One of the few hilarious stories to have emerged from Mark Lanegan’s grimly compelling memoir Sing Backwards And Weep has resulted in just the kind of Twitter storm that’s needed to alleviate the boredom in these crazy, lockdown times.
Recalling the time his former alma mater Screaming Trees supported Oasis as part of their 1996 US tour, Lanegan writes of falling out with Liam Gallagher after the Mancunian singer mocked the Seattle band as “Howling Branches”. The way he tells it, Oasis abandoned their 13-date tour after eight shows to save Liam from a kicking when the two bands were scheduled to play together again in Miami.
Naturally, Liam Gallagher sees things in a different light, tweeting: “Mark Lanegan, here’s how I saw it: I asked you your band’s name, I was fucking around and called it something else. You being an uptight junkie and not having a sense of humour, got your little grungy knickers in a twist. Another bullshitter trying to sell a book.”
As ever, the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between the warring factions. It was Noel Gallagher who bailed from that tour, tired of his brother’s ongoing antics, and it was evident from their performance at Jones Beach Amphitheatre in New York – the seventh date of the tour and witnessed by Classic Rock - that all was not well in the Oasis camp.
Tensions has already been riding high, not least with Liam bailing an MTV Unplugged performance at the Royal Festival Hall a few weeks earlier, thanks to him being, according to Noel, “shitfaced”. The rest of Oasis then faced the indignity of starting their US tour without their singer when Liam elected to go househunting with his then-wife Patsy Kensit instead.
Rumours of internecine fighting were leaking out to the press on an almost daily basis, but it was here, in a mosquito-ridden amphitheatre just outside of the Big Apple on balmy Sunday night in September, that the ugliness began to spill out on to the stage.
At the same time, Screaming Trees were experiencing their own problems. A dysfunctional band at the best of times, Lanegan remained with them in order to feed his heroin habit despite loathing founder members, guitarist Gary Lee Connor, and his bassist brother, Van Connor.
To compound Lanegan’s feelings of entrapment within a band he no longer wanted to be a part of, Screaming Trees were finally making their long-awaited commercial breakthrough on the back of their seventh album, the excellent Dust.
On the surface of things, the pairing of Oasis and Screaming Trees – two bands miles apart from each other in terms of sound and style – seems odd, but given that both were signed to Epic in the US, it made sense from the label’s point of view, at least, to have them tour together. It also explains why Manic Street Preachers, then promoting Everything Must Go and barely known in the States, opened the show.
So while Oasis and Screaming Trees shared a high level of loathing within their respective bands, that was as far as the similarities went and the differences in the bands would be exposed to Oasis’ detriment.
Whatever problems were occurring within Screaming Trees, they were barely hinted at onstage. Though the stock-still Lanegan would occasionally wince through his frighteningly pinned eyes at Gary Lee Connor’s flailing performance – the over-sized guitarist was given to wild windmilling and spinning around the stage to the point where he looked like he might crash into his amps – there was no mistaking Screaming Trees’ intent.
They might have hated each other, but it was a different story when it came to their music. This was rock music played with deadly intent and their touring guitarist – a fresh-faced and obviously younger musician called Josh Homme – was just as keen to bolster the performance, as he was to enjoy it. And at the centre of it all was Lanegan’s nicotine-stained yet commanding baritone growl that told the tales of a life lived on the edge.
On the other hand, Oasis weren’t so much a band as five blokes standing on stage barely acknowledging one another. Indeed, Noel Gallagher was positioned so far stage left that he might as well have been in a different zip code. Rarely lifting his head, his playing was the perfunctory performance of man looking forward to the security of his hotel room.
Similarly, drummer Alan White barely raised his eyes, while rhythm guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs and bassist Paul McGuigan simply went through the motions. And Liam? Roundly ignored by his bandmates, he made do with goading the audience to get some kind of reaction from someone.
The evening felt like two arcs crossing over. Oasis, especially after the high of their two Knebworth gigs, had reached a peak and were beginning to crash back down to earth to nurse a hangover from which they’d never truly recover.
And though Screaming Trees would begin their descent soon after, Mark Lanegan’s solo trajectory and collaborative work were soon taking flight. And as the crowd filed out from the venue at the end of the evening, it was obvious that something had to give.
Three days later, Noel Gallagher took Concorde home alone.