Today's Top Stories
Sunday, December 18, 2005
A different class. Oasis & Coldplay
It's the Nineties versus the Noughties as both of Britain's biggest stadium acts take to the road. But will Coldplay be as happy as Oasis to tread the path of crowd-pleasing familiarity?
Exhibition & Conference Centre, Aberdeen
Earls Court, London SW5
Oasis and Coldplay released their latest albums within seven days of each other; they end the year with a tour that finds them performing within seven days of each other.
Monday night in Aberdeen and 8,000 fans wait impatiently for Oasis. Some are survivors from the Nineties but the veterans from the Britpop wars are easily outnumbered by those for whom the Oasis versus Blur rivalry is as much part of ancient history as a Conservative government.
When they emerged Oasis were a swaggering response to the self-indulgent whining of grunge. Kurt Cobain loathed celebrity but the Gallagher brothers gave every impression of relishing their fame. Two classic albums, however, were followed by successive disappointments. By the time they headlined Glastonbury last year they were a letdown.
With Don't Believe the Truth some of the fire has returned. They begin with 'Turn up the Sun' which is greeted with delirium. From the opening number onwards every song is welcomed with an eardrum-perforating roar. New songs 'Lyla' and 'Mucky Fingers' are welcomed almost as enthusiastically as older favourites 'Live Forever', 'Champagne Supernova' and 'Cigarettes and Alcohol'.
Liam Gallagher, sporting startling mutton chops and a pin-striped jacket, remains compelling while behind him Zak Starkey, Andy Bell and Gem Archer give understated but powerful support. Noel takes lead vocals on 'The Masterplan'. It is hard not to be moved by these songs which form the soundtrack to my generation. Rather fittingly they close the show with a cover of The Who's 'My Generation'.
Based on tonight's performance Oasis can still deliver what their fans desire: unvarnished anthems, free of self-doubt and which sound instantly familiar on first listen. But there is nothing that feels surprising or unpredictable. The latest album freely borrows from the Beatles as well as the Stranglers, the Kinks and the Velvet Underground, but what made those acts great was their willingness to innovate. Damon Albarn, the Gallaghers' Nineties nemesis, has spent the past decade doing just that with his Mali Music project and the Gorillaz albums but Oasis appear unwilling or unable to stretch themselves or their audience. For all their working-class roots, Oasis in 2005 are an essentially conservative outfit trading on past (morning) glories.
A decade on from Britpop and the group's current public school educated opponents take the stage of London's Earls Court for the first of three sold-out shows. This year Coldplay vaulted into the stellar league. Despite a difficult gestation X&Y was a worldwide hit; the band produced a stunning set at Glastonbury, won Best Act in the World at the Q awards (where Liam described Chris Martin as a 'plant pot') and played a prominent role in the Make Poverty History campaign. Once dismissed as 'music for bedwetters', they are ending the year in triumph.
The show opens with a giant digital clock counting down; silhouetted against it stands Chris Martin while the opening bars of 'Square One' ring out. The song is quintessential Coldplay: music influenced by Pink Floyd and Radiohead and lyrics that are possibly profound or a load of windy tosh. 'Is there anybody out there who/ Is lost and hurt and lonely too?' sings Martin as the crowd is bathed in green, red and blue light.
When not hunched in front of the keyboard Martin is bounding from one side of the stage to the other, not so much throwing rock star shapes as performing onstage yoga. During 'Politik' the background screens are filled with billowing flames of red and orange; for 'Yellow' dozens of huge yellow balloons magically appear and float above the audience.
If Oasis appeal to the bladdered, Coldplay's music speaks to the bewildered; like a male Dido, Chris Martin makes polite music for the faintly puzzled. His lyrics are spiritual, sort of; restless and yearning, vaguely. They come framed inside huge chiming, tremulous guitars, which is as close as their sound gets to having (the) Edge, insistent skeletal piano melodies and occasionally some fierce drumming. When it works as on 'God Put a Smile on Your Face' it creates an intricate, claustrophobic aural backdrop to Chris Martin's possibly meaningful words.
After a pulsating 'White Shadows' and 'The Scientist' come two songs dedicated to Johnny Cash: a moving 'Til Kingdom Come' and a cover of 'Ring of Fire' which does not quite come off. Chris Martin conveys little sense of having known true hurt; famously married to Gwyneth Paltrow (they already have one child, Apple, and with the news that Paltrow is pregnant look set to have a pair), he manfully tries to remain self-deprecating, giving the impression of not quite being able to believe that the assembled thousands are there to see him and his band. Having thanked those sitting at the very back of the vast Earls Court, he goes further and runs the length of the arena to be closer to them. A wistful and fragile 'Swallowed in the Sea' is followed by 'In My Place' and the inevitable 'Fix You' which has become Coldplay's 'Imagine'.
They might be easy to hate but Coldplay's rootless, doubt-filled ruminations reflect the Zeitgeist as surely as Oasis's cocksure anthems for the Loaded generation did a decade ago. It has been unquestionably their year but the challenge is how to ensure that when fashion changes they are not left stranded. Let's hope that in 10 years' time they don't look back in anger.
· Oasis play Belfast Odyssey Arena (tonight and Mon) and Dublin Point Theatre (Wed and Thur). Coldplay play Newcastle Telewest Arena (tonight), Manchester Evening News Arena (Mon) and Belfast Odyssey Arena (Wed)
source: The Observer
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