Oasis: Noel’s last stand (well almost!)

If you caught Oasis’ show at Hiroshima Green Arena on March 14, you were doubly lucky. Not only did you see a great gig, you are also one of the last people in the world to see Noel Gallagher performing with the band.

The drama

On Tuesday May 23rd, Noel walked out on the band’s current world tour, confirming that he had quit all overseas touring with the band, permanently. British newspapers quote Noel as saying he was sick of life on the road, and of his brother Liam’s excessive drinking.

His dramatic departure caused four French shows to be cancelled, including a sell-out Paris gig, but the tour resumed without Noel in Milan on May 30th. Matt Deighton, who has worked with Paul Weller and Mother Earth, was hastily drafted in as second guitarist, while Gem Archer seems to have taken over Noel’s lead guitar parts. This means that, onstage at least, Liam is now the only remaining original member of the group. Nevertheless, early reports indicate that this new-look Oasis threw everything into the Milan show, giving a storming performance.

The band’s prospects for the longer term can only be guessed at. Noel insists the band have not split and that he will play with them on their UK tour dates. However he also intends to continue work on his solo projects, having already completed one side-project (the Tailgunner album) and written at least three songs for a solo album. But brother Liam told the British tabloid The Sun that if Noel makes a solo album, that will be the end of Oasis.

For his part, Noel told the same newspaper that he has “no relationship with Liam outside the band. We are not good at playing happy families.” In the same interview he went on to slam Liam’s claim that he was born to be a star. “He’s just a normal kid with a good voice singing in a good band. It’s as simple as that,” Noel said. “Singers have massive egos. All the things about stardom are just fucking bullshit. The more you believe it the more stupid and meaningless your actual life becomes.”

Amid these tensions many critics have been quick to conclude that Oasis are as good as dead. But the immediate evidence indicates that they may be far from finished. After all, public feuds between the two brothers are nothing new (neither are Noel’s bouts of doubt about the band’s future, revealing that after Be Here Now he seriously doubted the band had a future at all). And the Noel-less Oasis seem to be rising to the challenge by playing with a long-absent fire and vigour, judging from reviews coming in from Italy and Switzerland. Liam in particular has been turning in some dynamic performances, cartwheeling around the stage and generally acting it up like never before. “Oasis is a fucking band. Not just one person,” he told the Milan crowd.

Just how Noel’s decision to continue working with the band without touring them will work out in practice remains to be seen, but maybe, just maybe, it could free the two brothers up to do what each does best: Noel concentrating on crafting those magnificent pop anthems while Liam plays the super-voiced frontman that he clearly loves to be. They don’t have to get on well together to work well together. What decent band ever did?

What’s more, just prior to the band’s Japanese dates, Noel spoke with enthusiasm and optimism about the start of a new phase in the group’s development. In the NME, prior to the release of their 4th album, he stated that having new members Gem Archer (ex-Heavy Stereo) and Andy Bell (ex-Ride and Hurricane joining was “the best thing that’s ever happened to the band. It’s really, really exciting.”

It really did seem that the band had rediscovered a sense of their musical purpose. The new album “Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants” has been hailed by many as a commendable attempt to recover the form they began to lose on “Be Here Now”, which even Noel now recognizes as “only average”.

They have also formed their own record label, Big Brother, which will be used torelease future Oasis albums and side projects by its various members. Furthermore, Noel had recently sworn off drugs and booze with the help of detox program, become a father and generally appeared comfortable with his role in the band. With new members Gem and Andy being encouraged to contribute more and more to band, and even Liam beginning to write his own songs, the future seemed once again wide open. On Japanese Space Shower TV, Noel stated that “I don’t think it’s wise to plan too far ahead. But we’re definitely going to make another album and definitely probably (sic) do another tour after this one.”

The gig

Certainly, nothing in their Hiroshima show hinted at any underlying trouble either. The band’s apparent rediscovery of their musical purpose was evinced by the stripped-down simplicity of the stage set: this time there were no giant clocks running backwards, no telephone boxes on stage, just a delightful light show and 6 guys making a hell of a good noise. From the moment the curtains drew back, the whole crowd was on its feet and cheering. And that’s how they remained for the duration of the show.

This was, after all, Hiroshima’s biggest pop concert, EVER, and people were determined to enjoy it. By late afternoon the area around the Green Arena was already alive with crowds of fans, ranging from schoolkids who hadn’t had time to change out of their uniforms, to adults old enough to remember the Beatles the first time around (not forgetting the group of young buskers who entertained queuing fans with pretty authentic versions of Oasis’ greatest hits).

“Well you might applaud. That was bloody brilliant!” smiled Noel after a lengthy “Gas Panic”, which found him hunched over his special effects pedals at the lip of the stage, conjuring psychedelic satori from his guitar. This comment highlighted the joyful sense of (re)-discovery that ran through the performance. Hardly surprising then that this song, with its nightmarish depiction of the cocaine-induced paranoia that Noel has now left behind, forms the centrepiece, musically and thematically, of both the new album and the live show.

The back-to-the-roots mood was confirmed by the fact that they played just one song (the mega-hit “Stand By Me”) from the third album, and no less than five from their first CD, Definitely Maybe. For the first encore, Noel further acknowledged his roots with a volcanic version of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” that made Mt. Usu look tame.

As the band left the stage, with Noel’s guitar still feeding back against the amps, no-one could have predicted that this was to be one of Noel’s last appearances with the band outside the UK.

Rubbing shoulders with giants

After the Hiroshima show, GetHiroshima tracked down the band to their refuge in the 33rd floor bar at the Rihga Royal Hotel. Significantly, Noel was missing. Liam told us he was off being interviewed somewhere, which seemed quite plausible at the time. But in retrospect, it seems more likely that he just didn’t fancy another late night of rock & roll tour lifestyle.

