Liking Oasis stopped being fashionable a long time ago. Criticisms of the band are now as recycled as Noel Gallagher’s three-chord anthems from the Status Quo school of rock. Yet, despite being reviled in the press and releasing two lacklustre albums (Be Here Now, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants) they can still command the sort of brand loyalty that McDonalds or Nike could only dream of. Their sell-out Finsbury Park show revealed why.
As soon as the first notes of the show’s opener Hello were strummed, this felt like an event, positioning Oasis leagues apart from their commendable support acts in terms of star quality. The lines “Hello, hello it’s good to be back” coming from Liam’s mouth couldn’t have rung more true. This was a return to the Oasis who temporarily shook up the British music industry in the mid-’90s rather than the tabloid caricatures that the Gallagher brothers have become in more recent years.
Hello slickly rolled into The Hindu Times, the first single from Heathen Chemistry, which despite sounding leaps and bounds better than the recorded version did not quite reach the anthemic status of some of their earlier work.
Stop Crying Your Heart Out, however, achieved a power and emotional intensity that the radio version could never do justice to. Whether it was the song’s association with David Seaman’s World Cup tears or Liam’s impassioned delivery, it hit straight through the hearts of the largely white, heterosexual, testosterone-fuelled crowd. Shaven-headed grown men embraced each other unabashedly, probably for the first time since England’s victory over Argentina. It is this sort of connection that Oasis excels in. However, as far as the new material goes, everything else, with perhaps the exception of Little by Little, washed over the crowd along with the rain.
The real gem of the show was a hark back to début album Definitely Maybe. Columbia, which was cited as one of the album’s rogue tracks at the time, took the performance to a new level with its slow-burn intro and the Gallagher brothers’ harmonies in the chorus. Some Might Say B-side Acquiesce was another highlight, demonstrating the magic of Oasis at their best and suggesting that their best work can still be found in their earlier material. Don’t Look Back in Anger has never sounded so poignant, although you could be forgiven for thinking that Noel might suddenly announce “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be John Lennon” during the opening bars.
Noel will never challenge musical boundaries with his songwriting. He doesn’t need to. The success of his songs lies in his ability to strike a chord with his audience in a way that is absent from much of the new music on offer. Although a band like The Strokes possess some of the raw energy that Oasis once had it is difficult to imagine them still connecting with an audience of 50,000 in ten years’ time. Fifty thousand people get it when Liam sings “You can work for a lifetime / To spend your days in the sunshine” (Cigarettes And Alcohol) and the line “All your dreams are made / When you’re chained to the mirror and the razor blade” ((What’s the Story) Morning Glory) has as much relevance to the coked-up record company execs listening from the hospitality tent as it does to the die-hard fan who used the internet for the first time to purchase his ticket.
Both Noel and Liam have never looked so comfortable, particularly Noel who gave an accomplished vocal performance. They possessed a self-assured confidence, which replaced the feigned, substance-induced arrogance that clouded their earlier gigs. Performing live is where they stand head and shoulders above more musically sophisticated or critically acclaimed bands. It’s how their music should be listened to rather than sandwiched between Craig David and Basement Jaxx on Radio 1.
The show’s climax was a fantastic rendition of The Who‘s My Generation, in tribute to John Entwistle, and at that moment there could not have been a more appropriate song. For many of the 150,000 people who snapped up tickets within an hour and a half, Oasis are the band of their generation.