Noel Gallagher - Melody Maker - 7th March 1998
"If we'd have come last time we probably wouldn't be here this time," explains Noel, several hours before tonight's show. "I think if the last tour had gone on much longer I don't think there would have been a band left. Sometimes you gotta be cruel to be kind - things generally happen for a reason."
Most people here assume the reason was Liam. Noel is by far the people's choice in America. He's regarded as hard-working, sensible and talented, while Liam is more often taken at face value, a dribbling loudmouth with slovenly manners.
"It was nothing to do with Liam," Noel says defensively. "That's another thing, as soon as anything happens it's automatically to do with Noel and Liam. It was something we don't like to talk about because we think it's nobody's business. We decided that it was for the good of the band that we went home and that was it," he pauses for a minute to consider the local fans. "I suppose I could say the word 'sorry'".
Here in the southeastern state of Georgia, doubtless the same as anywhere else in America, Oasis' music and troublesome reputation is more widespread than you'd imagine. The sixty-plus, laid back Afro-American cabbie, the clean-cut bartender at a drinking dive in Buckhead, even the prim middle-American hotel receptionist are all aware of the British "phenomenon" and their anticipated arrival in Atlanta.
"Of course I've heard of Oasis," says the guy in the second-hand clothes store, out in the suburb of Little Five Points. "Everyone, including the homeless people out there in the street, has heard of Oasis."
One should never assume. After all, Oasis are not the inadvertent tabloid whores in America that they are back in Britain; here not every movement is exposed, detailed and exaggerated. The reason is simple. As one local free paper explained, to get headlines in America you have to really f***-up big-time. To get coverage in the national newspapers this side of the Atlantic, you not only have to be famous, but also exposed as a paedophile, murderer or terrorist too.
So Noel and Liam can fight, swear and get stroppy all they like, it's exciting, amusing even, but it's not news. The music is what counts most here - that, and the effort you put in to get it heard. Oasis' doomed '96 tour and reports of comparatively poor sales of Be Here Now (supposedly the reason they're on their best behaviour this time time, according to local entertainment guide) has slightly soured some people's enthusiam.
Besides which, while Oasis were trying to get it together, The Verve happened. Big time. The Nike advert featuring "Bitter Sweet Symphony" is on TV every two minutes or so over here. People are humming it everywhere you go.
"When The Verve came through they were massive," says Christy Montero, a shop worker at Wax'N'Facts Records in Little Five Points. "Bigger than Oasis even, their stuff is flying out the door, literally, people were running in and out. But I think Oasis will stick around longer, they've pretty firm grounding here now."
What's more America is so enormous it often takes three times as long to be declared over as it does flogging yourself to make it. Oasis will no doubt tire of themselves long before America does.
Though if you believed the recent news stories that might not be too long. During a solo gig in an English pub in Santa Monica, California, broadcast live on radio, Noel chatted to the crowd in his usual casual, candid and chatty manner. Within nanoseconds the British media bypassed the humour and the flippancy of his comments amnd cried "wolf" again. "Oasis split" - no, really, they have this time. Definitely.
Noel admits he's got a problem with keeping his mouth shut. It's just the way he is, if someone asks him a question he'll answer it with the truth, ot at least whatever he's feeling at the time. Saying, "I'm bored of being a rock star", should have ended with the word "today". Or even I'm a bit tired and could do with a holiday, thanks for asking." Unfortunately the words he finds most difficult to say are "no comment".
The Americans can't believe the extent to which Oasis are harassed by the British press. They simply don't understand what the fellas get up to everyday that's so newsworthy. The answer is nothing.
"We're not these type of rock'n'roll stars who've got anything to hide," Noel maintains breezily.
"We're pretty up front about everything that we've done and everything we do so there's no such thing as an Oasis rumour because we live our lives in the public eye anyway. But the thing is they write something and twist it and it becomes lies. Say if I went out to a nightclub and got pretty drunk but left at six in the morning, it would be I went to a nightclub, got violently drunk, had two fights and left with four women at six the next afternoon in a police van."
So it's never true?
"It's usually 50 per cent true, 50 per cent the imagination of some fictitious editor," says Noel, largely unbothered and dismissive. "But I wouldn't mind if half the time they were telling the truth and the other half of the time it was positive. But it's usually all negative lies."
