All words: William Alberque
Noel (the talented one out of Oasis) showcased his songwriting abilities and standup to an adoring crowd at the (surprisingly not sold-out) Warner Theater Thursday night, with opening act MONA playing an energetic and entertaining brand of American indie rock. I’m not saying he should drop the dad-rock and focus exclusively on his stand up…no, wait, actually, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
When Britpop was in the full flower of its morbidly-entertaining bloom, I expected the immanent split of Oasis, with the dueling brothers heading their different ways – especially after I listened to a copy of the Wibbling Rivalry 7”. That legendary recording of a 1994 interview with Noel and Liam Gallagher laid out their opposing world views; the amazing thing is that they lasted for a further 15 years without killing each other. I can summarize the argument with this brief quote from the interview: Noel said, “Rock and roll is about music…it’s not about you, it’s not about me, it’s not about Oasis. It’s about the songs.” Liam retorts, “No it isn’t; no it isn’t; nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.” Indeed.
Fast forward to 2011, and I am watching Beady Eye, Liam’s band, play New York City, and, you know what, it’s not half bad. Sure, the songs sound kind of rote, but Liam is a mesmerizing, leonine presence on stage, sporting his trademark parka jacket (replicas available from his online store) and his now-ridiculous fringe, looking like your very dangerous uncle (the one who sells crystal meth), while the songs pretty much all go “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah,” in a not-totally-unpleasing way. One year later, I’m watching Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at the Warner Theater, and Noel is a less mesmerizing, relaxed presence on stage, sporting a leather jacket, looking like your favorite uncle (the one who lets you drive his car), while the songs sound pretty much like gentle Beatles outtakes.
This is no bad thing. Beady Eye is like a demented Oasis cover act, playing just the dangerous bits, while NGHFB (his use of acronym, not mine) is a gentle Oasis cover act, focused on all the sing-along-y bits. And there are plenty of sing-alongs at the Warner Theater on a lovely, warm night in March.
MONA opened the evening in style. I’m not sure why they haven’t broken yet. I suppose it’s in part due to timing – rock and roll is out of style at the moment, with the charts on both sides of the Atlantic dominated by non-guitar acts. They must have seemed an A&R man’s dream when they showed up with a set of tight, southern-inflected indie rock songs, reminiscent enough of Kings of Leon without being copyists, just dangerous enough to be sexy, and musically competent enough to pull it all of drunk or sober. Instead, they’ve languished in the second tier of indie acts. It’s a shame, too – I saw them at CMJ last year, and they’re just the nicest blokes.
MONA took the stage promptly at 8 and played well, if sometimes seeming slightly intimidated by the posh atmosphere of the Warner. They start off with “The Tally,” which builds from a gentle start to overdrive, the four-piece well-drilled, although lead singer Nick Brown sounds a touch nervous. The crowd gives them a rousing round of applause, which seems to visibly buck Brown up, and they blast into one of my favorite of their songs, “Teenager.” Their dress sense and demeanor remind me a bit of Morrissey’s backing band, with Nick in his white tee-shirt and the rest of the band all in black. Still, it all seems to work with their aesthetic.
“Lines in the Sand” follows, with their best tune, “Listen to Your Love,” and its memorable, skyrocket guitars and hammering percussion leaving a great impression on the crowd. “Pavement” reminds me a bit of Richard Ashcroft’s swagger, and “Shoot the Moon” is so aggressive and swampy, it practically harbors crocodiles and emits gas. Brown jokes that the last song is about being calm and making friends before playing into their latest single, “Lean into the Fall.” This last song is a bit Springsteen-ish live and a solid pop song. Brown croons out the ending, seemingly sad to leave (the band leave him there, crooning), raising his guitar in triumph as the crowd give them a standing ovation. Why aren’t they popular again?
The crowd is abuzz now with the imminent arrival of their hero. Manchester City scarves and jerseys are prevalent, and Stella vendors are doing a brisk trade to the slightly older, slightly balder, slightly heavier crowd (than they were in 1994). The lights flash, signaling Noel’s arrival (man, it would amazing if the Cat did that in the Red Room), and a hush descends, broken only by the occasional deranged words of devotion of a fan.
Noel strides out with a broad smile and rewards the crowd immediately with a pair of Oasis songs – “It’s Good to Be Free” and “Mucky Fingers” – getting everyone in the mood and on their feet right from the start, where they stay for the rest of the show. The crowd is in full voice for “Mucky,” and the band is in fine form, with some lovely harmonies on the backing vocals towards the end. Noel switches to his new material for eleven of the next fourteen songs, with a rapturous reception to a gentle, solo acoustic rendition of “Supersonic,” and warm responses to “Talk Tonight,” and “Half the World Away.”
Frankly, the music is all a bit stuffed-leather-couch comfy and boring, but Noel’s between-song banter has me gasping with laughter. I should expect it from a Mancunian; still, Noel is almost as funny as John Cooper Clarke with his ripostes. Some get a little aggressive, but he easily diffuses an early outburst by saying, “fine: I’d like to dedicate this next song to you, you crazy person.” The crowd banter is more relaxed after that, and when someone asks about the NME Godlike Genius award (a giant middle finger in bronze-ish), he says, “what, that? That’s what you get when you’re as good as me” with a twinkle in his eye before launching into his next track.
We get one surprise – an as-yet unrecorded track called “Freaky Teeth” – before we get what you could have scripted from the start, i.e., an all-Oasis encore. “Whatever,” “Little by Little,” and “The Importance of Being Idle” are just filler for what follows – the mass sing-along of “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” Queue lots of fist-bumping and –pumping, and the decidedly older crowd (some of which have kids in tow) go home quite happy.