It may be the title of his latest work, but Noel Gallagher is hardly chasing yesterday.
Some might view the former Oasis songwriter’s yearling band, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, as an interim project while brotherly bad blood with younger sibling Liam settles, a stopgap while Oasis take a break. Maybe Oasis will come back one day, but with two notable albums under his belt with the Birds, the latest being the winter-released Chasing Yesterday, the elder Gallagher isn’t looking over his shoulder.
Taking the stage at Webster Hall, the 47-year-old Gallagher looked sharp and slim in a black T-shirt and jeans. His band was similarly humbly attired and quietly comported: Guitarist Tim Smith took leads with no showy display; bassist Russ Pritchard’s boldly melodic bass rose in the mix on some songs, and his backing vocals added fine-tuning to Gallagher’s; drummer Jeremy Stacey pounded with a precise heft; and keyboard player Mikey Rowe, studiously encased in two banks of keyboards, administered layers of sound, from a symphonic Mellotron whoosh to plinking pub-rock piano. What with some new songs taking a soul bent, a three-piece horn section picked up stateside was so new that when it came time for introductions later in the performance, Gallagher said, “I don’t know their names, no idea who the fuck they are….It’s New York, they’re probably connected to the Mafia. But they’re fuckin’ brilliant, whoever they are. Ah, they’re Mob Scene.” He wasn’t wrong about the “brilliant” part.
If it took Oasis breaking up to actually hear and experience Gallagher’s music outside of an arena’s sonic horror and emotional disconnect, then there’s a blessing right there. Oasis was clearly in their hearts of the Webster Hall crowd, which was mostly older, even middle-aged folks bent on singing and swigging. But it wasn’t quite the Union Jack–sporting expat Brit rally you might have expected. Still, as much as this arduous crowd got behind the songs, there did seem to be an unspoken distance: Gallagher tried to greet and chat with them, but all he got was the kind of vacant murmuring you’d hear in a pub: “For fuck’s sake, say something!” he admonished. Perhaps no one wanted to speak out of turn and be skewered by Gallagher’s blunt-force retorts.
Gallagher seemed genuinely engaged, though, talking about New York, and declaring the music going on downstairs at Webster Hall as “sounding like shit.” When a technical hitch very briefly delayed a song, he urged that it be fixed, saying, “C’mon, they paid to see this shit.” A way with fine words, Gallagher hasn’t, but even when he sounds wrong, he’s right.
See more photos of Noel Gallagher’s concert in NYC
It was a no-nonsense kind of evening. Either by luck, instinct, or some kind of genius show savvy, the set was perfectly paced and politically astute: Kick off with a new song (“Do the Damage”), split the set between the new record and the debut, and punctuate it with Oasis songs, both deep cuts and big hits. Fleshed out live, the new songs took on a vivacity — particularly the out-and-out rocker “Lock All the Doors,” which the band played on the Tonight Show Wednesday night — and meshed perfectly with their forebears. The swooning “Riverman,” an album standout, and “Ballad of the Mighty I,” perhaps its finest cut, were matched by the ballsy Birds’ “Dream On” and “Broken Arrow,” and Oasis’s “Fade Away” and “Champagne Supernova,” the latter causing the room to fill with a skunk odor as the pot smokers hit up their spliffs. Where were you when we were getting high? The floor at Webster, apparently.
Vocally, Gallagher’s never been better. He doesn’t grandstand, he just lets the songs do the work. That really is his calling card: a well-written song, something that can’t be argued whether Britpop’s your bag or not. It’s not like he’s the greatest lyricist, but when he combines plainspoken words with a keen melody and gives them a structure in which to breathe, the simple becomes resounding. For the encore, “What a Life,” with its firm dance-y beat, was followed by the Oasis anthem “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” with all its stiff-upper-lip nostalgia. It was, unsurprisingly, a serious sing-along, note-perfect even, and the usually poker-faced Gallagher almost cracked a smile. Any looking back he’s doing is with pride of place, and that of a job well done.
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