By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
My first post-Oasis earful came last year from Liam Gallagher as he toured Beady Eye, a band comprised of three-fourths of Oasis minus singer Liam's guitarist brother Noel.
After 18 years together in Oasis, the Gallagher brothers had topped the charts ("Wonderwall," "Champagne Supernova") and altered the course of rock and roll. But they were 18 contentious years. The Gallaghers fought constantly, and at the Rock en Seine festival in Paris in 2009 another backstage dust-up turned out to be their last. Noel stormed out. Oasis was over.
Inevitable solo projects followed. Liam and the others came and went as Beady Eye. "We're not lacking anything," he assured me. (Except a hit.)
Noel, now 45, stalled a while, then produced a solo album and now a lengthy tour under the moniker Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. The latter debut went platinum in England but hasn't fared as well in the States.
Which may explain why Noel — once one of the biggest rock stars in the world — this weekend not only shares a double bill with the middling band Snow Patrol but shares it at a casino out in Chicago's hinterlands.
The second earful — much funnier, by the way — came from Noel a few weeks ago. Adding to our conversation, a curious headline had appeared days earlier in the British music mag NME: "Liam Gallagher 'would reform Oasis tomorrow.'" The article claimed everybody wanted the reunion and only Noel stood in its way.
Judging by Noel's quip-tastic banter — which ranged from caring to not caring, from reuniting and not reuniting, even from Morrissey to Mitt Romney — fans shouldn't hold their breath.
Question: How is touring now different from touring with the Oasis juggernaut? A relief in some way, I'm guessing?
Noel Gallagher: Well, it's way, way, way more fulfilling and enjoyable than touring with Oasis. Oasis was all about the struggle and whether we'd do the show and whether the singer was going to turn up. In another way, though, this is harder for me personally because I've got to carry it all. I've got to bang on it from 9 every night. ... But the money's still good. Basically, that's what it really all boils down to.
Q: You were the guitarist in Oasis, not often up front at the mike. What have you learned about becoming a front man?
NG: You know the [Maroon 5] song "Moves Like Jagger"? I don't have them. I have moves like Wyman. I didn't know what to expect when I first stepped up front. I thought, well, this'll be weird for people. I haven't really learned anything, but it's reinforced my belief that what I always thought is true: It's all about the songs. The songs are the show. Groups are about the razzmatazz, but when you go see a solo artist like Neil Young or Bob Dylan or Paul McCartney or Bowie or me, you know, you're there to hear the songs. If you do that, that's it. Unless, you know, you're Madonna or Lady Gaga, but who gives a f—- about that? You don't go to see Neil Young dance.
Q: Now that you've put that in mind, I'd really like to see Neil Young dance.
NG: [Laughs] Nah. He's crap on his feet.
Q: After your experience in Oasis, how did you go about selecting players for High Flying Birds?
NG: I didn't put a band together at first. The record is all me. Next time, I'd like the band to play on the record. But my criteria were two things: You've gotta be on time, and don't be a f—-ing smart ass. That's it. Obviously, you've got to be able to play. But don't be a dick, and don't keep me waiting.
Q: I've heard you talk about Oasis naturally falling into what you call "the trap of stadium rock." Why is that inevitable at a certain level?
NG: You get to the point of selling out stadiums, and that's how your success is measured, subconsciously by you and everybody else. So you want to stay there, you know what I mean? People come to see you in stadiums, they want stadium rock. There's nowhere left for you to go. So you're expected to try and keep that going. It's f—-ing amazing, amazing, but don't tell me the next Green Day album sounds different than the last three, not that anybody gives a f—-. It was the same with Oasis. You start a rock band and the goal is to play stadiums. You get there, and you're stuck there. Any movement from that point is considered a failure. You don't get to say, "We need to f—- this off and go back to playing clubs," because you just can't. It's a trap — an enjoyable one, but it puts an unnecessary ceiling on creativity.
Q: I interviewed Liam last year, and I asked him what the backstage fight in 2009 was about. He said, "You'd have to ask Noel." So I'm asking: what was it about?
