Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Tuesday, November 15
Better than: Big Bang Theory reruns.
Watching Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, it’s hard not to see the albatross around his neck—his estranged brother Liam, who he left behind in 2009 after a series of escalating flame wars went nuclear and disbanded Oasis. The elder Gallagher’s new flock dispenses with that breast-beating, and when the eagle-eyed songwriter sauntered on stage like a phoenix at the Beacon last night, the raucous full house ignored the conspicuous absence and gave him the type of king’s welcome reserved only for Britpop royalty. It was all very regal, even if one blitzed fan got confused by the band’s name, writ large in fluorescent light in Dr. Seuss font, and loudly requested “Free Bird” after every song.
The show melded originals from Gallagher’s recent self-titled solo debut with retooled renditions of the predictable hits that made his career, set against a technicolor backdrop somewhere between the psychedelia of the Allman Brothers and the glitter of Chicago. He opened with “It’s Good to Be Free,” an Oasis B-side and not-so-subtle dig at his brother. The night reached a high point with “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine,” a propulsive paean to the British iconoclasts that influenced him—The Kinks, David Bowie, The Smiths—they’re not directly mentioned, but their presence is felt.
On other new songs, like the radio-ready “The Death of You and Me” and the introspective power ballad “If I Had a Gun,” Gallagher seems to be withholding some of that earlier rawness, but his quintessentially British sense of cagey restraint has always been part of his charm. His stock in trade was not the emotional hemorrhaging of some of the later alternative bands Oasis inspired, but a golden ratio of whiny unreadability and spectral power chords that made them oddly irresistible—the champagne supernova of the ’90s.
This is never truer than on Gallagher’s understated acoustic delivery of “Wonderwall,” which lost some of Liam’s acerbic edge in favor of a softer sweetness. “Supersonic” got the same subdued treatment, backlit by indigo light beams, which bled of insistent loneliness and unrequited love, compared to the overpowering existential angst of the original version. It might be reductive to place Gallagher in this Hollywood-hewn paradigm, but there’s a simplicity to his melodies and an inscrutable honesty to the lyrics that shines through when he finally gets a chance to emerge from behind the sunglasses and sing his own songs.
Gallagher was typically laconic throughout the set, occasionally pausing to engage some of the fans. “These people are paying to hear me play music,” he said in his rushed Manchester brogue. For a man who spent years standing in the corner staring at some indeterminate point and singing backup, witty stage banter is not exactly his strong suit. But voluble or not, no one seemed to care when he launched into the night’s third encore, “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” and the floor literally shook as 3,000 drunken voices gave a nostalgic rock salute and chimed in on the chorus. For a moment, it was 1996 again.
Critical bias: “Wonderwall” was played at every eighth-grade dance.
Overheard: “He’s not just like a random dude we refer to as the American. He’s from Atlanta, Georgia, wherever the fuck that is.”—Gallagher on guitarist Tim Smith
Random notebook dump: Why does somebody always have to shout out “Free Bird”?
It’s Good to Be Free
Everybody’s On the Run
If I Had a Gun
The Good Rebel
The Death of You and Me
(I Wanna Live In a Dream In My) Record Machine
AKA… What a Life!
Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks
Let The Lord Shine A Light On Me
Half the World Away
Stranded on the Wrong Beach
Little by Little
The Importance of Being Idle
Don’t Look Back in Anger