opening for the BLACK CROWES with SPACEHOG at Molson Amphitheatre (909 Lakeshore West), Tuesday (May 22), $22-$42.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
a message from a band saying that an interview would be delayed because of problems at a rehearsal is usually cause for some concern.
However, if the group in question is Oasis, the prospect of speaking to Noel or his battling brother Liam Gallagher fresh from a dust-up is the rock writer's idea of drawing a straight flush. You don't count on it, but it's a kick if it happens.
When the phone next rings, there's an exasperated Noel Gallagher on the other end groaning, "Everything was fine until this afternoon." Make that a royal flush.
With a North American tour looming and only the backing tracks completed for the upcoming album, they've decided to create an hour-long set out of lesser-known album tracks and singles B-sides.
The rationale is that hardcore stateside fans would be happy to hear some rarely performed obscurities, while the majority would assume that the unfamiliar material was tunes from the new album. A clever scheme, but where the Gallaghers are concerned, things rarely work according to plan.
"As usual, the problem is the singer," sighs songwriter/guitarist Noel. He means his sibling rival, Liam. "He's being a fuck-wit again.
"We would've liked to play some of the new stuff on this tour, but it's proving difficult, as our glorious singer can't even remember the words to the old songs. Our Liam seems to have a mental block that extends from 1994 through 97.
"And since he hasn't done any of the vocal parts for the songs on the new album yet, there's no point in trying to play them live. I don't see why I should be the one debuting the new material when he's the fookin' singer in the band."
They don't sound like a jolly bunch now, but at this time last year it was far worse. Their long-time label, Creation Records, had essentially collapsed, and Oasis itself was on the verge of splitting.
A boozy brawl in Barcelona while on tour sent Noel packing back to London, leaving Liam to lead the band through the remaining 30 dates of the European tour.
Six weeks later, Noel and Liam reunited onstage at Lansdowne Road Stadium in Dublin, with their mum, Peggy Gallagher, looking on, but trouble soon returned. In quick succession, Liam broke up with Patsy Kensit and Noel ended his relationship with Meg Matthews.
Considering that Noel wrote much of the new album during ongoing divorce proceedings, no one's holding out hope for a cheery return. But don't bet against it.
"I've never had trouble separating the legal stuff from everything else that goes on in my life personally and professionally. If someone in a fookin' wig tells me to appear in court on a certain day, I'll show up and we'll sort things out.
"The thing that pisses me off is that everyone is going to think the sad and angry songs are about my past, and it's just not true. There's one song in particular, called Force Of Nature, that I expect people will read into based on what they know has happened in my personal life recently, but it was actually written way back during the Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants sessions."
Besides the fact that Noel is producing the album sessions himself ("It's a lot easier than I thought it would be," he insists), the other new wrinkle is that bassist Andy Bell (ex-Ride) and rhythm guitarist Gem Archer (ex-Heavy Stereo) have each contributed a composition that will make the final cut.
"Well, all of my songs are fabulous, of course. There's one called Shout It Out Loud that has a bit of a Neil Young feel not dissimilar to Like A Hurricane. It's kind of anthemic and uplifting but not quite as air-punching.
"There was a worry that Gem and Andy might start bringing songs to the group that sounded completely different from what we've been doing, but both of their tunes are excellent -- exactly what you'd expect Oasis songs to sound like.
"If you know me well enough, you know I don't really get excited about my own records, but of the 11 songs we've got right now, I'd say 10 are fookin' classics. There's at least seven singles there!"
Hmm... could that one non-classic song have come from Liam? Of the nine compositions he submitted, only Bond With A Different Crowd made the grade. Somehow, Liam's Song Bird, which he boasted was "better than anything on fucking Revolver," didn't pass the audition.
"He'll have to answer to all those claims when people hear Song Bird and say, "But it's fookin' shite.' Believe you me, before I rearranged it, the song was absolutely awful. It's only about two minutes long, but still a waste of plastic, if you ask me."
When he's not working on the Oasis album or his secret solo project -- having Paul Weller over to his Wheeler End studio to record demos together -- Noel has found time to start up his own Sour Mash record label. His first signing is Proud Mary, Manchester's answer to Creedence Clearwater Revival, whose Noel-produced debut, The Same Old Blues, is due in June.
That, along with the Oasis album to complete, makes it a strange time to be going on the road for five weeks with the Black Crowes. Not exactly an obvious concert package combination, but the Beatles vs. Stones parallel and tag-team brother bouts should provide the media with stories that write themselves.
"We're not doing it to promote a record. We're doing it because we want to and because we can. I can't wait to get on the plane. It's going to be really, really, really exciting for the first week at least.
"I know the press is going to try to build it up into some kind of battle, which is fine with me, but for the record, we are not the Beatles to their Rolling Stones -- we're more like the Sex Pistols to their Lynyrd Skynyrd.
"Behind the scenes, we all get on fine with each other. But if something happens, I'm secure in the knowledge that I can kick anybody's ass on the tour."
Aside from the Beatles vs. Stones gag, there doesn't seem to be any good reason why the Black Crowes asked Oasis to join them on tour in support of their just-released Lions (V2) album.
Sure, Oasis have a large following and the Gallaghers are always good for a larf, but there are loads of jam bands that would've been more musically compatible. According to Crowes drummer Steve Gorman, Oasis just, er, smelled right.
"Musicians are a lot like dogs," explains Gorman from New York. "You sorta sniff each other a little and you know instinctively whether or not you'll get along. We met the Oasis guys in London and we hit it off right away."
While Chris and Rich Robinson have cleaned up their acts, there's some question whether the members of Oasis will be able to keep themselves in line over the course of a five-week road trip. So, what if it comes down to a bare-knuckle bash fest?
"We're all over six feet tall so I'm not too worried. But if they want to start something, hey, bring it on."