Okay, I’m just gonna lay it all out there. I don’t want there to be any secrets between us. Brace yourself…
I completely and unabashedly love ’90s music.
All right, that’s probably not terribly shocking. I grew up in the ’90s, so it kind of stands to reason. Whatever the radio played back in those days was the soundtrack to my coming-of-age. (Oh, and I gotta tell you, I just discovered SiriusXM’s Lithium channel and it’s only the best thing EVER. We pay for Sirius just to listen to that.) In my humble opinion, those halcyon days of the mid-to-late ’90s (otherwise known as high school) were the last when decent rock ‘n’ roll was mainstream. Yes, it still exists today, we’ve talked about this before, but finding it isn’t as simple as getting in the car and flipping through the tuner – you’ve gotta hunt for it. But that wasn’t the case back then, when there was an abundance of good rock of so many varieties on the radio.
But my favorite was the band that had no qualms at all about proclaiming themselves to be the biggest and best of them all – Oasis. I loved Oasis, and still do. I can remember exactly where I was the first time I heard “Wonderwall”. Remember, back in these days MTV (you know – “Music Television”) actually played music videos, and more often than not we just left it on as background noise. When I heard that now-iconic opening guitar strum for the first time, I glanced at the TV, curious. The singer’s whiny (yet somehow not unpleasant) voice was an odd but fitting accompaniment to the melancholy prettiness of lyrics. The band and their louche attitude fascinated me. So on my next trip to the mall, I stopped by Sam Goody and picked up a copy of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and proceeded to play it non-stop for months, if not years. This was the fall of 1995. I was fourteen years old.
(And as an aside, I just watched the official video in full for the first time in years. Chills and nostalgia right here, folks.)
I’ve loved them ever since, through the good albums (Don’t Believe the Truth) and the bad (Be Here Now, although I will say that “D’You Know What I Mean” is one of my favorite Oasis songs, The rest of the album though…). Instead of using my college debit card at the school dining hall, like I was supposed to, I used it to buy Standing on the Shoulder of Giants at the school’s bookstore. Every time I listen to Dig Out Your Soul, I’m reminded of driving to Pittsburgh on a lonely stretch of desolate western Pennsylvania highway, listening to it repeatedly because it had just been released. So yes, I’ve been a fan for a while.
But I’d never gotten around to seeing them in concert. Perhaps it was because I was pretty young during the mania surrounding WTSMG, perhaps it’s because their shows had a reputation for being rough, perhaps it’s because I didn’t want to waste my money should Liam have a snit and decide to not show up. Whatever the reason, I assumed they’d always be there and that I’d see them “one day.” So I was bitterly disappointed when they split up for good in 2009…I’d missed out. But a few years later, Noel came out with his first solo album. Now, I’ve always been partial to Noel – Liam may have been the “pretty” one but he was, frankly, an ass. Noel, on the other hand, was blunt but affable. Some of my favorite Oasis songs were fronted by Noel – “Waiting for the Rapture,” “Going Nowhere,” “The Masterplan.” So naturally I listened to the album…and fell in love with it instantly. It was (is) so good, light years better than Liam’s solo effort, which was released at about the same time. It made plain that Liam was really nothing more than the voice of Oasis – Noel was its heart and soul.
But because this was prior to my live-music renaissance, I didn’t see him when he toured in support of the eponymous album. It wasn’t until last year, when he released his second solo record, Chasing Yesterday, that I thought maybe it was time I saw him in person. He had a stop in Philly but it was at the Merriam Theater, a seated venue, and by the time I looked for tickets, there was nothing left but nosebleed seats. C’est la vie…I was disappointed but not gutted (I had yet to understand what I would have been missing). So when they announced via his Facebook page a few weeks before the show that additional tickets had been released, I was curious and went to the website to see what was available…and almost fell out of my chair when I realized that the seats they were selling were front row. I think I wasted a minute thinking about it. I bought them.
As hyperbolic as it may be, there’s a reason his fans call him a “living legend”, a “god-like genius”. For as good as the recorded versions are, experiencing them live was on a completely different plane. There was an edge to the songs, a rawness that isn’t there on the albums. The show was loud, raucous, exhilarating. Scoring those front row seats may have been a fluke, but it added another element, an intimacy, that would have been lost had I been sitting anywhere else. I haven’t forgotten how lucky I was for things to have worked out they way they did, and I knew that it would be hard to catch that lightning in a bottle the next time (because there would be a next time).
