Noel Gallagher - NME - 18th December 1999
The Stones, onstage at the time of the stabbing, weren't actually playing it as the blade hacked down, but their saucy voodoo shuffle 'Sympathy For The Devil' has become the accepted soundtrack to the incident that wacked out peace'n'love forever.
Considering how sweet Oasis are on a bit of rock history, they'll get around to covering it sooner or later, no doubt about it. How could Noel resist the lure of putting his pawprints all over Jagger's love song to Lucifer? But just right now, they've got other foul fish to fry. The band are roaring through a jagged version of that other '60s anthem to idyllic burn-out, The Beatles' 'Helter Skelter'. This is the song Charlie Manson decoded in his own sick brain as a blueprint for bloody revolution. Somewhere in his acid-fried logic, Lennon's lyrics heralded a black uprising in America which would trigger a race war through which Charlie himself would emerge triumphant as leader/messiah. So convinced was Charlie of the song's hidden message that, when he sent his Family members down through Laurel Canyon to Ceolo Drive on that infamous night of celebrity slaughter, they daubed its title on
U2 have covered the song in recent memory, Bono declaring their intention to reclaim it for the 'light'. But there are no such pronouncements from Noel, no such pretensions. That's not his style. His is just a dogged determination to do the original justice, to pit his skills against those of his idols, to see whether his band - his new band, at that can take the song to higher elevation than his idols. Standing on the shoulder of giants, indeed.
As he strains to invest his vocal with all the terror that the song demands, his brother Liam - a man unstable enough to do it at the drop of a hat - is madly consigned to the shadows, watching restlessly for his cue to rejoin the band for the song's final gargantuan thrash.
It's a weird way to finish such a short set - only five songs for the third night running - and a bad miscalculation. The crowd are just mystified, turning fast from enthralled to bemused.
It's hard to believe that Liam can have readily forsaken the spotlight without some kind of fight in rehearsals. Of all the band members - Gem settling in nicely, like he was born to it; Andy Bell growing more cool and relaxed by the gig; Noel as ever the epitome of arrogant stability - it is Liam who seems most to be relishing Oasis' comeback. Maybe that's because he needs it the most. Watching him hypnotise a crowd who are willing him to abuse them, he seems fully alive, empowered with a dangerous charisma lacking in the hapless, drifting and lost Liam we've grown used to reading about in the tabloids. Singing's his job and tonight he does it fucking well, the trademark over-enunciations perfectly pitched between sarcasm and sincerity.
You always know what you're gonna get with good old sturdy Noel, a man who told NME before the Philly gig: "I stopped taking drugs. I don't do any drugs any more. I eat properly and don't drink so much and I go to bed early." A man who, to the question, "So you're not a rock star any more?", replied, "I’m afraid not, no."
But Liam's a whole other story. Always likely to go on a bender, always on the verge of failing off the wagon as his already infamous recent lost weekend goes to prove. You never know quite what's going on behind those shades, never quite know when the still, eerie centre might explode into anger. And you can only ever make your own stab at interpreting what he's on about. The Paul Denials magic quote at the airport, the aggressive way he threatened the Philly crowd with a tin of peas…in the auditorium it looked as if he was gonna brain someone with it, sounded as if he was threatening all merry hell. On the radio broadcast, though, what you hear is: "You know you've fuckin' made it when your head's on a tin of peas." Liam's way of joking?
Can't be sure...
Can't be sure...That's the scary beauty of Liam and there's no doubt at all that it's Liam this crowd at Detroit's Cobo Center have come to scream at. They couldn't give a fuck about Ben Harper and Bush (although the little ones go ape to Blink 182), and Liam knows he's the guvnor, a posed study of malevolence, milking the crowd's trepidatious worship for all he's worth. And tonight, for the first time since they started this radio jaunt two nights ago in Philadelphia, Oasis truly are back to their best. Maybe even beyond it. Tonight you could make out a case that this is the best Oasis have been...well, not ever but certainly since their carefree 100 Club days.
They look better for starters. Liam's got great mod hair again, damn near a feather cut. Noel's smartened up his act from the rather Steptoe-like individual who was recently buying the rounds in the Met Bar when he could so easily have been selling the Big Issue outside. Alan's just Alan. Gem... well, who ain't better looking than Bonehead? Though, it must be said, Gem really does look like he was born to be in this band. Which leaves us with Andy, a fellow so frail he's almost transparent, a gangly waif in shades who looks, if anything, more rock'n'roll than the rest of them. OK, so he doesn't get to throw all the classic shapes strapped behind that bass but, remember, this is the man that NME's Paul Moody was famously calling our new Peter Frampton not so long ago.
