Monday, June 01, 2015

New Material Largely Soars for Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, as Sweltering Riv Thirsts for an Oasis -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Riviera Theatre, Chicago
May 29, 2015

Refreshingly, though at times gallingly, Noel Gallagher is a throwback to the brazenly distinguishable, brashly outspoken rock star.

His ability to write a catchy tune, if often openly derivative of the Beatles and other influences, helped make Oasis the biggest British rock band of the past 25 years.

But frequent fights with his seemingly even brattier brother Liam, the band's lead singer, in the press and in person, eventually brought Oasis to an end in 2009.

The ongoing battles of the Gallagher brothers are notorious, and so too were their oft-stated overindulgences in controlled substances and their proclivity to not only rag on each other in the press, but pretty much everyone else.

If not more so than Liam, Noel is well-known for insulting other musicians and giving otherwise abrasive answers to interview questions (or even just providing TMI in canceling a gig due to illness).

Due in some part to all of the above, as well as a perceived decline in Oasis' music--or at least it's popularity in the U.S.--I stopped caring much about the band in the 21st century, at some point after a fine show at the Chicago Theatre in 2000, the only time I saw Oasis live despite a number of opportunities.

Well before Spotify provided instant access to everything, I owned a number of Oasis' albums--their first four plus B-sides collection, The Masterplan--but never even bothered listening to the brothers' aftermath bands, Beady Eye (Liam + other Oasis members) and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.

And when the latter's Saturday night show at the Riv in Chicago was announced and went on-sale months ago, I didn't much care.

But the recent release of--and my fondness for--a new album by Blur, who I now believe to have been superior to their chief BritPop rivals, made me explore Oasis' oeuvre more than I had in years.

Particularly after the Modfather, Paul Weller--a favorite of mine and long-ago leader of The Jam--gave props to Noel's music with the High Flying Birds, I began checking it out, especially the new album, Chasing Yesterday.

I liked what I heard--and concurrently rekindled my regard for Oasis--enough to want to see Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds live, even in noting a sparsity of well-known material on recent setlists. So I bought a ticket for the not sold-out show just the day before.

Now, on one hand, if I read reviews by a supposed rock critic that relayed a repeated reliance on Spotify for pre-concert, crash-course familiarization with numerous songs on an artist's recent setlists--Spotifamiliarization, as I've dubbed it--I'd be dubious of the writer's fandom, authenticity and perspective.

But having never been paid by anyone to share my opinions, and writing reviews here of everything I see regardless of how well it fits into my wheelhouse, I don't consider--nor promote--myself as a professional critic, knowing I lack the wherewithal to expertly assess the merits of many performances. 

I am merely a fan, in many cases devout, but others quite fledgling or sporadic. 

And while it may peg me a sham as a respectable reviewer, the deep dives I've taken on Spotify have actually been pretty gratifying, for however abrupt they've been they've expanded my awareness and appreciation of several artists and their oeuvres. 

From Stevie Wonder's masterful Songs of the Key of Life album to Holy Bible and other material from Manic Street Preachers to some early Replacements tunes that were beyond my radar even as a longtime fan to new albums and unknown old songs by the Waterboys, the Jesus & Mary Chain and Judas Priest, perusing and then programming "primer" playlists on Spotify has not only made certain shows that much more engaging due to my (newfound) familiarity with the material, it's added enlightenment to my exploration and enjoyment of a given concert act.

Much to Noel Gallagher's credit, in preparing for his Riv gig with the HFBs and throughout it, I considerably furthered my regard for the music he's made with his new band--"Everybody's on the Run," "In the Heat of the Moment," "Lock All the Doors," "Riverman," "You Know We Can't Go Back" and "Dream On" being particular standouts performed on Friday--and his old one.

Of 20 songs played--see Noel Gallagher's Chicago setlist here--6 were Oasis songs, but only two could be considered mega-hits: "Champagne Supernova" and the show-closing singalong, "Don't Look Back in Anger."

The latter was one of relatively few Oasis songs Noel sang on record, although given Liam's tendency to bail out on shows and even entire tours, Noel has previously sung most if not all the songs he has written.

His voice is sweeter than his brother's, although less edgy, distinctive and forceful. But in addition to presenting his new material well--while demonstrating his still-impressive knack for writing good songs, if not consistently on par with the very best of Oasis--he was more than adequate on the old ones.

