Cleveland saw the re-beatification of Britpop when Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds lighted upon the House of Blues stage Tuesday evening.
Known as the more temperate (if irascible) of the two constantly-bickering brothers who fronted the ‘90s hit-machine Oasis, guitarist Noel Gallagher wowed a capacity audience with fifteen original tunes and five choice “covers” of the songs that lifted him—and younger sibling Liam Gallagher—to rock and roll glory.
Billed as “An Evening With,” the ninety-minute show started just past eight and wrapped early enough for fans to catch the eleven o’clock news at home. Or early enough for them to relive highlights from the concert online before going to bed: Cameramen and sound engineers from Yahoo! Screen were on-site filming for live broadcast.
Dressed in dapper grey slacks, white collar shirt, and brown loafers, Gallagher was strictly business, guiding his Birds through tracks from their eponymous 2011 debut and 2015 Sour Mash release Chasing Yesterday with minimal mid-song banter to stymie their momentum. Indeed, the accusation could be leveled that Noel scarcely engaged his adoring audience at all—at least as far as eye contact was concerned.
But Gallagher’s music connected instantly with onlookers. His face was a picture of concentration throughout the gig, and the veins protruding from his neck and temple evinced that he was completely giving himself over to presenting each piece in its best light. Vocally, Noel’s no Liam—his pipes are deeper, richer, less “whiney”—but he’s a capable, confident singer who projected marvelously for the HOB faithful (and viewers at home). Standing center-stage, Gallagher strummed with furrowed brow, blissfully lost in the chord progressions, occasionally opening his eyes to glance at his fret board finger work (which was likewise sublime).
Oh, and Noel’s hair (that stylish hybrid of mop-top and bedhead) is still awesome. He perfected that Clem Burke [Blondie drummer] forward-swoop bouffant thing eons ago, and hasn’t a strand of grey to show for intervening years.
Opening with a raucous “Do the Damage” (the B-side to UK single “In the Heat of the Moment,” which arrived later) and gritty “(Stranded) On the Wrong Beach,” Gallagher took command early, cranking out jangly progressions and fuzzy riffs from a red Gibson ES-355. “Everybody’s On the Run” was brisk and upbeat—a nice pacemaker to keep folks on the floor pogoing.
Gallagher strapped on an acoustic guitar for the first Oasis offering, “Fade Away”—a 1998 B-side whose studio incarnation featured guests Johnny Depp and Kate Moss. Vintage photos were juxtaposed with live footage of Noel and his musicians on a massive big-screen backdrop, enhancing the nostalgia factor.
Not that Gallagher as trading on old tricks. On the contrary, Noel’s new material demonstrated that he’s still an ace arranger—and that his High Flying Birds would likely be regarded a remarkable, something-to-say ensemble even without the benefit of past Oasis triumphs. “Lock All the Doors” (featuring Gallagher’s Telecaster guitar solo) was exciting. “Riverman” (with watery images shimmering on the video screen) was a reflective, poignant breakup ballad.
“Heavy in the air are the words that she left hanging,” sang Gallagher. “I’ve tried to walk away but I only stand and stare.”
Keyboard player / organist Mike Rowe added calliope kitsch to “The Death of You and Me” as a carousel swing spun overhead. Elsewhere, the ex-Oasis session pianist lent lush chords and melodic flourishes.
Drummer Jeremy Stacey drove the It’s a-a-lright refrain of “You Know We Can’t Go Back” with his boom-boom kick. But Stacey showed restraint on an unplugged run through (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? smash “Champagne Supernova,” backing Gallagher’s acoustic strumming with a just a shaker, reserving his sharp snare hits for the energetic outro.
Forgoing a plectrum, Russell Pritchard tugged and thumped the strings of his Fender Precision bass, his grooves coursing over Stacey’s strident, no-fuss beats on “The Dying of the Light” and “The Mexican.” Behind Pritchard, the High Flying Birds’ three-man horn section (sax, trumpet, trombone) added soulful support and R&B bluster.
Guitarist Tim Smith favored a gold-top Gibson Les Paul but—like Gallagher—alternated instruments (and capo positions) as needed. Smith tended toward the shadows near Rowe’s keyboard battery, but his background vocals and guitar chops had proper presence in the mix on “AKA Broken Arrow” and “Digsy’s Dinner.”
Gallagher wrapped the main set strumming a 12-string on “If I Had a Gun,” but the enthusiastic response assured he’d return after a quick towel-off. Tickling a six-string Gibson acoustic, Noel hypnotized with “Wonderwall” flipside “The Master Plan”—but then wielded a star-adorned Tele on the bristling “What a Life!”
Piano-powered Oasis finale “Don’t Look Back in Anger” had everybody singing and swaying—and perhaps reliving wistful memories, too, even as Noel reclaimed ownership of the signature piece:
“Soooo…Sally can wait, she knows it’s too late as she’s walking on by,” Gallagher echoed his brother.
“But don’t look back in anger, I heard you say—at least not today.”
Whatever looking back may have transpired June 2nd at House of Blues, the vibe was predominantly communal, bacchanal, festive…anything but angry.
And most of that owed to the marquee Manchester native. Gallagher—who turned 48 last week—again acquitted himself an all-pro performer, ace bandleader, and sterling songwriter whose cannon probably warrants reconsideration for the new millennium. Especially now that Oasis are kaput and all that “next Beatles” hubbub clouding their initial run has faded into ether.
“Thanks,” Noel deadpanned near the end. “It’s been a fuckin’ pleasure!”
The pleasure was all ours, good sir.