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RockNotes: AC/DC vs. Oasis

1. AC/DC: Back and Back and Back In Black

Your eight-year wait is over, my friends. Angus and Malcolm Young have finally delivered a new album, called Black Ice, conveniently only available at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. The lead single, cleverly titled "Rock 'n' Roll Train," is available for streaming here. I must say that if you were afraid AC/DC were going to change even one teensiest, weensiest, hair-splittingest bit, well, no worries, mate. "Rock 'n' Roll Train" sounds exactly like every song they've done since singer Brian Johnson joined the band in 1980.

To AC/DC's millions of fans, consistency is a virtue, I guess. To me, well, after Back In Black, it's all kind of a blur. For about a half-hour in 1979, AC/DC (with Bon Scott, dammit!) was the soundtrack to some misadventures in my tentative trips into the then-new world of "classic rock" white trash rebellion. Thank God I sobered up and found The Replacements (see below). I still have one great friend from that era whom I love dearly, but I've spent many hours in the 30 years since then trying to get him to listen to the best bands of each successive trend of rock 'n' roll. He'll surprise me once in a while and take a liking to a newer band like Sloan, but mostly it's still the hard rock bands from 1979 to 1982 that he'll put on the car CD player. (I'm pretty sure that even he gave up on AC/DC years ago, though).

Anyway, here's how "Rock 'n' Roll Train" goes, and tell me if this sounds familiar: Solo intro guitar riff from Angus, cue Phil Rudd with the drums, Malcolm adds the bass, then Johnson starts singing semi-intelligibly about "fantasy," "ecstasy," "making it really hot," "giving it all you got . . . " Cue chorus, "Runaway train, running right off the track (no apologies to Soul Asylum)," repeat four times, cue Angus guitar solo, another chorus, and outro with a final Rudd drum riff.

Nice to know that Black Ice producer Brendan O'Brien knows what the AC/DC crowd craves . . . which is always more of the same. O'Brien is Pearl Jam's studio producer, and he really kind of invented the hard-edged alternative rock sound in the post-Nirvana 1990s, producing the best Stone Temple Pilots albums as well as your favorite records from Matthew Sweet and Rage Against the Machine. Judging from "Rock 'n' Roll Train," though, it sounds to me like a case of one rock relic working with an even older relic to produce yet another indistinguishable widget on the AC/DC assembly line.

2. RIP: Replacements drummer Steve Foley

You'll have to forgive me if I indulge in a bit of Minneapolis-ism here. Steve Foley, 49, died in late August after what family members said was an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Foley was a replacement Replacement, joining Slim Dunlap in that thankless category in 1990 just as the 'Mats were gaining their widest recognition - and just as they were falling apart. Foley stepped in for Chris Mars - who in my opinion, was always the unsung key member of the band, and whose disinterest in staying with the hard-drinking crew after All Shook Down to me was The Replacements' death knell, even more so than Paul Westerberg kicking out alky guitarist Bob Stinson.

Foley was a veteran Minneapolis drummer whose biggest accomplishment was the many years he spent ably backing 1980s local superstar rocker Curtiss A, undoubtedly one of the godfathers and progenitors of The Replacements and all the Twin Cities alt-rock bands of that amazing era. Foley toured with the 'Mats in 1991 and probably is best known in that respect as drumming during the band's onstage break-up at the Taste of Chicago in Grant Park.

After that, Foley was recruited by Tommy Stinson for his post-Replacements band, Bash & Pop. The 1993 album they put out, Friday Night Is Killing Me, was always my favorite ex-Mats album. It was just a terrific collection of alt-rock that tended toward the Brit-rock side (compared a lot to The Faces) but also had loads of awesome sonic trash, much like the 'Mats. To me, this album was really the '90s musical inheritor of The Replacements' mantle. Although it's rumored that Foley didn't actually play drums on the album, he and his brother, bassist Kevin Foley, certainly toured with Bash & Pop - Beachwood Reporter editor Steve Rhodes and I saw them play at the Double Door in 1994. It was a delight, of course. In recent years, his family said, Foley had been working as a car salesman. Ouch.

You can get some real good glimpses of the bespectacled, blazer-wearing Steve Foley (looking a lot like Max Weinberg, actually) in this music video for Bash & Pop's great song, "Loose Ends."

Bash & Pop/Loose Ends (1993)

3. News Flash: Oasis Still Act Like Idiots

How in God's name after all these years can it surprise anyone that Oasis still is going to give you a crappy concert experience? They are AC/DC-like in their consistency on this particular level. Did you really think that just because Liam and Noel Gallagher are older now that they'd somehow change their spots and start running around the stage like Billy Joel, being Joe Entertainer? Did you seriously expect that just because they're trying to flog another sure-to-be-lifeless album (Dig Out Your Soul, due Oct. 7) that they'd try to curry some favor with the masses by, perhaps, not turning their backs on them while playing their "good-as-the-Beatles" classics (all two of them)?

All this came as a shock to the reviewer from the Vancouver Sun who said Oasis' show at GM Place this week was "surprisingly dull and lifeless" for the three-quarters of the time they were playing songs that didn't come from 1995 or so. Liam is still refusing to talk to the audience, doing nothing but standing there while singing, which is fine when Oasis is playing the handful of songs they've written that are transcendent, but a real bore otherwise. He was able to get away with being an asshole when Oasis' fame was of the type that only comes when you are so cool that even doing nothing is cool, the sort of Dylan-esque pose of bored, slightly hostile nonchalance that only works for . . . well . . . Dylan consistently, and for others, only during their 15 minutes in the top echelons of mass fan worship. I think the Gallaghers were only there for about 10 minutes, tops.

I know that dour Noel Gallagher is at least some kind of genius and that Oasis has secured their place in history as being the musical zeitgeist for the "New Labour" renaissance of '90s Britain. Good times, good times, indeed. But take a look at the concerts from their glory days, like the ones posted here from Chicago's Metro in 1994. Even back then, the Gallaghers merely phoned it in onstage, relying on their off-stage buzz to cast a magical glow of resplendence to an experience that, seen in the light of day, just isn't that big of a deal.

You know, I don't ask for my rock bands to be fawning and too eager to please. I don't mind being made to feel that I will never be their equal in cool - I know my place. But still. Oasis, your act long ago wore thin and has passed over into "shtick." I know Noel said recently that he's down to his last 4 million pounds, so he doesn't need to please anyone, let alone me. But c'mon. If you're going to be rich and boring, play somewhere where your long-suffering fans don't have to pay $100 to see you. Give some free concerts outdoors. Play small clubs. Re-establish some credibility. Prove to me that you aren't still the biggest assholes on the planet.


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Catch up with all the RockNotes you need to keep you tuned in, man.


Posted on August 29, 2008

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POLITICS - When Bigotry Masquerades As Choice.
SPORTS - Notre Dame's Deception.

BOOKS - Searching For The World's Largest Owl.


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