Not that I wouldn't want to see Oasis in full again--though not quite as much as Blur for a first time--but understanding that this was a Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds show, not once did I miss Liam.

And, augmented by my Spotifamiliarization, Noel superbly showcased that some of Oasis' best music wasn't contained on their albums proper.

"Fade Away"--which he performed more acoustically and gently than the original--and "The Masterplan" are two great B-sides found on The Masterplan album, while "Whatever" is a Definitely Maybe outtake contained on the Deluxe Edition. From the stage, Noel noted that the latter song was huge in Japan but ignored in America.

"Digsy's Dinner," a deep track from Oasis' 1994 debut album, Definitely Maybe, also sounded terrific.

So in seeing one of England's most legendary musicians in a venue a small fraction of the size he plays back home, I was substantially impressed and enlightened both by material he seemingly wrote within the past year and over 20 ago.

On that level, the concert--and perhaps even Spotify--accomplished pretty much what a performer would want it to.

But while I knew going in that Gallagher's recent setlists have been nearly identical, and appreciate that "Whatever" has been added just recently, I think Noel should have thrown in a couple more Oasis classics.

Yet I really don't mean this in a rote, longing for the past, preferring city-to-city setlist variance sort of way.

The setlist Gallagher had put together--mixing abundant HFBs' material with some overt and covert blasts from his past--was really quite dandy. And with seven backing musicians, including a 3-piece brass section, everything played sounded really good.

Still, almost from the outset, despite having a seat in the balcony where I chatted amiably pre-show with a nice couple next to me, I was looking forward to the show ending.

This is because it was absolutely sweltering in the Riv, to the point that management really should be held accountable. Yes, it was warm outside, but not blistering, so the fact that the balcony felt like a sauna--I can't even imagine how insufferable being packed in like sardines downstairs would have felt--really is a disgrace. If the 98-year-old venue can't be retrofitted with air conditioning, at least put in (or bring in) some fans. Or open a fire escape door.

The initially denim-jacketed Gallagher can't be held accountable for improper ventilation, but about an hour into the show that would entail 95 minutes of music--there was no opening act--the onstage power blew as Noel and band were launching into "The Mexican" from his new album.

Again, not the star's fault, but with a bit of grousing and no apology to the crowd, Noel and his Birds flew off-stage for 15 minutes while the technical problems were worked out.

They then came back, and again without acknowledging the delay or the dripping-with-sweat crowd, they picked up right where they left off.

This is where I harken back to my opening paragraph, tying together the seeming truth that for whatever else he is, Noel Gallagher is extremely intelligent and--as evidenced by interviews--rather adept at thinking on his feet.

Yet, when thrown a curveball that may well have been blasted into bedlam with a cheeky "Roll With It" or a WTF-let's-do-it "Wonderwall," the band carried on with no special consideration for the crowd or chaos.

I'm not suggesting the songs he did play, including "The Mexican," weren't good--and yes, half of the subsequent, pre-planned songs were Oasis tunes, all rather remarkable--but as an audience member in increasing states of discomfiture, I believe the moment merited something ad hoc and special.

Even more irksome, when the main set ended less than 20 minutes after the unplanned 15-minute break, Gallagher and Co. went offstage for a standard encore break. My quite overheated new pals and I were dumbfounded.

Perhaps he truly didn't know how hot it was, and maybe after turning away requests all night--"You don't get how it works, I choose the fucking songs"--he had no desire to placate anyone who believed his earlier teasing of "Live Forever"--after announcing it would be the next song, he then chided "With a saxophone? You idiots!"--but for such a cheeky bastard with a boatload of old gems to dust off on a whim, the ever voluble Noel Gallagher rather tepidly stuck to the script.

Of course, the closing song--one of the great UK singalongs ever written--gloriously imparted "Don't Look Back in Anger," and I won't.

It was, in large part a terrific show, diminished mostly by factors beyond Gallagher's control.

But to cite one of his fine new songs, "In the Heat of the Moment" Noel didn't provide his sweltering fans with enough of an Oasis from the boilerplate routine.

Here's a clip of "The Masterplan" from the Riv, posted to YouTube by nicelemon2. Several other clips can be found here.

1 comment:

Ken said...


Thanks for reporting your experience. Sounds more like a 2 star rating as opposed to a 4 star one once you take the environment into consideration.

Note to self: don't see any shows at the Riv unless it's cold outside. Hmmm....wonder if there's no heat in there during the winter. Likely.