Oasis Sleepwalks Through Show

Despite what Noel Gallagher might think, just his presence on a stage isn't enough.

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]