Before the Philly gig, NME reminded Noel of what Liam had said at the press conference to announce that Guigsy had quit just weeks after Bonehead had jumped from the good ship Oasis: "Anybody who wants to join Oasis must have a decent haircut."
"Yeah, I have to say Gem and Andy have got pretty decent haircuts... better than mine," he'd laughed. "But my real criteria was, they have to be good musicians and have... not so much the same background, but the same sense of humour and the same outlook on life as us really."
Talking to The Sun after the gig, Noel continued: "Everyone's been saying we look good and it's great to have lads with decent haircuts on board...The first time I looked around at the show and saw that Bonehead and Guigsy weren't there, it was a bit weird. But we're trying to get Gem a bald wig and get Andy to put on a few pounds to help me out."
With their own personal histories behind them, the two new members bring additional advantages. They're of interest to the media - taking some of the pressure off Liam and Noel, Providing copy that's not just about marital spats and babies and all the celebrity fluff that has distanced them from some of their grass roots fans - and not just for the old Bonehead-in-a-brawl stories, either.
"How d'ya pronounce it? is it Jem or Gem? Is the G hard or soft?" The DJs at Philly's Q101 were debating the big question as the crowd was entering the gig. Brad had the radio on in his rusty white pick-up as NME arnbled through the parking lot. "And what band was he in?" The DJs debated. "The Stereo Sonics or somethin'?" Brad is incensed: "Fuckin' assholes! It's the fuckin' Stereophonics!"
This Oasis are also capable of much more musically than the old line-up. How could they not be with two new guitarists who are, at the very least, the equal of Noel. Right now they're being squeezed into the mould of song parts played by their predecessors but there are already signs that that's changing. Gem told NME after the Chicago show that he and Andy have been given the liberty to grow into the parts, to make them their own. Only time will tell, of course, how great they can be but, on tonight's showing, Noel could have only been half-joking when he told the radio reporter from Philadelphia that Gem was already playing more leads than him.
Before the first show in Philly, Noel summed up how he felt about the new band to NME: "I'm not nervous about the band. I know they'll play fine. I do get a little bit nervous myself before we go onstage but, once we get on there, I know it's gonna be good. It's a shame we can't play for longer and I'm sorry we aren't gonna be doing any new songs. I mean, we could have done some new stuff but it's just too early because the record isn't out for such a long time. It would be too early to start performing the new stuff to people. So we're gonna go on and just give it our best shot and then see what happens."
After the storming Detroit show, surely it's only a matter of a few more outings before Noel feels confident enough in the band to grow the set beyond the now-established and damn-near perfect line-up of "Cigarettes & Alcohol"/"Whole Lotta Love", "Supersonic", the lighters’ aloft "Wonderwall", the truly magical'Champagne Supernova' and the aforementioned 'Helter Skelter' which, thinking about it, might score higher on the scareometer if they still insist on playing it at the forthcoming KROQ Almost Acoustic Show in LA, home turf to Charlie Manson's orchestrated evil.
Conceivably the biggest problem Oasis face in the near future is frustration. They already have the new album in the can - recorded by the old, inferior band - and now they have to tour it while, night by night, the new line-up unveils its greater potential. One can imagine Noel wishing that Guigs and Bonehead had quit earlier, allowing the new band to make their own mark on record and then tour rather than having to assume and then develop other players' roles.
Noel hinted as much in Philly, even before the new band had played their first show: "Obviously because Andy has only been in the band for three weeks and Gem's been in for about two months and the record has been finished for quite a while now, they were not involved in the writing or the recording. But maybe we'll write some stuff together. I dunno. I don't know if it's gonna work out yet. But it would be foolish not to give it a go and see what happens.
"We're definitely together for the rest of this year and all of next year because we'll be on the road. And after that we intend to go straight into the studio. I definitely want to record with this line-up. But I mean, people can come and go. Nobody is tied to the band any more. Because we set the thing up and we all grew up together, it was a bit hard for the guys to leave. And it was quite difficult to come to terms with for a couple of days. But Andy and Gem can go out and do other stuff if they want or they can stick around. It's totally decision.
"I'd be more than happy if they stay in the band for the rest of their lives. But we'll see what happens. We won't promise anything. But, I mean, Oasis is gonna be going until we physically can't do it any more. It doesn't matter who's in the band as long as, I suppose, Liam is singing the songs. I feel very excited about the future. Not so much for the tour that's coming up, but for what we're capable of after that as musicians. That's gonna be really interesting."
Because the two new musicians will change the way the band sounds?
