Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds @ Riviera Theatre (4/1/12)

Noel Gallagher issued his declaration of independence to the near capacity crowd at the Riviera Theatre by opening with the Oasis B-side "(It's Good) To Be Free." Having been written after his first major departure from the band during its inaugural tour of America in 1994, the song resonated even more as the 44-year-old singer/songwriter now commanded the center stage for the first time as a solo artist ever since leaving the Manchester group in 2009. Along with his new group, Gallagher shaped the evening around his debut solo album, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, and an Oasis backlog that proved to still have plenty of life even without its former lead vocalist sneering into the microphone. 

For Gallagher, there was simply nothing he had to prove to anyone inside the Riviera. Just down the street on West Lawrence Avenue was the Aragon Ballroom where Oasis performed in 1996 months before solidifying its claim to the throne as the biggest band in the world (even if most of the world wasn't keeping score). For all the criticism he amassed over his twenty year career for borrowing/stealing/rearranging the works of almost every band from the British Invasion (not to mention Stevie Wonder, The Doors, Neil Young, R.E.M.) to craft his songbook, Oasis still succeeded and had an impact on British rock music that no other group has ever come close to repeating.

Over the course of the hour and a half set, Gallagher showcased nearly the entire debut album (minus "Stop The Clocks") throughout the twenty song set while utilizing selected Oasis songs he had come to rely on when doing mini-acoustic sets during Oasis shows. Drummer Jeremy Stacey, wearing a bowler hat and white outfit resembling a droog from A Clockwork Orange, was the spitting image of John Bonham (in size and beard), who also occasionally wore the same outfit during Led Zeppelin's 1975 tour. From the outset of "Everybody's On The Run," Stacey made his presence known and felt as he delivered a steady stomp that was unrelenting. Gallagher clearly fed off his drummer, giving each strum of his guitar the same amount of force that Stacey was producing on his drum kit. The stomp turned into a brisk shuffle with "Dream On" as Gallagher weaved his vocals from a tease to a punch.

Joined by bassist Russ Pritchard (The Zutons), guitarist Tim Smith (The Producers, Sheryl Crow) and fill-in keyboardist Ben Leach (Mikey Rowe stepped down to rejoin his pregnant wife), Gallagher's High Flying Birds played within their strengths and didn't attempt to replicate the styles of Gallagher's former Oasis bandmates. The addition of Pritchard and Smith on backing vocals added a nice bit of depth to songs like "(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine" and "(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach."

The Oasis sound that fans had come to know in the last nine years of the band was wiped clean away. Gallagher avoided the bombastic arena staples like "Cigarettes & Alcohol," "Lyla" and "The Shock Of The Lightning." Instead, he opted for songs that were effortless in structure ("Half The World Away") and that recalled the optimism sometimes overlooked in Oasis songs ("Whatever"). A slowed down acoustic version of "Supersonic," the band's debut single off 1994's Definitely Maybe, still carried the bravado and fire as Gallagher sang the opening line, "I need to be myself."

Although Gallagher's first work beyond Oasis is filled with a new breath, there remained a musical vision that had been recycled time and time again. From the echoes of "Wonderwall" and "D'You Know What I Mean?" that can be heard in "If I Had A Gun..." to the nearly never ending variations of shuffling tempos that tie "Go Let It Out" to "The Hindu Times" to "Lyla" to practically all of 2008's Dig Out Your Soul up to now with the likes of "The Death Of You And Me."

Whether it's conscious or not, Gallagher's willingness for self-repetition somehow, someway almost always produces yet another hook that pulls you in or a sound that only Noel Gallagher can make. As "Don't Look Back In Anger" filled the Riviera, Gallagher turned the vocals over to the crowd as he almost always has since it became a pillar of Oasis shows. The power of the song, even outside an arena setting, was still evident as the crowd sang in unison, ready to join Gallagher the second the chorus came around. Noel Gallagher, the solo artist, may lack the electrifying voice that his younger brother Liam gave to Oasis for all those years, but he certainly has not lost the heart.

Photo By: Lawrence Watson