Among The Thugs, Part Two

by Thomas Beller

11/23/2002

850 7th ave ny

Neighborhood: Letter From Abroad

Continued from Part One

It’s tough playing to a half-empty house, but there is some consolation if the house you’re playing holds 60,000 people. It’s been a beautiful day in Oakland, and now, in the cool blue dusk, the crowd upfront is getting seriously pumped.

As usual, Oasis are immobile. Arthurs is, for reasons no one can fathom, the recipient of the most underwear thrown onstage. It gets thrown at him, and when he accumulates enough, he drapes it over his amp. This only happens in America, and the band is, as a whole, baffled by the ritual of “throwing knickers.” McGuigan stands stock-still – by comparison, Bill Wyman was an acrobat. Noel, also, stands relatively still, in a white shirt with little brown buttons, and square, steel-rimmed sunglasses. The Silver Sparkle guitar is in fine form, indeed going to “11.”

And then there is Liam. He, too, is wearing sunglasses. He looks a bit pale, but by his standards, is energetic. His body contorts a little as he sneers, head tilted upward, as though he were a man dying of thirst and little drops of water were rolling off the mike. Even from 40 feet, one sees his sneer. One can certainly hear it. It is the Oasis trademark.

The band launches into “Be Here Now” from the new album, and it sounds majestic. It strikes me how much this rendition sounds like the recorded version. Stadiums are an intrinsically unironic venue, and Oasis are an intrinsically unironic band. So they are well-suited. But then it strikes me that the record was, in a sense, recorded to sound like a stadium.

Afterwards I am escorted backstage. After a long trek across an expanse of concrete, there is an elevator. And at last I am ushered into the Oasis sanctum, a full floor away from where U2 are holed up. And then I am ushered out.

“Going down to see the show,” says Noel. “Meet you back here after.” So out I go to see U2. Midway through the set Bono pauses to make a speech. He describes how frightened U2 have become by the huge commercial apparatus of the music business. He explains that instead of letting “this monster eat us, we have decided to eat them.” He waves to the enormous contraption that is their stage set. Having spent the last week in the general proximity of Oasis, their music, their entourage, I can’t help but think this Bono speech is pathetic. You’ve got to go for it, you’ve got to roll with it, you’ve got to say what you say and don’t let anyone get in your way, man. You’ve got to live forever. You’ve got to be here now. If there is any message to Oasis’s music, it is: Do not apologize! Being an Oasis fan means never having to say you’re sorry.

After the vaguely sci-fi ending to U2’s show, it’s back through the gauntlet. The security people, faced with the mass of exiting fans, are much more tense. The backstage area is filled with people sporting a million different kinds of plastic laminates around their necks. They roam the concrete prairie like nomads.

Back in the skybox, the place is brimming with energy. Danny and Terry, the bodyguards, are there. They have been joined by Kevin, Liam’s full-time bodyguard, who is 6’7″ and has not an ounce of muscle on him, but possesses a gut like a wrecking ball.

A record company executive is speaking to Noel. He says the following: “The record is great, man! It is brilliant! Fucking incredible! It’s genius! It’s going to be huge!” Liam is nowhere to be found. The executive is still on his rant about what a genius Noel is. It strikes me that the executive is using hyperbole in the same way a squid uses ink–his flattery is a dense, obscuring, immobilizing liquid.

“Did you see the show?” asks Noel when he sees me.

Of course I did.

“How was the vibe out there?” he asks pensively.

“Excellent,” I lie.

In fact it was merely good, but I’m coming to understand that “tops” is not an adjective reserved for special occasions. If you are around Oasis, it’s best to say that everything they do is “tops!”

We retreat behind the black curtain. The luxury skybox holds 12 padded seats, and is enclosed in glass. To the sides are other sealed jury box-like capsules. In front of us looms the massive U2 stage set, signifying the latest technology, enormous financial expenditures, and performance anxiety. We stare up at the black moonlit sky through the stadium’s painfully bright lights and I ask Noel about the new record.

“We just went for that fuck-off wall of sound. We just turned up every channel and went for it.”

At which point Liam floats into the adjoining skybox like a ghost, sits down, and throws an arm over the back of each adjoining chair. He’s still wearing sunglasses, yellow-tinted, and that vicious, blank stage expression. His gold jewelry flashes in the harsh fluorescent light. On each wrist is a watch – the face of one is white, the other is black. Noel is facing me, and hasn’t yet noticed his brother behind him, just a few feet away, enclosed in his own glass box, breathing different air.

How has success changed Liam? I ask. The glass is two inches thick. It’s soundproof. But as if by telepathy, Liam turns toward me. He stares right at me and, after a moment’s pause, gives me the thumbs-up sign.

“He’s become more mad,” says Noel. “He’s totally fuckin’ mental. He lives in….” He laughs to himself. “He lives in this weird-bizarre-bizarre concept.” Noel gets a truly mystified look in his eyes.

I ask him to explain the concept.

“If I could explain that concept to you, mate, I’d bottle it, and I’d fuckin’ sell it, and I’d be even richer than I am now.”

At this point he notices that my eyes are darting nervously over his shoulder, and he turns to look. Liam’s attention has wandered off to the vaguely apocalyptic scene outside and below. It is an appropriately regal view, regal not in the sense of gowns and crowns and pomp and circumstance but of the stuff that gets you all of that, regal in the Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun sense of conquering.

Noel sees him, chuckles, turns back to me, and takes a serious nibble on his index finger. Liam’s arrival has changed the chemistry, as ever.

“I love the geezer,” he says. “I love him. And I don’t say that just because he’s my brother. He makes me laugh. He’s so surreal.” **Click here for Part One of this article

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