This has been quite a week for special performances by feisty leaders of turbulent British rock bands.
First, the Who's Pete Townshend anchored an intimate Tuesday show at the tiny Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. And on Thursday, Oasis' primary songwriter and lead guitarist, Noel Gallagher, took over the 1,400-seat Wadsworth Theatre in Brentwood, revisiting his star-crossed band's legacy and promoting a new best-of album.
It was a fitting convergence. Though separated by a generation and a different taste in musical models, the Who and Oasis have a lot in common: a spirit of ambition and an urge to greatness, a torch-bearing passion to embody the best of British rock, a volatile dynamic among the membership. They even share a drummer, Zak Starkey, though the son of Ringo has yet to be named an "official" member of Oasis.
Of course, the big difference is that the Who attained that greatness, both commercially and culturally, and Oasis, despite its revered stature in Britain and its popularity elsewhere in the world, foundered in its campaign to conquer the U.S. during its mid-'90s prime.
Gallagher jokingly alluded to that stigma during the Wadsworth show, a free concert sponsored by radio station KDLD-FM (Indie 103.1). As it happens, this is one American city that's an exception, a market supportive enough to have made Oasis a Hollywood Bowl headliner its last time through.
So the theater's close quarters made the one-hour-plus set (preceded by a screening of a new Oasis documentary, "Lord Don't Slow Me Down") a special occasion for the fans, who engaged in playful (mostly) verbal sparring with the artist throughout the show.
Sitting on a chair and playing mainly acoustic guitars, supported by drummer Terry Kirkbride and Oasis' Gem Archer on guitar and organ, Gallagher played a career-spanning program that, in typical contrary fashion, was front-loaded with a few songs that aren't even on "Stop the Clocks," the anthology CD that will be released here Nov. 21.
He also sang the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever," a vivid acknowledgement of the muse that pervades virtually all of his music. There was also a little Kinks, circa "Sunny Afternoon," in "The Importance of Being Idle," and he gave "Wonderwall" a moody, understated reading.
Gallagher's melodic instincts and distinctive way with chord progressions helped keep the show afloat despite the limited range in tone and texture, and his authentically working-class, roughhewn voice made every lyric believable. His brother Liam, Oasis' lead singer, may have the powerful snarl and rock star attitude, but Noel seems closer to the heart of his songs.
The heart of the best of them, this bare-bones display reminded fans, touches some of rock's most relevant concerns -- trying to make a connection with other souls and the struggle for survival and dignity in an indifferent world. Oasis might have fallen short of its dream, but its legacy is secure.