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Music

Oasis w/ Ryan Adams and Matt Costa (Sept. 5)

Posted by Stefan / September 6, 2008

Oasis.jpg"Where has arena rock gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed it - you and I."

"If Oasis did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them," wrote Voltaire in one of his less lofty moments. History hasn't been so kind to the British rockers. Notorious for their obnoxious personas, their egos and antics are well documented and boring anachronisms in the current rock universe. Unless you intend to market shoes, dental floss, or any other monument to banality alongside your gold records, the Gallagharian approach to stardom has been supplanted by a somewhat demure school of celebrity. As the imperfect MGMT somehow understand, the best that can be hoped for today is facsimile; musicians are fated to pretend. We can no longer expect to inhabit a world in which the jaded and cynical Kurt Cobain earnestly (and naïvely) protested Pete Townshend's ostensible betrayal of his own ideals (i.e. not dying before he got old). Even rock-star deaths are passé, given the overuse of the airplane crash, drug overdose, and dramatic suicide as means to an end. If Axl Rose goes gentle into that good night, that'll be a headline. Until then, who cares what Liam says about Damon Albarn anymore? Their sophomoric quibbles have gone the way of the wallet chain and the mushroom cut.

After a brief performance by Matt Costa (which I missed), the show continued with Ryan Adams, who occupies an awkward position in the image-conscious music lover's cultural landscape. Marred by dozens of derivative artists, the alt-country genre he embodies perpetually risks combining country music's musical conservatism with the messianic egoism of rock's more cocksure ambassadors. Given his Bell Centre billing and opening slot for Oasis, Adams could not depend on a gritty setting to subliminally boost his credibility. In lieu of dusty whiskey bottles and badly tuned pianos, Adams was flanked by Montreal Canadians memorabilia and giant electronic advertisements. Pas très country. The giant stage thus laid his music bare; it had to speak for itself or it risk seeming ridiculous amidst the relative glitz of the all-purpose arena.

For the most part, his show was a success. Characteristically moody, Adams's brooding shtick has its limits. At his best, he writes touching ballads that would feel at home on a Wilco album. At his worst, he's got a Wallflowers thing going on – songs which work but don't matter, rock but don't inspire. His performance tonight was solid and consistent, topped by a thoroughly moving version of “Come Pick Me Up”, an evocative post-breakup complicated-friendship song which winds slowly around each note, burdened by a sense of inevitable resignation. Unfortunately, Adams avoided his more acoustic material, and did not have any perceptible fits.

After a lengthy pause filled by a mish-mash of British artists, Oasis took the stage. To my surprise, everyone immediately stood up as though set to recite the pledge of allegiance. The crowd proceeded to stand throughout the show, despite the utter incommensurability between the location of the stage, the seating arrangements, and the ostensible purpose of rising. Few people danced – they just stood. Some sang under their breaths, others slowly pumped their fists. Most were in their 30s. Considering that many people paid as much as $69.50 for the rare privilege to hear Liam announce that a tambourine “is just a tambourine”, they weren’t about to keep perfectly still.

It was apparent throughout the show that band’s new songs failed to match their star-making material. I'm sure that dedicated fans pooh-pooh the now standard characterization of Oasis as shadows of their former selves, vanishing in the glow of rising acts. Perhaps they're right to do so. There are at least two angles through which to defend the band. The first involves their championing of a familiar brand of innocuous rock. It requires a conviction that the stripped-down, pretentious, and superficial stuff that defines rock today is in fact an illegitimate heir to the genre's hotly contested narrative. Oasis, who were never meant to draw comparisons to Led Zeppelin, are suddenly hailed for their restorative properties, reestablishing lineage with rock's Trajan age. If the multiple Union Jack waving soccer hooligan types were at all representative of the crowd, there is an element of aggressive pride associated with Oasis, as though hearing “Wonderwall” for the thousandth time will somehow overcome the increasingly tarnished reputation of Britons in the world.

A related, though likely more common approach, is to insist that Oasis were never really the critics' darlings anyway; their goal was to create thick, hook-filled anthems for the masses. This makes comparisons to more modern acts irrelevant, as they operate under a different set of assumptions (i.e. synths are cool, anthemic rock is not). Fans can thus enjoy Oasis for what they are: a tattered hit-machine capable of writing both anthems and ballads.

Oasis is the General Motors of the rock world. Their approach is based on the assumption that if they release it, fans will buy it. For the automaker, this worked well before flashy imports gained credibility – and perhaps more importantly – before they became widely accessible. Similarly, when fans realized that they no longer needed to be in-the-know to cultivate cool (an internet connection will do), they branched out. Ironically, as the industry ossified one merger at a time, popular tastes evolved as various acts gained greater exposure. Sometime after those New York pretty-boy pretenders to the throne brought sparse into the mainstream, and that ambiguously related duo from Detroit decided they didn't need a base player, rock fans splintered and drifted.

It is worth remembering that the band's rise to superstardom was in part a product of its time. "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" was released when queues still formed every Tuesday morning outside major record stores as anxious fans sought to be the first to possess new releases. That ethos, of course, has disappeared. Unfortunately, unlike some Leonard Zelig-like artists, Oasis has failed to innovate in response. In fact, the band recently revealed the extent to which they are out of touch with listeners around the globe, foolishly mocking the considerably more influential Jay-Z, who returned the favour in their own backyard at Glastonbury. This sad incident aligns Oasis with geriatric Elvis fans who think that anyone else is just a bunch of new-fangled upstarts. All that being said, a Pontiac will get you to beach, and Oasis plays loud rock which seems to get a lot of people worked up. It's just a shame to pay luxury prices for such utilitarian products.

Discussion

13 Comments

Jer / September 6, 2008 at 11:34 am
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wrt the last paragraph...I've always felt that about Oasis. They never seemed in touch with what was going on around them. They were the only thing that mattered (to themselves) and that was fine with them.

It was charming for a bit, and outside of a few decent albums, I think it helped propel them to an interesting level of fame. But when you stop making good music (yet keep claiming that your music is the only thing that matters) then your whole schtick falls apart.

Great piece.
Jenny / September 7, 2008 at 02:04 pm
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What is this, a novel?? lol. At least it's a good thing that you write well, Stefan.

Loved the National Post link.
Dave / September 8, 2008 at 10:28 am
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Although not as good as their first two albums, I must say that "Don't Believe The Truth" was a great album. There was at least 6 fantastic songs on there. Not bad for a band that far into their career.
G / September 8, 2008 at 05:52 pm
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And thus it becomes apparent that midnight poutine has moved on to bigger and better. We are now reviewing washed-up performers that are somehow still capable of drawing arena-sized crowds. Oh... how we've grown. Maybe we'll be flying a team of reporters to a sold out INXS reunion show at Wembly Stadium soon.

On another note, I never found Oasis innovative. That was Blur. Oasis was little more than the Beatles with a tad more distortion. With that said, they did put out a few tracks that will never be deleted from my pirated music collection and all of those happen to be from their earlier albums.

My roommate recounts a tale in which, as a wee lad, he purchased, at a record store, a cassette tape version of Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory. To his bewilderment, however, when he popped the tape into his deck, what came out was not Oasis at all. Somehow and old Led Zeppelin album blasted out of his speakers even though both the case and the tape itself were clearly labeled Oasis. As Moxy Fruvous would say... you can't really call that a loss or a win.
Dave / September 9, 2008 at 08:58 am
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Oh, so MP is ONLY to review indie shows? Who will decide what's Indie enough? Is Metropolis too big? Radiohead play the Bell Center. Can they be reviewed?
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