ROCK / Definitely a band to watch - then again, maybe not

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The Independent Culture
IF Oasis become as successful as everyone predicts, be prepared for a glut of groups as animated on stage as Rock Circus waxworks. At the Forum on Tuesday, Oasis stand still. Their faces are blank. The only words they grunt are song titles and 'Thank yow very mooch'. Apart from the singer's few plodding steps, the most pronounced movement from any band member is a sullen thrust of the lower lip. Renowned hotel-room demolishers they may be, but they look as if they would call room service to have someone stir their tea.

This game of musical statues could be a gimmick - it does enhance frontman Liam Gallagher's brooding charisma - but Oasis claim there is method in their motionlessness. Liam's brother Noel - lead guitarist and songwriter - has said that he is concentrating too hard on his fretboard to dance, and that he prefers it if the audience's attention is focused on the music.

For now, these are reasons enough. The songs from their debut album, Definitely Maybe (Creation), are so instantly catchy that it feels as if you've known them for years. Mind you, a few of them you have known for years. 'Supersonic' is Bryan Adams's 'Run to You', only louder. 'Shakermaker' is the New Seekers' 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing' plus John Lennon's shhhp vocal effect from 'Come Together'. Only much louder. Then there are the debts to fellow Mancunians the Stone Roses.

Not that it matters. You cannot hear that scruffy, swirling, two-guitars-bass- drums-vocals melee without moving some part of your anatomy to the beat. (Unless, of course, you're in the band.) The crowd mosh, pogo, bodysurf and generally keep the security staff busy for an hour, at which point Oasis finish 'I Am the Walrus' and saunter off, never to return. No, they're not the new Beatles, but they are a band to watch - figuratively speaking. In concert they are barely worth watching at all.

It is strange to see Jonathan Richman at the Hackney Empire. The theatre is only medium-sized, but Richman works best in venues with the dimensions of a potting shed, and he seems incongruous on a larger stage.

From his early urban rocking with the Modern Lovers to today's surf strumming, Richman's quiet forte has been to convince everyone in the audience that he is chatting personally to them. Imagine a Bostonian Eddie Izzard set to music. Also like Izzard he has a consistently refreshing and childlike world view. And he is very funny.

In 'Vampire Girl' he admits his

fascination with gothic women: 'Does she cook beans? Does she cook rice? / Does she do ritual human sacrifice?' And in 'She Doesn't Laugh at My Jokes' he sings: 'I'm gonna call up someone serious, like Sigmund Frood / And say, Hello, hello, I'm a hilarious dude.'

He is a master of surprise, accenting odd syllables, altering grammar, sidestepping the obvious rhyme in favour of one that is comic or sad or both. Rather than write a review, it's tempting just to give a transcript. Richman is best seen in small clubs, but he should be filling stadiums.

What is Jimmy Webb doing in the Green Room of London's Cafe Royal? He wrote 'MacArthur Park', 'Up, Up and Away' and 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix'. By the time he'd got to 21, he had five Grammies and a million dollars. The question is, why is this genius playing after-dinner piano in an over-priced, velvet-festooned cocktail lounge?

The question is soon answered. Webb is in his element. 'This part of the show I dedicate to women,' he says, and: 'This part of the show I call 'Completely Off-Broadway'.' He tells a duff one-liner about John Wayne Bobbitt which does not improve when he adds that he heard it from Richard Harris. Other showbiz chums he roll-calls include Frank Sinatra, Whoopi Goldberg, Johnny Cash and Barbra Streisand. It is the most incorrigible name-dropping I've heard since I was last round at Paul McCartney's house.

During his Christmas number ('The children are calling, slipping and falling / While grandmother sits and just looks at the view'), he tosses a handful of white flakes into the air. The Cafe Royal, luxurious establishment though it is, does not provide sick-bags.

Webb's cabaret cliches are not redeemed by the rest of his performance. His grizzled voice never gets up, up and away to the high notes. The lyrics emit flashes of brilliance in between the dollops of sentimentality, for instance in an upbeat paean to Converse All Star sports shoes, but the tunes are forgettable Broadway fluff, with forgettable singer-songwriter piano accompaniment. Webb is not even a Lloyd Webber.

Eventually he plays a verse of 'MacArthur Park', a song which was originally over seven minutes long. 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix', 'Galveston' and 'Wichita Lineman' are disposed of in a short closing medley.

The question is, why does anyone call this after-dinner pianist a genius?

(Photograph omitted)

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