Loving dinosaurs and Noel Gallagher
I didn’t know what to expect when my daughter and I walked into Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds at House of Blues in June 2015. His second album, “Chasing Yesterday,” had caught my ear but, admittedly, I’d skipped its predecessor, “Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.” I went because she liked Oasis, a band I had followed fervently for just a few years.
This Saturday, Gallagher and his band return to that venue. Listen to music long enough and you’ll find migratory patterns in your tastes and affinities - sometimes they’re caused by trends, sometimes by age, sometimes they’re just mysteries. In 2015, I was at low ebb with the wibbly wobbly path charted by Gallagher, who arrived a little more than 20 years earlier, seemingly in tact as a full-fledged rock ‘n’ roll star, with Oasis. My memory of that night at House of Blues is arriving at an empty venue. In an instant, the venue was filled with fans ruffled with drunken fervor. A band/crowd singalong to Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger” near show’s end was one of those lovely communal musical moments you try to convey to your kids years later -usually to a blank stare. Fortunately for me, my kid was one of those singing along.
The experience was funny because, almost 20 years earlier, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into Austin’s Liberty Lunch to see Oasis for a budget-friendly $5.
To this day, I remember that show being among the loudest I’ve attended. I recall Gallagher’s brother Liam pointing to a woman in the crowd, pulling her onstage and then directing her backstage. I heard that’s how things worked at old-school rock shows. I’d just never witnessed such a thing before.
As a young person interested in all manner of indie-this and alternative-that, I nevertheless felt some strong pull toward Oasis’ music, which was rock ‘n’ roll without modifiers. Perhaps it was rudimentary, but as presented, the music’s authors cared not a whit if you underestimated it.
Oasis played for the crowd it had. That crowd congregated and crested quickly in the ’90s.
All waves crest, and then they crash.
Music from the ’90s grew gauche, and Oasis was emblematic of its excesses, unlike their unfriendly rivals Blur, whose stylistic agnosticism and Kinks-y concern with subjects like British social class gave them an enduring depth and built a critical barrier reef around the band.
In the 21st century, the Gallagher brothers have cycled back into vogue, largely due to their unparalleled wizardry in the art of the interview. A dull Q&A with either brother doesn’t exist, as far as I can tell. And I’m pretty sure I’ve read them all. I struggle to pick favorites, but Noel’s Over/Under interview on Pitchfork is short and enjoyable. Asked about “gadgets,” he replied “all gadgets are (expletive) overrated. They built the pyramids without electricity. There’s no app for that.”
Liam, on the other hand, has embraced Twitter more joyfully, taunting his brother with a put-down my daughter finds endlessly perplexing and wonderful: “potato.” For a guy who exhales profanity, Liam’s choice of a root vegetable is tantalizingly ruder than any word we would be unable to print.
Identifying a chaos agent during Oasis’ heyday - 1994 to 1995 to most … but I give them credit for the erratic cocaine album disasterpiece “Be Here Now” in 1997 - was complicated. Liam, who skipped a prominent televised performance yet taunted Noel from the balcony, was clearly the primary chaos agent. But Noel didn’t exactly have a reliable compass during Oasis’ fast rise. Still, his haunting “Talk Tonight” hinted that he’d like to find a magnetic north that wasn’t entirely carnal, even though it kind of was.
By the time Oasis came braying out of Manchester, the sibling rock band feud was a trope that had spanned decades: from the brothers Davies in the Kinks to the brothers Robinson in the Black Crowes. All bands are volatile in a vacuum. Configurations of creative types trying to apply their individual voices into a single statement: That’s the oxygen. Siblings feel comfortable saying nasty things to one another that friends or co-workers wouldn’t say: That’s your spark.
But few sibling band feuds had flamed into a debilitating dysfunction as quickly as Oasis. To the band’s credit, even when it was flailing creatively, the brothers were entertaining in other ways.
Then the group split, which can work wonders for a legacy. Absence can create wanting, where stubborn persistence smells like desperation. Or, worse, obliviousness.
That 2015 House of Blues show rekindled something for me that went back to a ticket stub for that 1995 show that I dug out of a shoebox to show my daughter. She doesn’t have much know-how about money. But having seen a Taylor Swift show, she knows a $5 ticket is pretty basic.
Now, at a time when rock ‘n’ roll has been splintered into scads of artificially subdivided styles like a lightning-struck tree, I still have some deep affinity for unpretentious rock played by three to five guys trying to update the music that mattered to them.
Gallagher’s three post-Oasis albums aren’t coy about their influences. I mean, he titled one album “Chasing Yesterday.” Sure the Beatles are in the mix, but so is Burt Bacharach, so is Nick Drake. Connecting Noel Gallagher to Paul Weller is no novel concept. You can hear Weller amping up the guitar workout on Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” from two decades ago. But like Weller, Noel has found a way to add some vitality to a genre that, at times, I worry is out of fuel. The effect has been one of rediscovery, for sure, as I found myself regularly playing albums I’d kept in the freezer for years and others that I’d ignored.
Noel’s songs with their homage-laced titles - “Riverman,” “Dream On,” “If I Had a Gun” - revel in the giants upon whose shoulders they stand.
He’s a master of grand melody with a minimalist’s interest in lyrics: Often Noel will write a verse, offer a strong canvas chorus that sets the song sailing only to gently rewrite the verse so as to not distract from the chorus’ second pass. Argue all day whether that’s lazy or savvy.
Maybe that makes him a dinosaur. But our culture keeps going back to the world of “Jurassic Park.” And I like dinosaurs.