Oasis: Vorst Nationaal, Brussels Jan. 13, 2009

liamOh dear. Liam Gallagher is not in the best of moods. The Oasis front man prowls the stage, brandishing his tambourine like a weapon, grabbing his crotch and bellowing incomprehensible tirades of abuse at everyone and no-one. Maybe it’s the rain outside or the fact that his skinny jeans are too tight. Whatever the reason, the crowd at Forest are in for a torrid time. “What’s with all the chocolate?” he demands at one point. “It’s what it’s all about, right?”

When Liam Gallagher is in this sort of mood, an Oasis gig can go two ways. In the first, his arrogant posturing and seething anger can enhance the experience, adding an element of danger and rock authenticity to the band’s pounding soundtrack. In the second, whatever bee he has in his bonnet can consume him and lead to a sloppy, undisciplined performance. Tonight he falls between these two stools.

After a cursory welcome, Oasis launch into the ear-bleeding triptych of Rock’n’Roll Star, Lyla and The Shock of the Lightning without even a breath between. The intensity of this opening barrage only seems to fuel Liam’s ire and he spits the words to each song out in distaste, turning away in the breaks to throw towels and bottles around. Brother Noel shoots questioning looks across the stage as the singer slaps his microphone with the tambourine and offers further lessons in expletive English to the Brussels crowd. Then, just when you think they have to slow things down or risk the singer’s spontaneous combustion, Gallagher senior’s chugging T-Rex riff signals the start of Cigarettes and Alcohol and the whole place kicks off again. There’s no respite as the song’s feedback finale morphs into the bolshy stomp of The Meaning of Soul.

The storm finally breaks and the rolling psychedelia of To Be Where’s There’s Life tumbles over the crowd, offering the singer time to take stock. But even this song, a dreamy coda on the Dig Out Your Soul album, is given the full stadium treatment as the band expand its dying refrain into a frenetically building wall of sound and Liam sings the verses like he’s trying to win an argument.

After sending the singer to the naughty step to think about what he’s done, Noel takes over vocal duties for the Doors-esque Waiting for the Rapture. But again, this thudding paean to love is mutated into a wave of guitar noise and soaring riffage, giving the breathless audience little time to recover.

Eventually, Oasis take pity on the steaming crowd and bathe them in an innovative reworking of a classic. No-one could ever accuse Oasis of lacking confidence but it takes guts to strip down The Masterplan to the bare acoustic bones after fifteen years of cranking it out as a rock anthem. At this point, Noel complains of voice fatigue and orders a set change. The peerless The Importance of Being Idle is replaced by the softer Half a World Away from the good old days of yore, giving the die-hards in the crowd an extra dose of nostalgia.

There is almost a tangible feeling of tension when Liam returns to the stage. Has he battled his demons? He tears through Ain’t Got Nothing and an admirable version of the previously discarded now rehabilitated gem Slide Away in a way that suggests he has his temper under a little more control before he blows it again with a mangled version of the gloriously arrogant Morning Glory. But then the true redemption begins. Songbird is sung as sweetly as ever while I’m Outta Time never misses a beat or a note. Wonderwall comes and goes as if Liam is in a rush to get through it but he still manages to dig out his most majestic sneer for the coked-up swagger of final tune Supersonic.

But they’re not finished yet. Long gone are the days when an Oasis encore was a rarity. This time they return with Falling Down, trance-like on record but ballsy and epic live, followed by a cosmic version of Champagne Supernova and a blisteringly punky I am the Walrus. And then there gone for good, leaving Brussels and the crowd mostly in one piece.

Originally Published in The Bulletin Magazine, Brussels (www.thebulletin.be)