Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds at the Riv | Concert review
Touring the States on its debut album back in 1994, Oasis was perhaps one of the least-animated rock bands I’d ever seen. The guys stood in front of their amps and played, didn’t smile. Liam held the mike stand and sang, then pouted as if bored when he wasn’t singing. And despite the fact that the band’s principal songwriters had little regard for drummer Tony, who was overwhelmed in the mix throughout, they put on a mesmerizing show, harnessing the power of major chords in a too-loud twin guitar attack and a streetwise snarl in melodies that summarized British pop music. The band found that tour humbling; Noel Gallagher
almost split the scene on the west coast.
Nearly 18 years later, some things have changed for Noel Gallagher. He moves where the music takes him, his brother is nowhere to be found on the stage tonight, and he loves his drummer—Jeremy Stacey on this tour, playing last night’s show in a Clockwork Orange type get-up of bowler hat and white overalls. Noel is willing to give nu disco a try on “AKA.. What a Life!,” [Ed. note: Song title corrected.] a dancier track that Duran Duran might have had luck with. And throughout, the HFB album shows Noel unfurling his wings and layering keys, strings and echo in ways that Oasis rarely did. But in the U.S., he’s in a slightly humble place, playing small theaters in major markets. It’s just like starting over.
But many things haven’t changed. Gallagher, a self-taught former construction worker who has played music within a small circle of musicians in his lifetime, hasn’t strayed far from what got him here. His durable songs are still strummable, hummable and devoid of the kind of intricacies that can sometimes be mistaken for technical acumen. They get to the point, they’re not afraid to reach for the cheap seats. And he’s loved for them.
The boldness that allowed the band to perform without the requisite jumping around back in the 90s still colors his tunes, but can come off narrowly myopic. The intro to tonight’s show was actually a remix of a HFB single, "If I Had a Gun," a mysteriously blissed-out remix but still... that seems indulgent.
Gallagher and ace hired guns, including Atlanta’s Tim Smith on guitar, can stomp through the songs on his High Flying Birds solo debut with ease. They’re not particularly difficult tunes for these guys. In fact, the chunky rhythms and heavy strumming of the first block of songs, kicking off with “(It’s good) to be Free,” threatened to be tedious for a brief moment early in the evening.
Instead of tedium, the band delivered a steadily building rock show that strengthened Gallagher’s reputation as a writer of epic songs. Gallagher’s new stompers (stomped ever-so-hard by Stacey) made subtle nods to psych rock, orchestrated '60s pop and Bob Dylan’s verbosity (“Mucky Fingers”). The band’s more explosive moments came in the rockers infused with instrumental jam-outs, like “The Good Rebel.” But, it should be noted, the strum and drum thwomp always ruled—the few guitar solos we heard last night came later. Gallagher’s current crop even has a big set-closer, “Stranded on the Wrong Beach,” with enough dynamics to draw out the Union Jack. It came out in the crowd, only briefly.
Between tunes, Gallagher joked about Chicago’s cold, his popularity in the U.K. (“this one is a monster in England,” he remarked of one tune) and Godlike Genius award, but mostly seemed gracious and confident in his group of ringers to deliver the goods.
For some, the stompers and shufflers of the HFB album don’t have the elemental force or organic emotions of those Oasis b-sides and Noel album tracks that he played on Sunday. Those tunes, such as superfan fave “Talk Tonight” or the rapturously received “Little by Little” (from Heathen Chemistry), teased and questioned our Noel-side Oasis fandom. An acoustic “Supersonic” jabbed at it. And finally, in the end, we went home with an encore of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” that had Gallagher pulling far away from mike stand to survey a mass singalong from the multi-generational mass. In that moment, he was far from detached, but rather pleased with his power.