NG: Let's see if I can recall. He'd not turned up for the previous gig, [the V Festival] in England. He caught a lot of flak in the press over it — we all did, but he got most of it. He's a little bit like Hitler, Liam. Hitler thought there was a world conspiracy against the Germans, and Liam thinks there's a world conspiracy against him, perpetrated by me through the press.
Q: But you and Liam fought all the time. What made that fight the clincher for the band?
NG: It was just the straw that broke the camel's back. What makes an alcoholic give up drink after years of drinking? Going to the festival site that day, I had no intention of leaving the group. I was thinking about the next Oasis record. But after that, you know, I said f—- this. I didn't particularly want to go solo. But I just said f—- it. That's it, f—- it. A healthy dose of f—- it every now and then is good. It forces you into things you maybe should have done in the first place. Was it that bad? No. Had there been worse fights? Yeah.
Q: Have there been any moments of regret?
NG: No, and I don't mean that in a callous way. But, no. There was a huge fracas in the dressing room, sh— was smashed up. I went and sat in my car outside. The driver had the engine running. A big scene was going on inside. I sat there for what must have been a minute or two, but it felt like a lifetime. In that space of time, everything that had happened and was going to happen was flashing before my eyes. I made the decision. If I told the driver to drive, then it was finished. All the people in the field will go on. It'll cost us millions. Or I could sit here, calm down, and do the gig. It'll be f—-ing awful. Again, I thought, f—- it, and I said, "Drive." Once I'd said it, at no point did I have any regrets. I didn't leave to go solo. I didn't leave for anything other than to be happy. I made a record, got married, got a cat, had a baby. Now here I am three years later, and I really don't think about it at all. I don't think about what I'm doing now in relation to Oasis. I don't think that was great and this is sh—. I'm just doing it, playing for people who paid to come and see me. It's great.
Q: You may not think about it, but Liam might. You saw the NME story this week?
NG: Yeah, well, unfortunately in the two years after I left the band, everyone else's tune was very different. They were quite bullish about it. All the people in Beady Eye were saying, "Oasis ran its course, we're glad we're out of it, we're more creative now." OK, fine, if that's the way they feel. But don't come to me in three years when your sh— has well and truly gone down the toilet. I've seen Liam, Gem [Archer] and Chris [Shamrock] since then, and when I've seen them [the idea of a reunion] has never been mentioned.
Q: Is anyone besides journalists like me asking you about this?
NG: Nobody gives a sh—. I do realize that the only way to get people to stop asking me about it is to do it. But I'm stubborn. If it's the last thing I do, I won't do it. To re-form it, how could it be as good? People say they want it to happen because they're younger and they missed us. Tough sh—. I've never seen the Sex Pistols or the Beatles. I still haven't seen Bob Dylan, thank God.
Q: Morrissey's getting the same onslaught now about reuniting the Smiths.
NG: Exactly. I've seen them twice, and it was f—-ing great. You weren't around at the time? Tough. I've met Oasis fans who agree with me. It ran its course, we shouldn't revisit it. But we live in a strange world now where all people want is nostalgia. It's all they want. I don't get it.
Q: So tell me about something new. Tell me about your collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous (the Future Sound of London).
NG: That's gone. We've canned that. I thought it was finished, but then I didn't like it. It needed remixing, and I don't have the time to devote to it. I've been on the road 15 months and, really, the moment has passed. I don't want to put out a record next year. (a) I don't have the energy, and (b) I'll get divorced. I don't want to get divorced. But I'll revisit those songs eventually, just as a thing it's not going to happen. I feel bad for the guys in AA who spent a lot of time working on it. But f—- it, I get to do what I want.
Q: So what's your future look like then?
NG: I'm going to try and fake my own retirement and see how it goes. I've tried disappearing, but I've got too big a nose to disappear, really. I always get recognized, even if I dress like an Eskimo. I'm not going to do anything. Watch a lot of TV. What I might do is hope against hope that that guy beats Obama in the election.
Q: Beg pardon?
NG: We don't get enough laughs out of Obama. We liked George Bush. He was funny as f—-. The comedy value would be great with Romney. Not for you guys, though.
