Music documentaries was a crowded marketplace in 2021. The most anticipated being Peter Jackson’s magnificent reworking of The Beatles Let It Be documentary, Get Back. The Velvet Underground and Sparks both had well received screen time. Bill Simmons introduced his Music Box series with Woodstock ’99 that detailed the lack of peace and love that thousands of Nu Metal fans inflicted on the festival.
In November, an antidote to all the critics bemoaning the state of youth culture in the Woodstock doc came out as nostalgia hit the mid-90s with the 25 year anniversary of Oasis’ famous Knebworth gigs. In 1996, 250,000 fans gathered in a field to celebrate one of the peak happenings of the Britpop era. The first two discs on this edition captures the setlist in order, mixing in recordings on both nights. It’s an astonishing run through the hits, album tracks, and B-sides taken mostly from the first two Oasis albums.
Opener “Columbia” catches the band in full rock and roll psychedelia before a guitar scrawl announces the arrival of could have been single, “Acquiesce”. Noel Gallagher implores the crowd to jump as the band launches into the previous year’s number two single, “Roll With It”. An impassioned version of Definitely Maybe’s classic album track “Slide Away” sees Liam Gallagher add vulnerability while mixing a punk snarl with a rock n roll stance.
Having been released as singles within the year, “Wonderwall” and a harder rock version of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” are treated as pop songs vs the reverential treatment they would receive in later years. Sandwiched between the two tracks, is classic B-side “The Masterplan” with harmonica accompaniment that nearly eclipses its more famous ballad song mates. In a quirk of timing, the band debuts two new songs towards the end of the concert from the Be Here Now album that would be released a year later. John Squire adds a massive guitar solo to “Champagne Supernova” before the band closes with their cover of The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus”.
The Knebworth shows catch the band at their apex of the Mach II line-up with Guigsy on bass, Bonehead on guitar and Alan White on drums. As Noel later describes, Liam is at the peak of his powers in both voice and fashion. What the band delivers over and over again across the two discs is the sound of youth culture – being on the dole, drinking, listening to music, living your life, and living forever. This line-up would carry on for one more album but it was never quite the same after Knebworth for both the band and its fans.
The DVD documentary of the weekend mixes in fans speaking of their experiences along with the concert performances. The stories are interesting but may not hold up to repeated listening. For many fans that were not there, it will be easy to see their own stories told on the screen. One particular highlight being the lad that asks Liam for his tambourine half way through the show, then Liam finding him at the end to give it to him.
While in the voiceovers, Noel is in full curmudgeon mode, that moment is a reminder of what the band meant to its fans and the love that poured back and forth. The young faces in the crowd singing every word back to the band with many dancing with abandon, looking more like a rave than a rock concert. It’s a wonderful document that cements Knebworth 1996 back to a time that no longer exists.