Remember When: Noel Gallagher Played an Oasis ‘MTV Unplugged’ Show without Brother Liam

Oasis was a lot of things, and they soon may be another: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame members, after getting nominated this year. But they were certainly never dull. Outrageous, unpredictable, controversial, for sure. But not dull. Their bizarre yet scintillating MTV Unplugged performance brought all of that craziness and excellence to bear in a single night.

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It was like their peak and beginning of the end all rolled into one. Let’s look back at how one Gallagher brother left his band in the lurch and the other stepped up on a fateful evening in August 1996.

Glory Road

Oasis’ appearance on MTV Unplugged should have been a victory lap of epic proportions. The timing couldn’t have been better. Less than a year earlier, they had released their second album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory to great acclaim and sales, while the ballad “Wonderwall” became an anthem for a generation.

Just a few weeks before they were scheduled to tape Unplugged, the band played to hundreds of thousands of people at Knebworth. Ever since people first started to hear about the Gallagher brothers, the hype had been building nonstop. At Knebworth, they somehow managed to exceed the hype.

MTV Unplugged seemed like another milestone they were bound to conquer. The series by that time had already produced iconic moments from a who’s who of the rock elite. With their melodic songs, Oasis should have encountered no issues with the format. They even scheduled a couple of weeks of rehearsals, which showed they were taking it seriously.

Well, at least most of them were.

Losing Liam

By all accounts, Liam Gallagher, the lead singer of the band, had enjoyed the aftermath of the Knebworth success perhaps a tad too much. When it came time for the Unplugged rehearsals, he struggled to make it through any songs, complaining of throat issues. Each time he’d leave the stage, his brother Noel, the songwriter of the group, would take lead vocals and the band would continue.

On the night of the performances, Liam wasn’t there when it came time for the band to kick off their set at a relatively intimate hall in London. Hence, Noel told the crowd Liam wouldn’t be joining them due to a sore throat and kicked the band into opening number “Hello.”

Anyone expecting a disaster without Liam was quickly disavowed of that notion. Noel churned through the songs with no problems whatsoever. If anything, the performance was a triumph, as the arrangements, buoyed by horns and strings, played up the inherent tunefulness of the songs. Which in turn threw an even bigger spotlight on Noel as the writer of all those indelible melodies.

But as it turned out, the spotlight wasn’t entirely his. Cameras caught none other than Liam up in the balcony, drink in hand, and he appeared to be heckling his brother and the band. It was later reported that MTV producers asked the band to rerecord “Hello” at the end of the show, and that Liam had volunteered his services to sing. Noel told him that wasn’t happening.

The Aftermath

In the immediate days following the show’s broadcast, there was a lot of talk about how well the band did with Noel out in front, and that if Liam’s erratic behavior continued, they at least had a backup plan. But that notion misunderstood what made the band so special: the explosive alchemy produced when Liam sang his brother’s words.

It’s fair to argue that the MTV Unplugged was a peak that Oasis had trouble matching again, even with Liam back in the fold. When they surfaced again, it was with their 1997 album Be Here Now, which sold oodles but lacked the magic of their first two albums. As a matter of fact, never again did they match those early heights with subsequent records. The band imploded amidst intense brotherly rancor in 2009.

As a postscript, it should be noted that the Oasis MTV Unplugged was never officially released by the band as an audio or video (it’s easy to find the show online, however). If they do get into the Rock Hall, it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, shows up. That monumental show suggests that they’ll sound just fine if Liam is a no-show.

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Photo by Joe Kohen/WireImage for New York Post

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