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NOEL GALLAGHER'S HIGH FLYING BIRDS - London York Hall - 01 November 2017   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Who needs Oasis when you have friends like these?

Has there ever been a better time to be Noel Gallagher? Well, probably – Noel after all was in Oasis, and headlined Knebworth twice as often as Queen. But now, Noel Gallagher seems to be king of his world ; leading a solo band, unshackled from an abusive relationship with his brother, master of his own destiny and it seems happier than he’s been in a long time. Tonight’s show at the York Hall in Bethnal Green sees him premiering most of his new songs live, alongside around 7 older songs, at a competition winners event in a boxing hall in what is, I think, his only headlining show of the year.

It’s different from other gigs. Our phones are all locked up in snot green pouches to prevent bootlegging the new songs, and so the inevitable home release isn’t just full of idiots filming the show with their bright screens. The audience is somewhat less rowdy, and an introductory DJ set by David Holmes sounds like a broad and fascinating romp through the influences you didn’t get in Oasis : I can hear something of every song he plays in Noel’s solo songs.

OH SHUT UP MAN, TELL ME ABOUT THE NEW SONGS NOBODY ELSE HAS HEARD YET!!!

So, here we are : in tonight’s set there are five new songs, and two of them are played live for the first time. Noel and his band (occasionally expanded with a second keyboard player, a Scissors-Player, and various backing vocalists and hornspeople). Of the five songs – “Holy Mountain” is a rollocking, bright and breezy romp – all horns and sunshine and celebration – which sounds like a kid tumbling down a hill endlessly for four minutes and laughing his head off at how silly and great life can be.

Aw, bum, I’ve got to pseuds corner. There’s also “It’s a beautiful world”, which is the most positive song Noel’s put his name to in a long time ; it’s a straight up loveletter to the world. We all define our own reality, to an extent – and our happiness is as much in our own mind and our own perception as it is in the material. This is an instantly memorable song, which is almost predictable, but that’s no bad thing. There’s a few seconds heading into the chorus where you know you’re about to get buzzed by a jumbo jet sized adrenaline rush as the chorus hits, as it’s gorgeous.

We also get live premieres of “Be Careful What You Wish For” and “Black And White Sunshine”. The former is a more delicate and intimate song – and dedicated by Noel to his kids who are in the balcony, and who are … heartmeltingly… singing along to all the songs whilst simultaneously going ‘That’s my Dad!’. It shows you the inside of a life which looks very happy ; the kind of thing that no one sensible would ever begrudge another human being.

“Black and White Sunshine” is more difficult to describe, but to me it’s utterly unpredictable, and that is surprising and enjoyable to experience. One of the great joys of new songs is you’re seeing something new, you don’t know what exactly will happen next or how, and that’s wonderful.

Finally, of the new songs comes “She Taught Me How To Fly” which is a urgent, driving song, with pace and vision and accelerates to a speedy conclusion with a key change that sounds like a black vinyl orgasm.

(Hey, I’m not paid by the word – or paid at all. I just think these songs are really bloody good).

The rest of the set is well known ; there’s three Oasis songs (“Little By Little” and “Don’t Look Back In Anger”, as well as Noel’s take on the Liam-sung “Champagne Supernova”.) And the way they are treated shows that really, these are Noel’s songs, and he can do what he likes with them. They are still the same songs they always were. At the heart of all these songs is a hopeful cynicism, even down to the way most of the hall sings words like “Going to get away for the summer”, or perhaps in the ultimate example of Dad-rock in a line that has changed over the years from being told, to doing the telling, “Take that look off your face.” In Oasis, Noel’s use of common parlance was one of the best kept secrets, to take phrases we heard coming out of our Mum and Dad’s mouths, and make them new and fresh. Oh yeah, and the tunes.

There’s also three songs from the previous Noel solo albums, and they are like Oasis, but better. You may find it weird, but I prefer solo Noel to Oasis and am very happy that we get to experience both of the brothers as solo identities without having to compromise. Oasis was a fantastic vehicle, but Noel was the driver, and I’ve not seen a band compromise more than them.

Publically, the world is currently facing a Noel vs Liam battle that makes Oasis vs Blur look like peanuts ; in one corner, the assured songwriter who wrote some of the best selling albums of all time with his tenth album under his belt (and a Scissors-player), and in the other the foulmouthed gobshite (and estranged brother) who sang on some of the best selling albums of all time. For two grown men, it’s rather sad. Though, to be honest, it’s just one side having an endless pop like a spurned ex-wife, and the other side shrugging it off as bluster.

Nonetheless, at the release of the third album by him and his ever changing band called The High Flying Birds, Noel Gallagher has entered what I regard as the third act of his life ; beyond the rampaging bluster of early Oasis, the later, more considered post 2000 Oasis (which was effectively a different band with the same name), and now, finally solodom. In some respects, even though Noel wrote almost all the songs, it reminds me of the artistic evolution of an artist like Bowie, or of Pink Floyd – as people change, their songs change, and like everyone, we change over time, our relationship to the songs change, and to an extent, the songs artists play now also reflect the parts of them they feel close to now. With a Noel Gallagher gig, sure he may have written “Live Forever”, or “Wonderwall” or (well, you get the point). The point is, he doesn’t have to play them, and doesn’t feel the need to. There’s so much more to Noel than those songs.

Even if his band is 2/3rds of Oasis (Chris Sharrock on drums, Gem on guitar, and Mike Rowe on keys all first played with Noel in that band), this is the nearest thing to Oasis you can get these days. And it’s glorious fun ; at times it’s practically watching the later period Oasis do the bit where Noel sang his songs and the other fella had a fag backstage. But it’s better than that ; the worst thing about Oasis was respectively the then-singer who reminded me of the kids that bullied you at school, and half the audience, who also reminded me of the kids that bullied me at school. There’s none of that edge tonight.

We all bring our own baggage to a show, but I don’t think I’m unique in this assessment. As a night, it’s a celebration of being here now, not that you were there then – and from the arms aloft sing-your-heart-out of “Don’t Look Back In Anger” to the new songs, that Noel may be any one of a million things but he’s always looking forward.

p.s. I've borrowed the photos from the Internet, but since i) you couldn't take cameras into the gig and ii) I'm visibly in both the crowd shots, I don't mind using them.

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