SNOW PATROL WITH NOEL GALLAGHER
• 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3
• The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center Drive in Hammond, Ind.
• Tickets: $35-$140; (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
You hear about John Lydon, but you think Johnny Rotten.
Who could blame you? In their few short years together in the late 1970s, Rotten's squawking snarl made an indelible cultural impression as leader of British punk band the Sex Pistols. The quartet crashed music's barricades and made a deep enough impact on modern music to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
But at the end of an ill-fated U.S. tour in 1978, the band disbanded. John Lydon was left stranded here in America, angry (personally and professionally) and hungry (literally and artistically).
His next project, Public Image Ltd., would have more staying power, lasting 15 years and proving influential in a less blatant but deeper and perhaps more meaningful way. The Pistols, sure, fired up a bunch of punk wannabes — many of whom Lydon still despises for their lack of originality (read on) — but PiL's innovative weave of dub beats, pop production and the angry energy of Lydon's vocals threaded into bands from U2 to Nine Inch Nails.
Lydon, 56, in our recent conversation with the California resident during a visit to London, admitted his heart wasn't ever fully committed to the Pistols — a band manufactured by Malcolm McLaren, a hipster clothier, with intentions largely as cynical and commercial as any contemporary boy band — at least beyond their initial run. There was no pining for the band's return, even though they re-formed for tours five times.
PiL is very much his drug of choice. Lydon managed to pay off old record company debts with money from a series of reunion shows in 2009 in the UK, as well as appearing in a much-mocked commercial for butter, and bring the band back this year with a lineup now featuring guitarist Lu Edmonds, bassist Scott Firth and drummer Bruce Smith. Their new album is plainly titled "This Is PiL."
"I love PiL," he says. "It's the heart and soul of me. When the Pistols fell apart, I wanted to do something completely honest and open and sharing and generous for the world."
His tone is soft, cooing, positively wistful. Lydon isn't really that Rotten. He's quick-tempered and a live-wire on TV chat shows, no doubt, but at heart he's a pussycat — a devoted husband of 30 years and a loyal father figure (taking time out to help raise the children of Nora Forster's daughter, Ari Up, herself the lead singer of a band, the Slits, before her death in 2010).
"I don't make commitments lightly," he purrs, about his marriage to Forster. "I picked the right woman, and she picked the right man."
Precious, no? But have no fear, Lydon's still as mouthy as ever, and during our chat he sounded off on numerous topics while celebrating the welcome return of his dear PiL:
On punk's unoriginality: "Punk has to learn to progress and stop imitating itself. That's a direct dig at punk bands out there at the moment, trying to live in our shadow. They don't understand. They keep doing this same bit over and over. I don't need whippersnappers to tell us what's what — again. I know the price of cheese."
On the Occupy Wall Street movement: "I love the Occupy thing. It was legalist, but what it did was passive resistance, like one of my old political heros, Gandhi. It raised questions, made you think things. The climate in the news shows was one of sarcasm. That's unfortunate. There's much to consider, and they were raising the questions that needed asking. ... No, I didn't join them. I'm not one for the tents. Johnny's literally not a happy camper."
On Russian punk band Pussy Riot: "Well, it got very dangerous when Madonna got involved. That could have upped the ante on their sentencing. One thing the Russian government wasn't prepared to listen to was a spoiled pop star ranting at them. You've got to be careful supporting these issues. She should put her crucifix away and put her knickers back on. ... But really, what they did wasn't very smart. It's no good running into a church screaming and shouting. It's pointless, really. I know what I'm talking about. I was discussed in Parliament under the Treason Act [for the Pistols' recording of 'God Save the Queen'], which carries the death penalty."
On the future of the Sex Pistols: "I can't write for them. I love them as friends and all, but I just can't go back to that space in time and create anything new. As a band, we never progressed beyond that period. I was just talking last night with [drummer] Paul Cook; we're really good friends. We just don't feel the need to do that ever again. ... We're all up to different things now. No plans to trot the boards with the boys."
