Philly radio fest offers jokes plenty from Dave Grohl, wicked grooves and not a single new tune from Oasis
Once upon a time, hitmakers like Herman's Hermits, the Kinks and Manfred Mann hit the highways of England and America together to promote their three-minute rhapsodies as part of travelling rock & roll revues. The fledgling upstarts got maybe fifteen minutes of stage time, allowing headliners -- like, say, the Dave Clark Five -- a full half-hour or so to spread their wings for the screaming teens. Some thirty years on, American radio festivals offer the same basic deal, packaging Top 40 or alternative rock flavors of the moment in concise, easy-to-swallow doses for Generations X and Y. All too often, the lineups are spotty, with maybe three Marcy Playgrounds or Blink 182s for every one Red Hot Chili Peppers, but every now and then it all comes together and you get a genuinely solid bill, such as the heady Beck, Oasis, Foo Fighters and Moby (and, um, Stroke 9) combo served up at the Y-100 Feastival at the First Union Center in Philadelphia on Dec. 3. The downside of a lineup like that though, once you're playing with names like those, the strict time constraints of the format frequently result in diminishing returns.
Case in point: Oasis. Playing their first American show in two and a half years -- with a new lineup and a soon-to-be-released-new-album to boot -- the Gallagher brothers and company came across as every inch the best band in the world they've always claimed to be. "Cigarettes and Alcohol," "Supersonic," "Wonderwall," "Champagne Supernova" and the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" flat-out roared, a towering, glorious wall of sound that crashed through the roof of the arena and promised to keep on rising. Problem was, that was it. Five songs, end of set -- you'd never know that their fourth album, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
, is finished and ready to roll out in a couple of months. And the abbreviated set had less to do with the dumb ass who flailed a Pepsi cup at Liam Gallagher (missing) than the fact that they just stretched out "Champagne Supernova" and that thrilling jam on "Helter Skelter" and ate up their allotted half hour.
The Foo Fighters, who played just before Oasis, made much better use of their time, somehow managing to work in twice as many tunes in the same amount of time. But unlike Oasis, who nonetheless delivered their five songs as though they were playing the most important show of their lives, the Foos played it all like a bit of a joke. With three fine albums under his belt, Dave Grohl has long since stepped out of the shadow of that other
band and proven himself as a strong songwriter and charismatic frontman; but something about the way he stood there, smacking his gum with a smirk and staring out at a half-empty arena of apple-cheeked Gap teens suggested that he might have been feeling a little -- how'd that song go? -- "bored and old." The great "I'll Stick Around" and uber-radio-friendly-but-much-better-live "Learn to Fly" had the kids rocking out in all the right places, but he had to stop and talk them through the ballads. "You know what the problem is?" he said, shaking his head. "I don't think this generation knows the importance of cigarette lighters during a love song...This is where you kiss your girl, take ecstasy, f---, whatever you kids do..." After that, it pretty much became a stand-up affair, with the half-hearted performances outshined by zingers like, "Kiss a girl with a pierced tongue -- it's pretty bitching," and an equally bitching quick cover of the Backstreet Boys' "Larger Than Life." The band came back with a vengeance with "Monkeywrench" and "This Is a Call," but back on the bus they all probably looked at each other and thought, "What's next, bingo parlor gigs?"
Beck would probably love a crack at one of those, and odds are he'd have the blue-haired granny set getting a groove on as easily as he did the kids. Critical raves and Grammys aside, seeing this guy headline above Oasis and the Foo Fighters seemed a little odd on paper, but live it made perfect sense. Before him, Stroke 9 offered up disposable pop culture references ("Little Black Backpack"), the aerobic Moby offered breathless energy but little in the way of compelling live music, the Foos served up likeable tunes with goofball schtick and Oasis stood dead still and rocked the house. Beck was all of that rolled into one, with a heavy side of James Brown-worthy funky soul and moves fit for a Prince in his prime. The vintage "Loser" and Odelay
's "Where It's At" went over like gangbusters, but Beck scored the biggest reaction with fresh Midnite Vultures
fare like "Sexx Laws" and "Debra." He sang the living falsetto shit out the latter tune, ending his over-the-top plea for a sisterly threesome by collapsing face down on the stage as though he'd literally sung himself to death. As it turned out, he was just getting warmed up. Half an hour later, with "Devil's Haircut" still buzzing in the air and confetti raining down on the floor crowd, Beck left the stage with a dozen or so instruments hung around his neck by his band. The imagery was perfect: go ahead and give the Foos, Oasis and the rest the individual club and arena gigs they deserve -- Beck can carry out these package tours all by himself, thank you very much.
Written by RICHARD SKANSE for RollingStone.com News