Tonight is the last night of their American tour. A sold out show at the 5,000 capacity Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta - a beautifully decorated Indian palace boasting a vast Egyptian Ballroom upstairs and, according to the caretaker, a couple of dandy ghosts. The crowd begin to gather outside the concourse around six o'clock; girls in tight Union Jack T-shirts, boys in enormous top hats and a group of kids with Man United scarves (one way to grab Noel's attention). Two brothers from London have travelled several thousand miles to be here, on the off chance Noel was serious about being bored and it turns out to be their last ever gig.
The nervous excitement is palpable. Oasis have at least made it to Atlanta this time, hell, they might even play too. Tonight's promoter, Walace Barr - who also set up the aborted show back in '96 - is neither worried nor bitter. "A week after they cancelled," he explains, "we received a cheque for all our out-of-pocket expenses. Things like that happen. I've been promoting concerts for 25 years and seen the road burn a lot of bands out."
"They wouldn't let us down again," says a confident young fan called Jason. "I know they'll play this one."
Inside the building, support band Cornershop are on stage, soundchecking. Noel is standing to the left side playing the one instrument the band lack: a bass guitar. He's been slipping on stage during their set for most of the tour. Sometimes for the entire duration, but mainly the big finale. Sitarist Ben has been returning the favour by accompanying Noel on a couple of songs in his mini-acoustic set. They're all best buddies now.
In a week or so, Oasis are back on tour for a few dates in Rio and Mexico. After tonight they get to enjoy a short - much needed by the look of them - break. Liam, Guigsy, Bonehead and Alan are going home. Noel's off on holiday.
"Tomorrow I'll be on a beach in Hawaii with any luck," he says happily. "Meg is on an aeroplane to Miami to meet me. It's my first week off since last August and I want to sit around and do nothing. Then after this tour, after we finish in Mexico City we're gonna take a bit of time off - to enjoy all the trappings."
The trappings of having sold 27 million albums?
"Yeah, well," he grins, "It keeps the wolf from the door."
Noel and Meg have just bought a big house in the country, Supernova Heights 2, though this time he won't be advertising it in "target" stained glass.
"That's been broken twice," he says marginally dismissive. "I've had some of the windows smashed and I've been burgled. The local council won't allow big gates with barbed wire on them and stuff. It's a bit of a target, but that's the way it is."
If there's one recent Oasis "scandal" the American's are interested in, it's the slaggings between Noel and Liam and a select group of rock dinosaurs. Every radio station and magazine interview has thrown it at them. They though they were all friends.
"We never slagged Paul McCartney off, or George Harrison or Keith Richards, until they started having a go at our Liam, really," explains Noel. "So you've got to stick up for your little brother, haven't you?"
Noel is Mr Harsh But Fair Of Burnage. There's no discourse with a man who always has a reasonable explanation topped by an hilariously brutal pay off.
"From what I can recall," he continues, "and from what I've read about the early sixties when The Beatles and the Stones first started, the establishment of the day, which was the professional jazz musicians, said that rock'n'roll was a bunch of noise and that them bands wouldn't last and only meant anything to 14-year-old girls. If you fast forward 35 years, it's very sad to see the rock establishment of the day are saying the same things about us as people said about them. I'd like to think when I'm 56, I'll just disappear with a bit more grace.
"It's not the most dignified business we're in here," he goes on to say, "but I think I'd rather go out of business. What is the point of working when you're 50 years of age? The geezer's [Mick Jagger] been at it for 30 years. Put your feet up, go and make some cocoa, and shut the f*** up man!"
So, it started when Paul McCartney was quoted as saying, "They're derivative and they think too much of themselves and really they mean nothing to me." Right?
"Well, that's true," he answers flatly. "We are derivative and we do think a lot of ourselves. Anyway, Liam said he was gonna play golf with his head."
Tonight, same as most nights in America, Noel gets a near standing ovation when he reappears for his solo acoustic moment (including, among the usual, his mournful version of The Beatles' 'Help'). Noel is almost as popular on his own over here as he is with the band. Several American reporters have even asked him why he doesn't just go solo. Noel patiently reminds them that Liam is "the best singer of his generation."