I had to wait a while though…over a year. His U.S. tour dates for 2016 have been scanty and, except a show in New York City that, for some reason, flew under my radar and sold out before I could get tickets, the closest he was going to be was Niagara Falls. But carpe diem and all that, right? A seven-hour drive isn’t so bad, really.
So I ended up spending a few days this week is a friendly little town called Lewiston, right on the Niagara River across from Canada, where the outdoor amphitheater is only a half mile from the town’s one hotel. I couldn’t have asked for a better, more convenient set-up – I could easily walk to the venue, queue up early and, fingers crossed, get a spot a the rail. The only problem? On the day of the show, it was 80 degrees…at 9am. It ended up being the hottest day of the summer so far. And I was going to stand outside in the sun for eight…straight…hours. It wasn’t a particularly pleasurable experience.
And it didn’t get much better when they opened the gates either. There was the mad dash by the few die-hards who had gotten there even earlier than me and who ran, literally ran, to the stage to secure their spots. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m very mindful of the fact that I’m getting old, so I tried to move at a pace that was more suited to someone who’s approaching the far side of her 30s. And I was still able to snag a spot at the front, between an older dude wearing a cowboy hat and a denim jacket (he said he was from Arizona and claimed to be impervious to the weather) and a younger dude who was following the band for the entirety of the U.S. tour and who was desperate to impress me with his knowledge of Noel and Oasis. I really wanted to tell him that I had been listening to Oasis when he was in diapers, but I held my tongue, nodded and smiled politely and let him think that he was imparting some great wisdom on me. (Although it got super irritating when, during the show, I noticed that he would glance over me at the start of every song, and I realized that he was checking to see if I knew the words! Please, child, don’t insult me.)
But the all-consuming discomfort, impatience and irritation vanished, melted away the minute Noel took the stage. He’s not a big man, of medium height and slim, but he walks with a swagger that says loud and clear that he is well aware of his living legend status and believes every bit of it. But instead of being off-putting, his arrogance is compelling. It’s softened with self-deprecating humor, the acerbic but endearing wit he’s known for. And the Chief was apparently in fine spirits that night, bantering with the audience all night and seeming to enjoy himself despite the fact that the turnout was small.
He and his band didn’t let the size of the crowd dictate how they played – they could have been at a sold out Wembley Stadium. They came out guns blazing with “Everybody’s on the Run and “Lock All the Doors” (a personal favorite). The set was heavy with Oasis songs, which I’m sure satisfied most people in the audience who still salivate at the thought of a Gallagher brothers reunion, but left me wanting. I may be in the minority but I love his solo stuff and sometimes wish he didn’t have the yoke of his former band hanging around his neck so he could fully explore his new work. “Fade Away” was there, but not “AKA…Broken Arrow”. “Digsy’s Dinner”, yes, but no “Do the Damage”?
But with that said, he did play two of my favorite Oasis songs, and I can die happy having witnessed their live incarnations: “Talk Tonight” and “Wonderwall.” You’d think that there wouldn’t possibly be anything left to learn from a song that’s been played to death over two decades, but his rendition of “Wonderwall,” his gentler vocals a stark contrast to Liam’s sneering ones, was beautiful. On its own, that would have been enough to cause a lump to form in my throat, but he prefaced it by observing that, were it not for that song, he wouldn’t be there on that stage at that moment. It was honest, simply stated, lovely. I’m so glad I was there for it.
I was glad to be there for the whole damned thing. Driving the full lengths of both Pennsylvania and New York, the ridiculous heat and humidity, the long hours of doing nothing more than simply standing around, waiting…it was worth every second. The only bad point even turned out to be a positive – I couldn’t take any pictures because I’m a moron who accidentally held down the shutter button and took a burst of five hundred photos and maxed out my storage space two songs in. I didn’t realize this until after the fact, of course…all I knew was that I was getting that hideous message saying that I couldn’t take any more photos. But, even though I’m not the sort to watch the entire show from behind my viewfinder, it forced me to focus on the stage and be truly present for the duration. And trust me, you don’t want to take your eyes off god-like genius for a second…you never know what you might miss.