Live Review: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds @ First Direct Arena, Leeds 27/04/2016

Noel Gallagher’s solo project continues to offer astounding live performances to ever-enthusiastic crowds, mixing impressive solo tracks with euphoric, much-loved Oasis tunes

Source: Nullrend Flickr

Source: Nullrend Flickr

Rating:  ★★★★★

I feel I should start this review by admitting that I am, undisputedly, an emphatic fan of all things Gallagher, irrelevant of exactly which brother is involved. As such, the prospect of seeing Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds in Leeds was one that had me excited for weeks before, even if the gig was on a Wednesday night.

Now, this fact alone may lead you to disregard this review completely as something that is bound to be highly one-sided and drenched in bias. But, if you’ve even managed to get to this point without dismissing the article as yet another self-confessed Gallagherite blowing sunshine up Liam or Noel’s arse, then hear me out. As a massive fan, I find myself in the privileged position of having seen both Liam’s (Beady Eye) and Noel’s (High Flying Birds) post-Oasis projects a number of times (alas, that day when I see both share a stage has yet to arrive). But from this position of having seen them both perform on numerous occasions, I find myself able to distinctly tell the difference between one of their good shows and, well, one of their shite ones.

I find myself thinking back to Beady Eye’s support slot at the Stone Roses’ Heaton Park reunion gigs in 2012, watching a crowd roar with approval as the band that was essentially Oasis without Noel offered the fans two Oasis classics (‘Rock and Roll Star’ and ‘Morning Glory’), and then lose interest spectacularly as Liam and co rattled through their new tracks.

Dark days indeed, but days that seem not to have befallen Noel to this point in his solo career. Perhaps this is partly down to the fact that as opposed to drip-feeding Oasis tracks to the crowd, he intersperses his entire set with them – he launched into famous B-Side ‘Fade Away’ just five songs in at Leeds.

But, importantly, this is not an Oasis gig. He is perfectly entitled to play all of these songs – he wrote them after all. Integrally, though, this is a completely different act – a solo artist no less (although admittedly accompanied by full-band onstage). Noel opened the show with ‘Everybody’s On The Run’, the title-track from his self-titled 2011 debut, before rattling into three tunes from latest release Chasing Yesterday (‘Lock All The Doors’, ‘In The Heat of The Moment’, and ‘Riverman’). The former of the three attracted the greatest response from an already-enthusiastic crowd, sounding very much like a proto-‘Morning Glory’ with crashing, dirty guitars – just about the fastest song Noel’s released since going solo and one that created something about as close as you’re ever likely to get to a moshpit at a Noelly G gig.

Noel said with a smirk “this one’s dedicated to all the Oasis fans out there” before launching into ‘You Know We Can’t Go Back’

The usually talkative Noel was uncharacteristically quiet in the opening stages of the show, and had barely uttered the words “good evening, Leeds” during his first six songs. He broke his silence soon enough, saying with a smirk “this one’s dedicated to all the Oasis fans out there”, before launching into a highly-energetic performance of ‘You Know We Can’t Go Back’ (I know, wounded).

Source: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds Wiki

Source: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Wiki

As true or as untrue as his sentiments were, this didn’t stop him from dropping no less than five Oasis tunes within his next seven songs. First was ‘Champagne Supernova’, toned down to a semi-acoustic ballad and yet losing none of its wrap-your-arms-round-the-nearest-person-and-singalong beauty, even without Liam’s anthemic vocals to help it along.

The set continued enjoyably with solo tunes ‘The Ballad of the Mighty I’ and ‘The Mexican’ (before which Noel enquired fruitlessly if there were any Mexicans in the audience – someone might want to remind him that this was a Wednesday night in Leeds), and Oasis songs ‘Talk Tonight’, ‘Listen Up’, ‘Half The World Away’ and a surprise airing for 1994 B-Side ‘D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman’, all of which were sung along to religiously by a crowd that seemed to span about half a century in age – the appeal of the elder Gallagher is universal, don’t you know…

The set closed with ‘If I Had A Gun’ from his first solo album, ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ from the first Oasis album and ‘The Masterplan’, Noel’s technical and musical pièce de résistance, featuring an ever building, spine-tingling crescendo of instruments from violin to harmonica and the obligatory guitars. Oh, and of course that ceaseless choir that was the evening’s audience singing along to every word.

After a brief break came the inevitable encore, which opened, perhaps surprisingly, with ‘Wonderwall’, a song so famed for Liam’s vocal that it’s perhaps surprising to see Noel tackle it alone. It was at this moment that Noel might have wished, if only for the tiniest microsecond, that little brother was there alongside him – ‘Wonderwall’ just doesn’t sound right without Liam. Even the crowd seemed underwhelmed by Gallagher’s most well-known song.

The feelings of emotion as the crowd roared back the words at Noel felt almost tangible

This was, however, a single disappointment in an otherwise fantastic set, as Noel closed out his encore with two solo tracks, ‘(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine’ and ‘AKA…What A Life’, and finally ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, the Oasis anthem that has become a staple set-closer throughout the entirety of Gallagher’s solo career to date. It’s testament to the longevity and power of that final tune that the feelings of emotion as the crowd roared back the words at Noel felt almost tangible – indeed, he stepped back from the microphone for the first two choruses to allow the crowd to take centre stage.

While there may be a multitude of fans out there still desperately waiting for Oasis to reunite – as shown by that final Oasis song being the stand-out moment in an admittedly magnificent set – Noel’s solo career appears healthier than ever. And no matter how many journalists ask him about it or fans beg him, The Chief will feel in no rush to get his old band back together on the back of glittering performances such as this.

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