Liam’s not convinced by the peace sign thing…

…but soon gets into it.

However, despite their evident tiredness, and the fact that a doctor had just ordered Liam to take 24 pills a day (!) for throat trouble, they were nothing like the surly louts the British tabloids would have us believe. Instead we found a bunch of courteous, charming. and totally normal blokes, delighted to be in Japan and happy to chat and joke with fans.

Indeed Liam confirmed to us what Noel had previously said on TV about Japanese fans being the main reason why they chose to kick off this tour here. That, and the shopping. “Japan’s got the best clothes in the world,” Liam reckons, while Gem
enthused at length about the wonders of Tokyu Hands (“What an incredible shop!”). Before the show, they’d also been out down Hondori (naturally!), loading up with bagfulls of shopping at HMV, Sogo and other local emporiums, and stopping to have their photos taken with fans who couldn’t believe their luck.

Back at the hotel, Liam sat nursing a double whiskey (just one, mind you) behind permanent dark glasses despite the dimness of the bar. Noel had joked in a recent interview that Liam only drinks twice a week these days – “from Monday to Thursday and Friday to Sunday!”

We inform Liam that there’s a cover charge of 1000 yen just for sitting down. Immediately he stands up to his full six foot something height and declares, “Shit, I’m gonna drink standing up then.” And so he remained for a while.

Once he’d sat down again we started off talking about music, naturally enough, and I asked Liam what he enjoyed listening to these days. “Mostly I still like the old stuff, y’know – Beatles, Stones, Neil Young. Paul Weller’s OK too.”

And how about new bands in the UK?

“Travis are good,” he says, with the hesitant voice of one who’s clearly not overexcited by the current state of British music.

What about Muse, for example, they’re very hotly tipped by some people?

“Rubbish,” he says emphatically. “Just like Radiohead. Fucking students. It’s too arty for me. It’s not rock and roll, it doesn’t have any bollocks to it. That’s what I think anyway.”
“Doves are pretty good,” drummer Alan White chips in, referring to the band many have compared to Oasis.

“Yeah, agrees Liam. “And (the ex-Verve leader) Richard Ashcroft has a solo album coming out soon. Should be good.”

Talking of the Verve, is it true that the drugs don’t work for Oasis anymore?
Liam looks at his boots and concludes, “Yeah, nobody needs them anyway.”

And what’s it like going out on the road with two new members in the band?

“Feels great y’know. The other two guys left, these two joined, we had a couple of rehearsals then went and had some beers. We didn’t have to tell them what to do or anything or how to play the songs. It just felt right from the beginning. And that’s the way it should be.”

And how’s the tour worked out so far?

“Well it’s just started y’know, so it’s still very early, we’re still getting used to it, but it feels really good, we’re getting better and better.”

On Japan and Hiroshima

Why did you choose to start in Japan?

“We just like it here, the people are great and it’s a lovely country.”

And of course it’s also the biggest market in Asia for CD sales.

“Oh yeah? Like I say, we love this country! The CDs often come out earlier here too, which is good ‘cos people have more chance to listen to them before they see us.”

Japanese CD’s often have bonus tracks too, like “Let’s All Make Believe” on Standing on The Shoulder of Giants, that are not on the CDs in other countries.

“Yeah, that’s great. I wanted that track on the album, but Noel refused, said it was too depressing. But I told him ‘so what?’ Y’know, sometimes you have good days, and sometimes you have bad ones.It’s still a great track.”

How does it feel to have one of your own songs on the album for the first time?

“That’s really good. I’m pleased with it.”

We tell Liam that very few foreign bands come to Hiroshima. What do you think of the city from what you’ve seen?

“I think it’s a great place. Just looking at the view from up here it’s got something about it – all the rivers and everything, it looks great.”

Alan: “I went to Peace Park Museum today. That was really amazing, very moving, and the way the city’s been rebuilt. And the people are so friendly. If the same thing had happened in England, I don’t know if the people would be so friendly to foreigners now.”

How about Japanese food?

“Oh it’s nice,” says Liam. “We had some good beef today.”

No sashimi?
“Oh no, I can’t eat that, it’s just too… too raw for me!”

How did you find the audience tonight?

“It’s very hard to see or hear much from the stage, ‘cos we play so loud, but they were really great – we could tell they were really getting into it.”

At that, Andy Bell appears, looking particularly tired, and the band adjourn for a private post-show conference, after taking the time to sign a few photos and pose for some final photos. A fan from Fukuoka hurriedly stuffs Liam’s whiskey glass into her bag as a souvenir, ice cubes and all.

After years of complaining about the lack of concerts by international bands in Hiroshima, we could hardly have hoped for a better start to the year. With the success of the Oasis show, and the Smashing Pumpkins’ gig just around the corner, let’shope that Hiroshima has finally found its place on the musical map of Japan, and that it will soon become a regular part of visiting bands’ itinerary. It’s no less than a music-loving city of this size deserves.

And, who knows? Maybe Oasis might even find their way back here one day?

Set List

Hiroshima Green Arena, March 14th 2000
– Fuckin’ In The Bushes
– Go Let It Out
– Who Feels Love?
– Supersonic
– Shakermaker
– Acquiesce
– Sunday Morning Call
– I Can See A Liar
– Gas Panic!
– Roll With It
– Stand By Me
– Wonderwall
– Cigarettes and Alcohol/Whole Lotta Love
– Don’t Look Back In Anger
– Live Forever

– Helter Skelter
– Rock & Roll Star