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    Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    Free Liam Gallagher!

    Beijing: Sigh.

    So the powers-that-be here have decided that British rock band Oasis can't play their first-ever gigs in mainland China because Liam Gallagher (the Gallagher brother with the nicer voice and even less of a grasp on things like politics than his sibling) played at a “Free Tibet” concert on Randalls Island in New York in 1997.

    That's the reason being given by the band, anyway. Oasis were scheduled to play a pair of shows in Shanghai and Beijing in early April and said in a statement that they were “bewildered” by the decision, which came just three weeks after the shows were announced.

    “According to the show's promoters, officials within the Chinese Ministry of Culture only recently discovered that Noel Gallagher appeared at a Free Tibet Benefit Concert on Randall's Island in New York in 1997, and have now deemed that the band are consequently unsuitable to perform to their fans in the Chinese Republic … during its 60th anniversary year,” the statement reads.

    Leaving aside the question of just exactly what or where the “Chinese Republic” is, the government-ordered cancellation is bad news for Chinese music fans, even those who aren't particularly keen on “Wonderwall” and everything that followed.

    Here's an incomplete list of some of other musicians who played that day at Randalls Island: U2, R.E.M., Eddie Vedder, the Beastie Boys, Alanis Morissette, the Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, a Tribe Called Quest and Ben Harper. So the ban on Oasis might mean no shows by Bono, Pearl Jam or Alanis in the Middle Kingdom either, although Sonic Youth did play Beijing last year without any problems.

    The Chinese government is hypersensitive regarding foreign artists performing here, particularly since last March, when Bjork – another singer who was on the stage that day in 1997 – finished a concert in Shanghai with her song “Declare Independence” and shouted “Tibet! Tibet! Raise your flag!” over the final bars. There was some chatter among Chinese music fans about what the notoriously unpredictable Gallagher brothers might do on stage.

    (It's not just the Tibet issue that gets the censors back in their 1970s frame of mind. All major foreign acts need to submit a setlist to the authorities before performing; the Rolling Stones were famously made to drop several songs with “suggestive” lyrics before they were allowed to make their 2006 debut in China. “Brown Sugar,” “Honky Tonk Woman” or “Beast of Burden” all got excised for fear of what hearing such songs live might do to the locals.)

    In my books, if the Chinese authorities were going to ban Oasis for a perceived offence to the people of China, they should have targeted the other Gallagher, Noel (the one with the unibrow who writes most of the better tunes), who made a far bigger error when he referred to Shanghai – maybe you've heard of it, population 18.9 million – as “the middle of nowhere” in an interview with That's Shanghai magazine.

    The good news is that an April 7 Oasis show in Hong Kong is apparently still going ahead. “One country, two systems,” the formula under which Hong Kong was absorbed back into China in 1997, apparently means one concert for 1.3 billion people.

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