"I doubt it will affect the sound for tonight because we're playing a bunch of old songs so the other guys have to copy the past, what we've already played on the record. But for the newer stuff that we're gonna be playing next year, it'll only make it better because they're better musicians."
Another major frustration must be that, having taken their time over recording the LP, on the eve of its release, Alan McGee shuts up shop at Creation, leaving the band to negotiate an alternative route of getting it into the shops. Rumours are that Oasis were livid when The Sun broke the story that they were leaving the label before it became public knowledge that McGee was on his way out the door. They felt they were being cast as the bad guys in the eyes of the public, making it look like they were betraying their old mentor when, if Liam's rant to the Sunday Mirror is anywhere near the truth, it may well have been the other way round.
Whether McGee left Creation forcing Oasis out or whether they left forcing him to quit, Noel has made it clear that 'Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants' will not be released on Creation because he feels the label is too dispirited right now to do it justice.
Talking to NME in America, he seems confused and hurt about the situation: "I don't know what's going on for the moment. As far as I know, we're contracted to Sony Records and Sony will come up with some plan for the release of the LP. So I just don't know. People are saying that we're gonna go on our own record label. But that's just all talk at the moment. I don't really know what's happening. It is a shame that most of the staff at Creation are gonna lose their jobs and some of the bands are gonna get dropped. But it's not the only record label in England that's happened to recently. There are a lot of people that have lost their jobs in the music industry so...maybe they'll go on, get better jobs with better companies. I mean, we'll be all right.
"We just want to work with good people. We don't want to work with people who are not creative. We don't want someone just to walk in and then have an opinion about the band. We've been going for nearly eight, nine years now and we always had the same team around us. But with Alan gone this is gonna leave a bit of a void because he was like the figurehead. So, initially, we're gonna be suspicious of people. But we just have to go on with it. As long as th music still keeps coming out, then it'll be fine."
A few days later, Noel will give Toronto radio station Edge 102FM a slightly different insight into his feelings about Alan McGee's Creation defection: "The reports in the press say we're pissed off. The way you read it, he's the man behind the band. But I totally respect him. I hope he goes on to do bigger things, and I hope to work with him again."
Intriguingly, he also goes on to say: "Sony want us to go on Sony, but over my dead body will I be on a major label," which suggests the rumours about the band forming their own label are true.
Trouble is, just when the band were determined to get public attention focused back on the music and away from all the celebrity waffle that has attended their domestic situations, the fall of Creation and Liam's associated bender are unwelcome distractions. You get the feeling that Noel is sick of Oasis being a soap opera, that he envies the Ocean Colour Scenes of this world who have barely a bigger agenda than getting their riffs down on record. But that's not gonna happen while Liam's around. All that stuff in the Sunday Mirror about how he's skint and overdrawn at the bank doesn't sit too cleverly next to Noel's future plans: "I'm having a baby on January 31. And I've bought a house in Spain. So I'm moving to Spain and then I'll just keep writing music, keep making records. Maybe not tour so much in the future because it's a young man's game and we're getting a bit older. So maybe tour once every two years I suppose... maybe once every year. Once every three years would be nice! But I tend not to make grandiose plans because then you've got to stick to them. So we'll see."
Noel writes the songs so he gets the publishing royalties. It won't take much for the tabs to put two and two together and make it add up to five and you could say that Spain equals tax exile. So, one rich brother, one poor one. One who relishes touring, one who could do with seeing less of the road. It's a juicy recipe for ructions for those naughty redtops!
Still, whatever may come, Oasis have certainly turned around US press opinion in three short shows. Where the previews had been largely cynical, alluding to the hype that accompanies their every action and a Stateside impression of unfulfilled promise, the reviews have been glowing. The Chicago Sun-Times wrote of the Allstate show: "The Britpop heroes were by far the evening's stars" while the Tribune from that same windy city said: "Oasis sounded magnificent almost in spite of its sullen demeanour."
Tonight in Detroit, they are truly awesome. The crowd is rowdy, the Union Jacks are unfurled down the front, and when Liam leers, it's so fuckin' obvious how much we've missed them it hurts.
The two lads crushed in the crowd next to NME are swooning. Literally. Christ only knows what manner of elephant tranquilliser these guys have ingested but as 'Supersonic' kicks in, the 14-yearold with the goatee and the baseball cap attempts a whoop, stutters, wobbles and crashes to the floor, spark out. His pal, eyes like soup bowls, shirt torn apart like The Incredible Hulk, starts to bend to assist him when he jerks, electrified back to a rigid stance, like Kramer in Seinfeld when he has a great notion, then crashes to the deck on top of his buddy.
Security pull them out by the ankles like they were hauling so much garbage. So at last you can really and truly say that America fell at the feet of Oasis.