Noel has stated over and over that he doesn't consider himself a frontman, though he enjoys singing the odd song. And furthermore it would hardly be fair to Liam, would it?
"He's the singer of the band. And it was his group before I joined so I'm hardly gonna kick him out am I? Plus what else is he gonna do anyway, he'd only be hanging around the house, getting under someone's feet. He's in the band because of his singing abilities."
Liam is usually heavily criticised in the US for his "bad attitude". Most people fail to see the humour, frustration or the surreal poetry of his zealously spewed diatribes.
"You have to remember he's only 25. He's still a young kid. If you were 25 and in one of the biggest bands in the world you'd probably be a bit of an arsehole as well."
At worst, the media here seem to think Liam's an idiot. Or at the least pretentious.
"Rock stars are supposed to be pretentious," says Noel incredulously. "You're not supposed to be like the f*****g bricklayer or the perosn who works in the shop - you're a rock star for crying out loud. Rock stars aren't supposed to be well behaved, like Keith Richards - now there's a rock star. Mick Jagger is not a rock star. Keith is. Paul McCartney is not a rock star, Ronnie Wood is. You're supposed to be larger then life, you're supposed to believe that you're gonna sprout wings at any given point and become the Arch Angel Gabriel. That's what you're paid to do."
At what age do you think you should call it a day, then?
"Thirty-five," he spits. "I'll be finished at 35."
No more Oasis?
"Well, I don't know about that. I certainly won't be going on tour anymore. Saying that, I could see myself being in the studio but I don't think I could be bothered touring when I'm 35 years of age. I'm not saying the Rolling Stones don't have a right to make music but let's face it, touring is a young man's game. It's not poncing up and down the stage in a pair of black leggings doing aerobics in front of 16-year-old kids when you're 50 odd. That's ridiculous."
Forty minutes before Oasis take to the stage, the band are ready for a quick photo session with The Maker photographer [Pat Pope], out on the flat roof of the building under the flashing neon Fox Theater sign. Liam and Noel seem surprisingly fresh faced but the rest, particularly Guigsy and Bonehead look exhausted. So weak and and ashen faced they look barely alive. Nothing a little rouge won't hide.
Noel is pleased the whole group are being photographed together.
"You're the first photographer in ages not to just want me and Liam."
Within a few flashes, the light has attracted the attention of passers-by on the street 60-feet below. "Arrggh!" screams a respectable looking middle aged woman. "It's Noel! Noel! Noel!...and it's Liam! It's Noel and Liam." Her shrieking siren draws a crowd all trying to catch their attention. "Sssh," coos Noel. "We're busy." There's a moment of silence. "I love you, Noel!" blurts a young girl uncontrollably, then grabs the arm of her friend. "And he loves you too."
At the apparently "astonishingly early" time of 8:50 pm, the lights dim and the speakers blare out the intro theme - the confidence boosting "the Boys Are Back In Town". The security gather - sweatshirts emblazoned with their company motto "Polite But Firm". And the boys step out to a deafening roar.
Oasis embark on an apologetic set, audience needs catered for and a bit more besides. In contrast to their British and European dates it's a basic show. No expensive props, no distractions, rock in its purest form. But the crowd need something more, and it's clear when Liam kicks over the mic, for the first time of many. The crowd erupt with wpproval. And again when he comments on the Man United flags, again when he makes the universally recognised "come on" gesture, and again when he gets frustrated at his occasionally frayed singing. This is what makes an Oasis show complete for the crowd here - the cockiness and the elemant of danger.
Palefaces Guigsy and Bonehead stand together on the left of the stage. Both sustain an inhuman expression throughout, as if forced to watch the weirdest film they've ever seen and have no idea what to make of it. Only once does Guigsy break into a smile, when he catches the eye of Cornershop singer Tjinder Singh, sat in the front row.
A full hour and a half of more than adequate performance later, they're gone. The crowd leave happy, if not relieved to have seen them at all.
The local papers the next day the reviews speak of the "kinder, gentler Oasis". A band who "took pains to engage the audience - Liam even deigned to slap the hands of a lucky few in the front row. For a group that thrives on controversy, that may be the biggest shocker of them all."
Britain, of course, has been mythologising them for years now. America, it seems, is just starting to.