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Thursday, November 09, 2006
The Better Man? Oasis, Sans Liam
Even back in their chaotic heyday, that coke-fuelled period during the mid-'90s that Noel Gallagher claims not to be able to remember, there were two different versions of Oasis.
There was the brash rock band, driven by the two brawling brothers at its forefront. And then there was songwriter/guitarist Noel's more refined and reflective, quasi-solo side-act -- the one he would break out for B-sides, acoustic sets in the middle of Oasis' arena shows and when singing sibling Liam bailed on him mere minutes before the band's MTV Unplugged session.
That split has lingered through Oasis' improbably long career. But on Tuesday night, a small contingent of the Mancurians' Toronto fan base got a demonstration of how much both incarnations have evolved.
Crammed into the Danforth Music Hall for an unusually intimate gathering to mark the release of a new best-of compilation and tour DVD, the faithful were first treated to an airing of the film. Although less a documentary than an homage to the band, the stylish production drove home what's been obvious to anyone who's caught Oasis' live act in the past couple of years.
Gone are the days of cancelled shows and onstage blow-ups. In their place is an increasingly slick and professional -- if still hard-partying and intermittently cantankerous -- rock machine. If anything, the shows -- whose set lists rarely change -- have become predictable. But they've become a ritual for the band's enormously devoted fans, who put more arms in the air and sing a little louder with each visit.
Arguably more entertaining, though, is Noel's emergence as a different sort of generational presence: elder statesman. In large part, that role involves putting his dry, profane wit to use telling war stories and passing judgment on every young band that comes along. But what sometimes passes unnoticed is the form that it took on Tuesday night.
However much he tries to pass himself off as an indifferent curmudgeon, the drug-free and increasingly worldly Gallagher is an inherently earnest and impassioned performer. Liam gives his songwriting brother's creations technical prowess and a dose of charisma; Noel, when he takes over vocal duties, gives them heart.
Accompanied only by fellow Oasis guitarist Gem Archer (who doubled on keyboard duties) and percussionist Terry Kirkbride, Gallagher mostly bypassed the familiar Oasis hits in favour of more obscure album tracks. And drawing heavily from the his 1994-95 catalogue, Gallagher served reminder of how absurdly prolific his songwriting was during that period -- many of the B-sides holding up as well or better than the take on Wonderwall.
But his fans already knew that. What they might have been more surprised by -- those who weren't too busy spoiling the vibe bellowing song requests to notice -- was the musicianship.
It's one thing to breeze through the same standards every night. It's quite another to roll out flawless new arrangements of neglected old chestnuts and actually improve on them, as he did with everything from a folksy Whatever to an impassioned Slide Away to a bluesy Married with Children, which closed the night.
As Oasis often has, Gallagher opened his encore with a cover of a Beatles song -- Strawberry Fields Forever, this time. It was perfectly proficient, but equally unnecessary. Once written off as nothing more than a Beatles imitator, the older and wiser Noel is more than capable of getting by on his own merits these days.
source: National Post
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