If the latest release from Oasis is not the strongest work from the band in years, it is at least confirmation that they are tapping back into a formula that worked well for them in the past. Excluding a few singles, Dig Out Your Soul is arguably the band’s most consistent effort since 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?. With that in mind, it seemed like an opportune time to check back in on Oasis as their tour rolled through Chicago’s Allstate Arena. However, for a band that has long been known for their rowdy behavior and outspoken assuredness it was quite a surprise to see just how safe they played things live.
This was obvious from the start as they broke into “Rock n Roll Star”, the opening track from their debut album, showcasing the fact that they would not shy away from mining older material. Keeping the momentum going, they immediately proceeded into “Lyla” with its infectious sing-along chorus from Don’t Believe the Truth, while “The Shock of the Lightning”, one of the standouts from their most recent release, represented the first of the new material on the night.
The stage set up was befitting for a band that believes they are the greatest in the world. A backdrop consisting of four huge screens stretched from floor to ceiling transmitting images, most often of the band, while flanked by rows of bright lights capable of cloaking the entire stage in a blinding white light. It was the stage presence of the band, though, that left much to be desired. There was little to no band interaction throughout the set, much less actual movement about the stage from its members. With the exception of a few turns on lead vocals—at which point brother Liam would exit the stage—Noel largely kept to himself at the side of the stage.
Sure, there were a few moments of crowd interaction, but these were sprinkled minimally amongst the songs. Somewhere around mid set, Noel stepped up to the mic with his acoustic guitar and asked some members of the crowd if they were unable to find a babysitter for the evening after spotting their young child in attendance. He then declared, “I can only wonder how many T-shirts you are going to buy in your life with Oasis written across the front of it” before dedicating “The Masterplan” to the young girl. Though Noel’s vocals are much smoother than his brother’s pipes, without Liam front and center the band loses much of its edge. When Liam was onstage he provided the closest thing to an actual stage presence; it just wasn’t particularly interesting. Of late rock music does suffer a bit from a lack of swagger—something Oasis has always carried in spades to their benefit—but swagger should fuel a performance rather than be the performance.
The evening was certainly not void of some high points though. Early tracks such as “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Morning Glory” were worthy of every bit of praise the crowd offered to them. “The Importance of Being Idle” was the evening’s scene-stealer, and finishing with their now ubiquitous cover of the Beatles’ “I am the Walrus” still makes for a great closer. Ultimately though, it felt as if they were going through the motions. There was never any real sense that they wanted to be up on stage or that they were even enjoying themselves. This point was clearly illustrated during “Wonderwall” when, mid verse, Liam said, “Can somebody take that stupid fucking light off of me.” Funny for sure, but that sort of behavior doesn’t really sell anyone on the idea that they are enjoying themselves or that they are in the moment.
In a recent interview, Noel Gallagher summed up my own thoughts. When asked what he thinks the band has to offer someone seeing them for the first time he replied, “Nothing. Don’t come and see us if you’re expecting anything. I can’t offer anybody anything apart from the music that’s coming out of the speakers. And if they listen to that and they find some meaning in the songs, good for them.” Now surely to take anything Noel says without a grain of salt puts the joke squarely on you, but he goes on to say in the same interview, “We’re not going to turn any new people on to Oasis. Oasis is a band that you either get it or you don’t. Everybody knows who we are. You have to see us in league with the Rolling Stones now. Everybody’s heard of the Stones, everybody knows what they sound like, everybody knows what they do. You either go because you like it or you don’t. It’s easy.” While he makes an excellent point it does not make for very good theater. Then again, maybe he is right, I just wish I had read the interview before going to the show.