Oasis, Gorillaz offer not-quite concerts


June 22, 2005


What is a concert? Merriam-Webster Online offers the following definitions: "Agreement in design or plan: union formed by mutual communication of opinion and view," or "a public performance (as of music or dancing)."

On their current tours, Oasis and its old Blur rival Damon Albarn, now the leader of the virtual band Gorillaz, are offering two different versions of the concert experience, both lacking key ingredients from the definitions above.

There may have been plenty of planning and design in Oasis' performance Monday night at the UIC Pavilion, but there was no "mutual communication," either between the musicians or with the sold-out crowd. While Gorillaz offered a free concert on Tuesday via a digital stream over Q101.com, the Web site for radio station WKQX-FM (101.1), it could hardly be considered "a public performance."

The infamous rivalry between Oasis and Blur in the mid-'90s is now ancient history. Blur has been relegated to a cult following here, while the battlin' Gallagher brothers' much larger fan base displays an impressive level of devotion.

One young Oasis fan of my acquaintance, a South Side native and aspiring rock critic, worships the group. He wasn't content just to see the band at the UIC Pavilion; he is traveling to shows in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and he's disappointed that he will have to miss the New York gig, although he bought a ticket.

Watching the sextet onstage Monday night, I wondered why this fan is investing the time, money and effort. Oasis is renowned for sticking to one set list throughout its tours -- the same 17 songs, the same 85 minutes, thank you and goodnight -- and the actual performances of those tunes don't vary.

The group is a polished, professional, arena-anthem-generating machine. Sure, it's fun to join Liam Gallagher and 10,000 fans in singing along to "Champagne Supernova." But four times in the span of weeks? And since Liam and the boys basically stared at their shoes, hardly acknowledging all those Chicago concertgoers, couldn't this Superfan have just stayed home, cranked up the volume, sung along with the video and saved the $37.50 ticket price?

The only moment of spontaneity came when Liam cracked wise and dedicated "Alcohol and Cigarettes" to the crowd -- which, he noted with a touch of sadistic gloating, was unable to buy beer or drink because of the venue's puritanical restrictions. Otherwise, his heavily accented comments were unintelligible; he barely interacted with his bandmates, and he hardly moved, other than doing his patented "half-moon Rhythm Tech tambourine placed upon my head as a halo" routine.

As usual, Liam's brother, guitarist and band auteur Noel Gallagher, got his three obligatory vocal showcases, and the band powered through songs new and old -- "Lyla," "Morning Glory," "Rock 'n' Roll Star" -- with sounds and arrangements identical to its records. New drummer Zak Starkey got to stretch out with some Keith Moon-style flailing at the end of "Mucky Fingers," but he was woefully under-utilized through the rest of the set.

Of course, Zak's primary role in Oasis is to bring his pedigree as Ringo Starr's son, providing one more link between the alleged "best British band since the Beatles" (ha! ack! harrumph! excuse me?) and the Beatles themselves.

Meanwhile, moonlighting Blur frontman Albarn is giving his old foes their comeuppance with his cartoon side project Gorillaz. Two weeks ago, the musical simians' second album, "Demon Days," debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard albums chart; Oasis' "Don't Believe the Truth" checked in at No. 12 upon its release in May. And now Gorillaz are in the midst of a "virtual tour" supporting the disc.

From 12:01 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Q101.com provided a link to a free half-hour Gorillaz "concert" that arrived courtesy of your computer via either of the two most popular media players. Albarn and his current collaborators twisted their songs in intriguing new ways, and they even recruited psychedelic hip-hop legends De La Soul to drop by for one song.

Unfortunately, the digital stream was audio-only. Lacking visuals, Tuesday's Gorillaz show was only half the experience it could have been. But then, so was the Oasis concert. The ultimate irony is that the flesh-and-blood members of Oasis were barely more "animated" than the two-dimensional Gorillaz.