Straight out of the you-can’t-have-it both-ways dept.: Oasis is touring behind its fourth album, “Standing on the Shoulder of Giants,” and while the album’s merits are substantial, the band’s live performance has been infused with the record’s drudgy tone. What was once a band that brilliantly mixed colors in their music has wisely grown yet decided to emphasize the gray and perform with an uncustomary heaviness, leading longtime observers to wonder what happened to those sprinkles of cheerfulness and sunshine.
The evening started so non-chalantly, with the band members walking onstage with the house lights up, a recorded version of “Standing’s” lead-off track “Fucking in the Bushes” preceding their arrival. They blasted into two new churning and dense numbers, “Go Let It Out” and “Who Feels Love,” while films depicting the streets of New York were beamed behind them.
The movies were generally at odds with the mood of the music as images whizzed by. In film one, the focus was very precise — taxi cabs, street signs, buildings; in the second, they got abstract, emphasizing the movement of the city at night through taillights and such — all until the film comes to a close and a gently playful, slightly familiar organ line comes in as the scenes switch to Central Park’s Strawberry Fields and close in on a black and white photograph of John Lennon. Funny, but after years of being able to easily draw parallels between Lennon-McCartney and the Gallagher brothers, that connection is getting tougher to establish. Which should be a good thing.
If anything, Oasis’ chief songwriter Noel Gallagher has fallen for the Lennon who composed “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” for the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and “Gimme Some Truth” from “Imagine.” The group provided a few tell-tale signs: The encore for this 90-minute show was “Helter Skelter” (on the last tour, the Beatles cover was “Help”) and they even dabble in Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” at the tail end of “Cigarettes & Alcohol.” The heady chords have given way to heavy riffs.
Of the 15 numbers, four were culled from the new disc, and collectively, they prevented the evening from gathering steam. All are midtempo and kind of trippy — odd for a band that has forsaken drink and drug. But new guitarist Gem and bassist Andy Bell (formerly of Ride) keep their playing at one steady and muscular level; it adds forcefulness to the presentation of old faves “Supersonic,” “Stand by Me” and “Wonderwall,” but a lack of nuance keeps them from achieving their special magic. Rather than invigorating the brothers, still singing and performing with distinction, the four-month-old lineup presents the band running in place.
Even “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” a tune Noel sings that has been a showstopper, lacked the usual bite. Liam’s still full of piss ’n’ vinegar and singing slightly hunched and looking up into a tilted microphone, but that special spark that has made all of the group’s prior L.A. appearances so refreshing was missing — for one night, at least.
The band has 14 more North America dates before launching a 30-date Europe and U.K. summer tour that ends with a perf at the Leeds Festival in late August.