Longua, 30, summing up the crux of the evening. Although his music is
far less conducive to love-vibe dancing, I've seen Jon Bon Jovi engross a
crowd far more tenaciously than either Cornershop or Oasis did at the
Patriot Center, perhaps because Jon, unlike the Oasis and Cornershop boys, understood that pleasing an audience is part of the rock job -- and that without an audience he'd have no career. No matter whether
you judge that as pandering or showmanship, it's much more exciting to
watch than stagnant self-absorption. [Mon., Jan. 12, 1998, 9:00 a.m. PST]