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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Oasis Quintet From England Delivers Rock That Refreshes

February 06, 1995|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Few bands have ever stepped forward with a name that defines its place in rock as well as Oasis.

At a time when the dominant tone of most noteworthy new American bands is darkness and anxiety, Oasis stands as precisely the "pleasant relief, refuge or change" suggested by its name.

Before an enthusiastic capacity crowd Friday night at the Palace, the English quintet wove together in generally wonderful fashion some of the most refreshing power pop and lite punk elements of British rock from the 1960s and '70s. It included traces of everything from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones through T. Rex and the Sex Pistols.

There is clearly an underlying acknowledgment in the band's music of the bleakness and ennui expressed by much of England's youth, yet Oasis tends to look forward with music that is spirited and ultimately self-affirming.

Part of a grand tradition of rock brothers that stretches from the Davies to the Reids, Oasis' Liam and Noel Gallagher find strength in the legacy of British rock and place their faith in it.

At a time when so many young U.S. rock performers have been conditioned by their punk roots to be suspicious of fame, Oasis--like others in a promising new wave of British rock groups--appears eager to embrace it.

Liam led his mates on stage with the authority and swagger of someone who is a sensation back in England and thinks he's about to become one here.

Yet, there is in the music enough of the innocence and yearning of youth to give it a warm, endearing edge:

People say it's just a waste of time . . . (but) in my mind, my dreams are real, Liam declared in the opening number. Tonight, I'm a rock 'n' roll star. . . .

From the wistful "Live Forever" to the snarling "Cigarettes & Alcohol," Oasis' music (written by guitarist Noel) offers the enticing balance of individuality and accessibility that causes a song to stick in your consciousness.

For all the color of its music, however, Oasis was wooden on stage. The three guitarists stood stiffly, exerting only the motion required to hit the strings. That left it up to Liam, who is blessed with fashion-model good looks, but was curiously ill-defined as a performer.

Though Liam, who is in his early 20s, is an aggressive singer who likes to hold key words for an extra beat or two, he was rather passionless at the microphone and strutted about annoyingly between songs. Is he simply clumsy or hopelessly arrogant? If it's the latter, he could quickly become a caricature.

Late in the show, however, Liam showed reassuring signs of life, playing air guitar on a vigorous number. In that moment, the celebration of the band lived up to the celebration of the music, and it offered reason to believe that Oasis is more than simply another of the many rock mirages from England in recent years.

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