Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011
The Orpheum Theatre
Better than: Standing among shouty drunks at a European soccer match.
Since Oasis' Gallagher brothers are apparently determined to not get along -- the famously disagreeable Mancs scuttled their titanic Britpop band after an alleged backstage altercation in 2009 -- we're going to have to take them separately. Bummer. Both put out new solo records this year that roughly approximate their complementary attitudes and talents: Brash, mouthy singer Liam put out a record as Beady Eye that's all swoon, swagger, and '60s rock poses -- it's fun but fluffy, and sometimes annoying. Noel, the elder brother and Oasis' chief songwriter, delivered a solo debut under the name Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds that's precise, studied, subtly gorgeous, and not a little predictable.
On Saturday, San Francisco greeted Noel like a victorious general, with shouts, chants, huge applause, and the unmistakable air of adoration. Gallagher, droll, brief of word, and sarcastic, played it cool but also delivered a satisfying set of 20 songs, including all the best from his solo debut, as well as enough Oasis cuts to send the fans into starry-eyed '90s ecstasy.
Dressed in a white button-up shirt tucked into gray Levis, Gallagher doesn't quite look 44 years old, but he does behave like a rock star: He took delivery of a new guitar between every song of the main set, sometimes trading for an axe identical to the one in his hands. (The point was to stay in tune, but it still looked funny.) After the first song, he marched over to give the monitor mixer a talking-to that looked like it must have involved more than a few nasty words. He wasn't exactly warm to the crowd, either: Gallagher peppered his banter with jokes -- we hope they were jokes -- bitching about how the top balcony of the room wasn't full, and thanked the audience "for all the money" at the end. (Tickets were a stiff $50-$75 before fees.)
The music said enough. Some of the songs on Noel's solo debut date back to Oasis' days on the top of the charts and the critics' lists -- he just hadn't put them out yet -- and are commensurate in quality. Whenever it was written, "Dream On" could be a new "Hey Now" -- it unfolds into a cinematic, soaring chorus -- and it hit live with 10 times the anthem power of its recorded version. "If I Had a Gun," too, is a beautiful, slow-burning love song. Like a lot of Gallagher's tunes, it isn't flashy, but it is kinda obvious: One can easily guess his lyrics based on the rhyme scheme alone, and he's almost comically over-reliant on words like "sea," "eyes," "soul," "love," and whatever one-syllable word rhymes with the one he just sang.
Much of the time, this tendency doesn't hurt his music. "The Death of You and Me" is full of storm clouds, "you," "me," "free," and "soul," but the recorded version spices up the tepid words with a funky New Orleans brass band bit (that Gallagher's keyboardist -- MVP band member of the evening -- alluded to on Saturday with a boogie-woogie piano solo). Those smoky vibes worked even better onstage than they do on the recording. Unfortunately, Noel's solo album also includes a couple throwaways like "The Good Rebel," which is four and a half minutes of him repeatedly stretching out the word "rain" like it's a rubber band he means to break.