On recording the new PiL album live: "We've all been around long enough to know how to use a studio properly. One thing we don't ever want to get caught with is studio trickery. If we can't play songs in somewhat of a live format, then we shouldn't waste time in recording them. ... These tracks proved well worth the decade wait, arguing with record labels who wouldn't let me out of their contracts."
On playing new shows: "We have to get out and play live. That's the bread and butter of what PiL is. We view ourselves as a live band, and we're trying to bring back the concept of live music. How much longer can you watch Las Vegas performers jump up and down with disco dancers? I've had enough. There's no humanity in it — no sharing, no give, no take, just money. It's become very ugly. 'American Idol' is part of this nonsense of removing you from your humanity. I don't want to be part of the sh— storm."
PUBLIC IMAGE LTD.
• 9 p.m. Oct. 21
• House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
• Tickets, $37.50; (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
"Come Home to Mama"
Martha Wainwright, "Come Home to Mama" (Cooperative) [3 and a half stars] — The secret weapon in the Wainwright family, Martha is a wicked and potent genealogical branch bearing her father Loudon's sometimes uncomfortably honest confessional songwriting, her brother Rufus' occasional grandiose musical ambitions and her mother Kate McGarrigle's talent for modernizing and enlivening old, staid folk traditions.
Recorded at Sean Lennon's home studio and produced by Cibo Matto's Yuka Honda (and featuring guests such as Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and Dirty Three drummer Jim White), "Come Home to Mama," Wainwright's third outing (fourth, if you count the knock-down awesome Piaf record), is also a blend — of the singer-songwritery angst of her 2005 debut and the rock leanings of 2008's "I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too."
"I really like make-up sex / It's the only kind I ever get," she sing-songs in "Can You Believe It," like a forlorn-yet-upbeat mix of Cat Power and Liz Phair. The album's title comes from the ballad "Proserpina," the last song McGarrigle had written before her death in 2010. The ache of that recording (its lyrics, as well as its circumstances), the confidence of her voice (her tone, as well as her words), the wisdom in "Everything Wrong" and the bright flair of "Some People" — everything seems finally to come together into what must be Wainwright's first singular album.
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Earl Klugh is a jazz guitarist — one of the greatest, no doubt, with a sweet, signature style on the nylon-stringed acoustic guitar — but don't think less of him just because his initial inspiration to the craft was a TV Western.
"The first exposure I had to the guitar really was on 'Bonanza,'" Klugh told the Sun-Times. "They always had a guitar by the fire, you know, and it was a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar. I would look at it, and it wasn't like any of the guitars you'd see on, I don't know, 'American Bandstand' or something, or like Chuck Berry. That stuff was all great, but once I started playing a nylon-stringed guitar, there was no going back for me."
Well, he had some second thoughts.
"We had a stage band [in high school], and back then there wasn't any great pickup system. What I had was this little microphone you'd put on your guitar with a rubber band over it. You could turn the volume up, but the cavity of the guitar would feed back," he said. "It was primitive and, boy, I got teased a lot for that. ... But I look back now and, well, I showed 'em!"
More than 30 acclaimed albums (23 of them in the top 10 of Billboard's jazz chart, five at No. 1) and 12 Grammy nominations (the most recent for 2008's "The Spice of Life") — yes, he showed 'em.
Klugh took a break during a vacation stop on the South Carolina coast to talk to us about Crossroads, collaborations and, uh, "Hee Haw":
Q: The last time you were in Chicago was for Eric Clapton's 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival, right?
Earl Klugh: Oh yeah. There was a show.
Q: I love that performance, because here's a blues and rock festival, you're surrounded by Eric and Buddy [Guy] and all these plugged in guys, and you come out with your acoustic guitar and play "Angelina" just as delicately as you please. Was that bill daunting in any way?
EK: I've had pretty good success with kind of integrating the acoustic stuff into places like that. I was certainly different than the other players there. I do what I do. It went over well. But when you're a guy like me backing up to ZZ Top, yes, it's kind of intimidating.
Q: You came up in the '60s. Why did the classical guitar speak to you instead of all those shiny new electrics?
