Oasis, Cornershop

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, January 26,1998

Published January 28, 1998 7:05PM (EST)

Midway through the second song of Cornershop's opening set, a massive cheer
and waving of arms shot out from the front of the audience. An act of
spontaneous ecstasy, spawned by the band's trippy, Eastern-tinged
dance-rock? Nah. Just the crowd reacting to the appearance of Oasis singer
Liam Gallagher, who poked his head out from offstage to take a look at the
band. But for those up front who could see him, it was utterly fascinating.
Liam bobbed his head to the music. The audience bobbed their heads to the
music. Liam sipped on his beer. The audience sipped on their beers. Liam
lit a cigarette. Non-smoking Oasis fans bummed smokes off people.

In these cynical days for pop music, such rabid idol worship is somewhat
surprising and, in a way, refreshing. That it's focused on Oasis is the
puzzling thing; Beatles knockoffs have been trying to conquer America ever
since Gerry and the Pacemakers, but Oasis have stuck in the States without
doing anything terribly different than before. Early on, they certainly had
songcraft. Guitarist and songwriter Noel Gallagher wrote Britpop tunes like
"Supersonic" and "Rock 'n' Roll Star" unself-consciously, more a borrower
than a thief. But, as the Beatles comparisons piled up and the band's
success grew, they leaned ever harder on that crutch. "Be Here Now," their
most recent album, is almost hilarious in this respect. Recorded at Abbey
Road, the chord changes sound more familiar, the horns swell and every
song aspires to a "Hey Jude"-esque grandeur. Except "Hey Jude" had a hook
and a message; all Oasis wound up with was endless repetition, volume as an
excuse for mediocre songwriting and more blatant clichis. If I didn't know better, I'd say "Be Here Now" is, without a doubt, the Rutles' finest record.

As if to take the spotlight off his brother for a moment, Noel joined
Cornershop on bass for their final song, the sprawling, 20-minute "6 A.M.
Jullandar Shere." A blurry, intense rumble, it's the best song singer
Tjinder Singh has written. And miles ahead of the dull hip-hop-with-sitar
tunes he scribbled for the band's massively overrated third album, "When I
Was Born for the 7th Time." There, a rewrite of the Modern Lovers'
"Roadrunner" ("Brimful of Asha") is still a rewrite; a dull hook on an
exotic instrument is still a dull hook. What they have onstage, however, is
a stunning rhythm section in Peter Bengry and Nick Simms, who pummeled
away grandly in a tight weave of pure beat. That Singh is as of yet unable
to consistently write a song around that strength is his main shortcoming.

Oasis' concerns were much less complex: They played their songs, played them
loud and played them eternally. It was an hour and a half endurance test, with even
their better songs like "Don't Look Back in Anger," "Supersonic" and "Roll
With It" bloated grotesquely, with lesser "Be Here Now" tunes like "D'You
Know What I Mean?" and "It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)" stretched to the
snapping point with languorous solos. True to rock star form, Liam played
the impetuous brat throughout, knocking down microphones, flinging his
tambourine around carelessly and goading the audience ("You fat bastards!").
Ironically, Noel -- whose writing style caused this mess in the first
place -- actually salvaged the performance. Playing a short solo acoustic
set of songs, he ran through a spare take of "Don't Go Away" that
transcended its moon-June-spoon rhyme scheme and a telling cover of the
Beatles' "Help!" as a slowed-down country blues. In fact, his voice is
stronger and more evocative than Liam's, alternately gruff and yearning,
more concerned with song than showmanship. It's enough to make you wonder
what he keeps his brother around for.

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis is a regular contributor to Salon.

MORE FROM Mark Athitakis

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