Wednesday, November 9th, 2011
Everybody's On The Run
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at Massey Hall in Toronto
Frank YangSo here we are, with both post-Oasis projects with their debuts officially out in the wild – the Liam-led Beady Eye having released Different Gear, Still Speeding back in March and Noel Gallagher’s Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds out this week. Given the not-so-greatness of Liam’s Oasis output, the bar for the former was set fairly low and Different Gear‘s meat-and-potatoes Brit-rock had no problem clearing it, with “not bad” counting as a big win. Noel, on the other hand, had considerably more to live up to what with not only having penned some of the most memorable British rock anthems of his generation, but having been the one pulled the pin on the grenade that finally, inevitably, killed Oasis. Though looking at it from another perspective, Beady Eye had everything to prove while Noel could point as his songbook and say, “what the fook have YOU done?”.
The best and the worst thing you can say about High Flying Birds is that it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a Noel Gallagher solo record, with his respective weaknesses and strengths on full display. Amongst the former are his penchant for cribbing lyrics and melodies from others wholesale, and may of the words that are his are vague and nonsensical, though at least they rhyme. However just as he did in Oasis, he’s able to marry them with an unimpeachable gift for melody, a delivery that makes them sound profound and a flair for dressing them up in big arrangements that aren’t too overcooked (obviously this took some time to learn). It can be frustrating to sing along with words that make no sense, but sing along you will.
That said, for all the familiar motions, Birds feels distinct from an Oasis record for reasons beyond the absence of Liam’s rock’n’roll sneer. Perhaps in being freed from the inherent compromises of a band and being able to take full creative control, Gallagher has been able to fully assume the role of composer rather than just songwriter and consequently, Birds feels more meticulous in its execution than any Oasis record I can recall. Some might bemoan its mid-temponess or dearth of guitar heroics, but let’s be fair – he’s made those records already. High Flying Birds doesn’t necessarily revitalize or recontextualize what Noel Gallagher is about – not even remotely, if we’re being honest – but it is well-crafted, tuneful and likeable. Well I like it, anyways, and that’s why despite not getting accredited to cover the show in an official capacity, I headed down to Massey Hall about 20 minutes before showtime and patronized my first ever scalper. Less than half face value? Sure.
Though not sold out – two nights at Massey is a tall order for many acts, even one who sold out arenas with his old band – the hall was nearly full and crackling with the energy of fans who’d not seen the elder Gallagher since that fateful Virgin Festival 2008 appearance where he was assaulted onstage, if not earlier. The vibe was not unlike that at The Sound Academy in June when Liam led Beady Eye into town for their first visit, though feeling a bit older and with fewer (no) Union Jack flags hanging from the balconies.
Unlike Beady Eye, however, Noel had already said that the Oasis songbook was very much fair game for his solo shows and to prove it, the show opened with “(It’s Good) To Be Free”, a 17-year old b-side from a non-album single. Not just the hits, then. Oasis material would actually comprise almost half the 90-minute set, spanning the breadth of their catalog but with no small amount of revisionist history applied – “Wonderwall” got the Ryan Adams treatment, “Supersonic” was stripped down to acoustic guitar and piano (and would be a post-show point of contention for being a Liam song) and “Talk Tonight” given the full band treatment. It was as though Gallagher was more than willing to indulge his fans’ desire to hear the old material, but wasn’t going to make head-to-head comparisons of Oasis and his High Flying Birds easy.
As for the new material, not only was the album played in its entirety, but a b-side and new song thrown in for good measure. All of it was played pretty much verbatim from the album arrangements and in workmanlike fashion from Gallagher and his five-piece band – the crowd was enthused but Gallagher didn’t seem particularly interested in stoking the fires, just in doing his thing. It would have been unreasonable to expect him to discover some heretofore unknown wellspring on on-stage charisma upon assuming the role of frontman, but at least Gallagher seemed chipper in bantering with the crowd.
Early on, he told an audience member who’d not heard the new record that, “it’s going to be a long fucking night for you then” and later, when the inevitable topic of his younger brother came up (he has a home in Toronto), he responded to someone calling out that they’d seen Liam around town buying shoes, “were they high heels?”. Noel has a well-earned reputation for shooting his mouth off about anything and everything, but he’s got a sense of humour. The encore was a triple-bill of Oasis numbers – “Little By Little” from Heathen Chemistry, “The Importance Of Being Idle” from Don’t Believe The Truth and, finally, predictably and thrillingly, “Don’t Look Back In Anger”. That finale was spared any rejigging and performed as it always has – how else do you lead the singalong? And sing along everyone did.
So with all the evidence gathered – live and on record – how do the two post-Oasis projects measure up? Both have turned in decent efforts without offering anything new, but neither is a patch on Oasis in their prime – but to be fair, most of Oasis’ career isn’t a patch on Oasis in their prime either. With Beady Eye, Liam seems to want to recreate the rock’n’roll heyday of Oasis without invoking Oasis, whereas Noel is content to acknowledge his legacy without resting on it. I’d go so far as to say if you took both their records and combined the best moments into one, you’d have the best Oasis record in some years. To be at their best, as both brothers once sang, they need each other. Maybe someday they’ll once again believe in one another.
Photos: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds @ Massey Hall – November 7, 2011
Video: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – “AKA… What A Life”
Video: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – “If I Had A Gun”
Video: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – “The Death Of You & Me”
Band Of Skulls have set a date at The Phoenix for March 30 of next year in support of their new album Sweet Sour, out February 21. Tickets are $17.50 in advance. Exclaim has details and dates and there’s a video for the first single from the album.
The ink barely dry on the their Toronto debut last month, London’s Still Corners will be back on December 9 at The Horseshoe in support of The War on Drugs. The Georgia Straight and Houston Press have interviews and Radio K is streaming a session with the band.
Video: Patrick Wolf – “The Falcons”
And while not nearly on the level of either of those records, I greatly appreciate Drowned In Sound saluting The Closer I Get, the second album from Nottingham’s Six By Seven. Terribly underappreciated over their tenure, at their best – which would be that record – there was no more beautifully aggressive and misanthropic rock band out there. After a few ill-fated reunions, the band is done but if you go to their website, their last great record – 2004’s relatively sunnier :04 – is available for free download in exchange for an email. You should do this thing.