Noel Gallagher and his band delivered a night of big, solid songs with massive singalong choruses, says Neil McCormick.
“Alright, Noel?” a voice shouted out from the crowd. “Am I alright?” responded Noel Gallagher with a perplexed shrug, as if he couldn’t quite comprehend the question. “Of course I’m all right.”
Of course he is. Gallagher must be the most reliable man in British rock. In advance of his second solo album and sold out arena tour in March, he offered a sneak preview of what fans might expect in an intimate, 500-capacity London club.
There were no surprises on a night of big, solid songs with massive singalong choruses, delivered with panache by unshowy, accomplished musicians. Gallagher’s four-piece backing band answer to the name High Flying Birds but look more like Van Driving Blokes. Drummer Jeremy Stacey is big, bearded and hits hard. Bespectacled keyboard player Mike Rowe shifts with grinning enthusiasm from soulful Sixties Hammond grooves to Kinks-style pub piano with a bit of deep synth to edge the sound towards modernity. Second guitarist Tim Smith slots seamlessly into whatever Gallagher himself is playing, from T-Rex electric boogie to country lilt and flowing psychedelia. Bassist Russell Pritchard has nimble fingers, which puts him several leagues ahead of anyone who ever played with Oasis. They called it a warm-up show but the set was delivered with the casual equanimity of road warriors in the middle of a long tour. Gallagher sang with soft yearning, played guitar with juicy chords and melodic leads, and chatted with ready wit. To audience members begging for his plectrums, he sniffed, “Don’t you know there’s a recession on?”
You could (dismissively) call it meat and potatoes rock. But Gallagher is the meat. And the potatoes. A proper square meal, served up in healthy proportions, where everything tastes just right. Songs already familiar from his debut solo album are treated like Oasis classics, inciting lusty, arms-aloft singalongs. Obscure Oasis B-sides are greeted like he’s playing their greatest hits. His actual greatest hit, Don’t Look Back In Anger, is sung with near hymnal joy by the crowd whilst the band strum along in unplugged mode, Noel shifting the melody with minor modulations.
It is almost too easy and that would be my only concern. It lacks the grandstanding edge of Oasis, the frisson that Liam Gallagher’s sociopathic charisma brings to any occasion. He would have killed Lock All The Doors, a storming rocker whose riff dates back to pre-fame Oasis, although the sneering new lyric: “We might never live to meet again,” could well be a comment on the current state of fraternal relations. Noel played five new songs, all boasting choruses big enough for stadiums. There was even a tiny hint of musical expansion during the lush, dreamy Riverman, with a jazzy lead and an extra musician joining the band. Gallagher was at pains to put the audience at ease. “Do not be alarmed,” he said. “It’s only a saxophone.”
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