Liam Gallagher Conjured the Ghosts of Britpop at Masonic

The former Oasis lead singer and Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft set the dial to the 1990s in a nostalgia-saturated performance.

In 2018, your chances of seeing Oasis or The Verve take the stage are basically zilch.

Google Liam Gallagher or his brother Noel, and you’ll be flooded with results recounting their most recent Twitter spats and bold declarations of disdain for each other. If Coachella founder Paul Tollet knows what it will cost to reunite Oasis for even one performance, he has yet to spend those (presumably) ungodly sums. Meanwhile, The Verve has disbanded three times, leaving frontman Richard Ashcroft with a handful of hits and little interest in mounting the project for a fourth effort.

This is why on Thursday night at San Francisco’s Masonic, the audience seemed completely gobsmacked to hear beloved ’90s rock anthems like “Bittersweet Symphony” and “Supersonic”—it was a chance to relive an era many in the crowd never got to experience the first time around. To be sure, there were plenty of wizened rock fans sharing elbow space with the fresh-faced college students who quite possibly first heard Oasis’s “Wonderwall” as part of a television commercial.  

However, no one seemed concerned about proving their merit as Britpop aficionados.

(Zack Ruskin)

Instead, the challenge of the evening was apparently finding out just much alcohol one can consume between the end of Ashcroft’s opening set and the beginning of Gallagher’s performance. The answer, unsurprisingly, was a lot. While the aroma of stale beer and the stumbling spectacle of fans surging towards the front of the stage did set a tone akin to the one seen at stadiums during Oasis’ heyday, it felt a bit out of place in the upscale nightclub aesthetic of the Masonic.

Regardless, any bitterness from the more jaded subsect of the crowd (including this writer) quickly evaporated when Gallagher kicked off his set with the one-two punch of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Morning Glory.” As SF Weekly’s Elle Carroll noted in her review of Gallagher’s Warfield performance in November, this opening coda is apparently par for the course.

Oasis was built on the concept that more is less, with anthems that consist of little more than root notes and barre chords awash in distortion. Rising above it all was Gallagher’s snide growl, a voice that was simultaneously disgusted by love and hopelessly addicted to its power. At  45, Gallagher’s vocals may sound a little worse for wear, but his stage presence is still full of the same menacing inertia he’s always exhibited: hands behind his back when he leans into the mic, a tambourine or maracas always within reach.

Trafficking in nostalgia has always been a dicey gamble for musicians. Sometimes your inability to perform is largely forgiven as long as you take the stage, as is the case with the current incarnation of Bob Dylan. Other times, the act falls flat without the surrounding cast that made it special in the first place, like any version of Guns N’ Roses that didn’t include Slash. In the case of Liam Gallagher and Oasis, it’s truly hard to say what the difference is.

Sure, you can’t call Gallagher and a touring band the equivalent of the original group, but given the appeal of Oasis never came from their dexterous musical skill or lauded live performances, it’s only fair to wonder if watching Gallagher tackle classics like “Some Might Say,” “Slide Away,” and “Cigarettes & Alcohol” isn’t exactly what you’d get at an Oasis reunion show at Oracle Arena or Golden Gate Park for three times the price. Ashcroft’s performance presented no such conundrums — largely staged as Ashcroft alone with an acoustic guitar (a guest guitarist joined him for the final three songs), there was no mistaking that set as The Verve.

This isn’t to say Ashcroft wasn’t engaging — indeed, the ferocious energy he endowed his performance with was mighty impressive — but simply that his time on stage was something altogether different from what seeing The Verve live must be like. Yet, for Gallagher, the lines are far more blurred. If you were to blindfold a friend, march them into the Masonic, and pull the cloth from their face as you announce that they are witnessing an Oasis reunion, it would most likely work. Even the songs Gallagher shared from his recent debut solo record, As You Were, could easily be mistaken as Oasis B-sides or obscurities.

Ultimately the effect of this pseudo-Oasis concert was intoxicating. In the moment, it was easy enough to close your eyes and believe it was indeed Oasis. There was bliss to be found in letting the ballads and boisterous melodies reclaim the position they once held as go-to mixtape filler and extended car ride singalongs. Whatever the truth of the evening was, the magic of make-believe was far more alluring.

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