Exile on Maine Road
Sunday 05 May 1996
Last weekend, it was Oasis, not Man City FC, who drew the faithful to Maine Road stadium, but the principle was much the same. As a concert it had its ups (slatherings of brass and harmonica, flawless sound quality, Liam having shaven off that beard) and downs (the sudden, anti-climactic finale of Slade's "Cum On, Feel the Noize", a song inferior to almost all of Oasis's originals) but these were scarcely relevant. There was more to it than a team of men kicking a tune around. There was the ecstasy of all 40,000 of us knowing all the words to all the songs. Which, in the case of an abortive "D'Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman?", is more than can be said for Liam.
That's not to say that Oasis didn't have a part, and a couple of guitars, to play. They write the songs that make the whole stadium sing, after all. It's the coruscating power of their super-melodic anthems that galvanises us. But this is nothing new. When Oasis were appearing in venues the size of a goal net, back in ... ooh, 1994, they had a sound that could fill a stadium. Now that they've been promoted to one, they are content to put no more effort into their staging.
The only difference between a good Oasis gig and a bad Oasis gig is the crowd's level of enthusiasm; at Maine Road it was at fever pitch, so the concert was phenomenal. At the end, Noel thanked "the best fans in the world, from the best band in the world". He was half right, anyway. Meanwhile, footballers are making records, dating bimbos, assaulting fans and filling tabloids. Football is the new rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n' roll is the new football. Whatever.
If you were Glen Matlock, original and recently reinstated bassist of the Sex Pistols, and you were now signed to Oasis's record company, how would you try to make your solo album sound? Exactly. On Who's He Think He is When He's at Home? (released on Creation later this month), Matlock thinks he's the Pistols and Oasis. And although the music doesn't quite reach the marks he's aiming for, it's within spitting distance of both. He premiered this material at London's Splash Club on Monday, in front of a scattering of Creation employees and greying Mohicans. Considering that he had the suit, striped shirt, neatly brushed short hair and fresh face of an awkward but eager junior minister, his album is as catchy, driving and blustering a collection of good-time rock 'n' roll riffs as we have any right to expect.
Matlock has switched from bass to rhythm guitar. Unfortunately, he's switched to lead vocals, too. Bearing in mind that the Pistols chose Johnny Rotten as their lead singer, you can imagine what their old bassist's voice sounds like: worse than Rotten's, worse than rotten. Still, the propulsive band just about make up for it, particularly the frighteningly unhealthy-looking Steve New, psychobilly lead guitarist from Matlock's post-Pistols band, the Rich Kids. Who's He Think He is...? will almost certainly be the least fashionable release of the year, but how many other artists who had a magnesium spark of fame 20 years ago are burning this brightly today?
I should begin my review of Jonathan Richman's show at London's Jazz Cafe by declaring an interest. I am a huge fan. Obsession would be too strong a word, but it's probably fair to say that if he were playing every night I wouldn't go to anyone else's concerts. Although each of his shows has constants - the acoustic surf sound, the elements of country-skiffle, flamenco and Buddy Holly guitar - each is engagingly unique. On Wednesday, Richman updated the lyrics of old favourites to make them new, and performed brand new songs which were as well-received as the oldies. He blew the dust off his 20-year-old back catalogue and dug out the Modern Lovers' classic "Pablo Picasso" (but not "Roadrunner", which was covered by the Sex Pistols, continuity lovers). And then, as if in reply to the question, "Which song is Richman least likely to play?" he got funky with James Brown's "Sex Machine".
His new band - an organist, bassist and drummer - watched him intently, even while they were soloing: they were as unsure as the rest of us of what he'd do next. Mostly, what he did next was instruct them to turn down the volume. God knows what he's doing on Neil Young's record label. His love of hushed music is so deep that he will sometimes dart away from the microphone mid-song. Luckily, when the audience is not laughing or clapping, they listen in rapt silence. Richman's largely autobiographical writing is tender, optimistic, heartfelt and funny, as affecting as it is unaffected. Sometimes disparaged for his whimsical and childlike lyrical bent ("Rockin' Leprechaun" made a welcome return tonight), he can also hit adult emotions with phew-it's-not-just-me-who-feels-like-that accuracy. I could go on to extol his disco dancing and his extempore charm, but in order to reaffirm my critical objectivity, let me say instead that I wasn't too keen on his tasselled loafers. Otherwise, pure delight.
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