EK: When I first started playing guitar was right at the folk music craze — Peter, Paul & Mary, that type of thing. So acoustics were common, though not as much in jazz. The nylon-string just stuck all the way for me. It just felt like my instrument. When I tried to play a steel-stringed or electric guitar, I was already so far into the other it never occurred to me to switch.
Q: Is it true you were on [country-themed variety TV show] "Hee Haw," and why isn't this on YouTube?
EK: [Laughs] Me and Chet Atkins together, yeah. We were in the cornfield and everything. ... Chet was my idol. I love Chet Atkins. That was our first television appearance together, actually. I love Chet from the perspective of playing finger-style, the way he was able to play the bass and the chords. Once I saw him, it changed my life completely. I knew I wanted to play guitar like Chet Atkins. Then I was fortunate to play with him many times.
Q: What was it about Chet Atkins that appealed to so many players beyond his basic country classification?
EK: He was really a pioneer with the instrument. He was very much a tinkerer. He had a workshop, had all types of electric stuff. He'd do stuff like, one time he had his regular Gretsch guitar and he put a low D string, lower than the [bottom] E, added to it so that when he'd play it sounded like he was carrying the bass tones the whole time. He did several records with that.
Q: Sounds like something Les Paul would toy with.
EK: Very much like Les Paul. He loved to create different sounds and was always trying to come up with something new and fresh that would tickle his ear.
Q: You first connected with another guitar great, George Benson. How'd you meet, and what cemented the bond between you?
EK: Growing up in Detroit, we had a jazz club, Baker's Keyboard Lounge. In its heyday, everybody who played jazz, literally everybody, played at that club. I really got the chance to meet a lot of the great musicians. George was just going into his career in a big way, and he played Baker's five, six, seven times before he really broke big. We got to talking, and he was fascinated by my acoustic guitar. He said, "You're trying to play jazz on that nylon-string guitar!" He said, "Boy, you gotta keep doing that. That's gonna set you apart from everybody else."
Q: I've always thought you two had a lot in common stylistically, as if sometimes the only difference between you is who's usually plugged in and who's not.
EK: I learned a lot from him, it's true. What I mostly learned from him is, you know, he's a workaholic. When I first went on the road with him, we did a two-month tour. We went to breakfast one night after the show, and we're headed back to the room and I was saying, "I gotta go get some rest." The next day, the bass player, Roland Wilson, is coming out of his room, and he says, "Man, Earl, you and me are gonna have to get on it." I said, "What do you mean?" He says, "You know what George did after going back to his room last night? He started practicing. He practiced from 2:30 in the morning till 5." And this is after playing a show, you know. Roland said, "We gotta do that, too!" That's a work ethic there.
Q: Which I'm guessing you still draw upon in your manic schedule as writer, performer, arranger, recording artist, bandleader, collaborator and event organizer [the semi-annual Weekend of Jazz concert festivals]?
EK: I work real hard and it's a lot, but it's really great fun. I enjoy doing solo shows, but I enjoy playing with the band, as well. I feel very lucky.
Q: You're 59, correct?
EK: Yes, and ooh that came too soon! [Laughs]
Q: If I may: Fingers and joints don't exactly get looser with age. How do you keep those hands nimble?
EK: By taking care of the rest of my body. I go to the gym, I stay physically active. If I don't I'll really end up in a knot. My hands are still flexible. My thumb cracks, though. I can hear it now on my records. Like, there'll be a solo part in a song, and my thumb will crack.
Q: It's just extra percussion.
EK: [Laughs] Yeah, but that's a new phenomenon I really hope goes away.
Q: "The Spice of Life" is four years on now. Any new recordings coming?
EK: I'm working on a new CD now. It's going to be kind of interesting — a lot fo solo playing, but a few duets with some of my favorite players. I'm trying to track George down. Vince Gill seems to be interested. After that, I'll have another band and orchestra record before the end of the coming year.
• 8 p.m. Oct. 6
• Old Town School of Folk Music, Maurer Concert Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln
• Tickets: $30-$34; (773) 728-6000; oldtownschool.org
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.