Concert Review: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds @ Wembley Arena, London, England (plus setlist)
Sometimes people think that life is so predictable, and that nothing changes. A few years ago, I don’t think a lot of people would’ve thought that a) Noel Gallagher would be playing a solo show for a successful first solo album and b) One of his opening acts would be a guy from one-time Oasis rival, Blur. But shit happens, and here we are now.
Attempts at a poetic introduction aside, Noel Gallagher – specficially, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – played Wembley Arena on Friday night in London, complete with openers Graham Coxon from Blur, and additional openers, The Kooks. PeteHatesMusic had previously seen the Kooks in Portugal at Optimus Alive, and were quite impressed. But instead of having Radiohead cap off the night after the Kooks, another 90s British artist was at the top of the bill. How would the former Oasis songwriter / part-time singer do on this large setting? Read on or ask your psychic.
First up was Blur guitarist, Graham Coxon. Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of this set (blame my love of beer). However, Graham Coxon’s 6-piece, guitar-heavy band was loud. He actually has an extensive solo catalogue of songs to pick from, and he picked both older tracks (Baby, You’re Out Of Your Mind) and newer tracks (Ooh Yeh, Yeh). At the beginning of the last song, the stage lights went out except for the spotlights, and Coxon exchanged a look of confusion with band members after the lights came back on. Perhaps a better writer could make up some metaphor for the lights going out on Coxon’s short set. But I am not that writer.
Next up were the Kooks. They played the same opener as they picked in Lisbon, Seaside, the opening track from their first album. However, instead of leading into See The World, they opted to play Sofa Song. Luke Pritchard’s vocals seemed a little buried in the mix, and was hard to make out what he was singing at times.
Is It Me was next, followed by the first song that really got the crowd’s attention – She Moves in Her Own Way – which prompted the crowd to break out their singing voices. Luke noted they were excited to be supporting Noel Gallagher, and then pumped both arms in the air, like an awkwardly excited little kid. And hey, why not – it’s a huge slot.
Sway was up next, followed by another new one in Runaway. Rosie followed, with Luke noting, “This is from our latest album, Junk of the Heart, which is out in shops now.” No need for the sales pitch, Luke!
As Shine On kicked off, Luke did some weird conducting movement with both arms, which was supposed to get the crowd to clap along. At least I think that’s what he was trying to do, but the crowd was confused and decided to clap anyway.
Asking the crowd “Are you with us?”, the Kooks played Always Where I Need to Be, as they started to win the crowd over. Ooh La definitely captured the crowd’s attention, getting them dancing and moving. Up next was Junk of the Heart (Happy), before finishing with Naive. The crowd continued to sing along, leading to the biggest cheer of their set for Naive. A relatively solid set for the band, with a few gaps for new songs or singles the crowd didn’t recognize, which killed the momentum. However, they finished strong, and that’s all most people remember, right?
And then the man everyone came to see –
Damon Albarn! Noel Gallagher. It was a slightly older crowd than your average one, as Noel’s had an 18 year career, so add 18 years to those original Oasis fans’ age. I’m not saying his solo work didn’t add fans, but it’s unlikely they showed up en masse for this gig by the former Oasis legend.
Oasis have never had elaborate stage shows, and Noel’s was no different. There were 3 rows of 7 screens, which were used to form one, big picture. Additionally, there were 2 video screens at the side of the stage.
At first, I thought the VIPs were at the back of the stage, with no curtain. It also struck me as odd, since these VIPs were primarily middled aged women with perms. As I found out during the second song, it was a choir. Oops.
Noel opened with the Oasis B-side, (It’s Good) To Be Free. However, the song served as a warm up for the crowd’s vocal choirs, as what followed over the next hour and a half was a gigantic singalong. The second song is the lead track on his solo disc, and definitely should’ve been the first song of the night, too. When I first listened to the album, with expectations ranging from “this will bomb” to “I think Noel still has it”, the first few lines of Everybody’s on the Run immediately sold me. When sung live, it gave me goosebumps, with the crowd emphatically singing the open verse with Noel. The song also made use of the (approximate) 24-piece choir (my counting skills are worse than my blogging skills). The 5-piece High Flying Birds consisted of 2 guitarists, a bassist, a piano player, and a drummer in white coveralls with a bowler hat ala Clockwork Orange. Some songs also included a trumpeter, a trombone player, and a sax player.
Dream On kicked off with the screens displaying bright orange, allowing me to see that everyone at Wembley Arena was standing, both far and near.
The third straight song from his album was If I Had a Gun…, convincing me Noel might be one of the best artists to sing along to. His lyrics are simple, his music is straightforward, and the crowd loves him. I love Radiohead, but the crowds don’t sing like this to their songs, and not pretty much every song.
My least favourite B-side from his album, The Good Rebel, followed, displaying a vocal range of his which doesn’t show off his strengths. It’s also another of those “Noel lyric” songs about sunshine. He just needed to add some words about souls, lords, and gods for a Noel-by-the-books song.
Noel began poking fun at a bloke with a silly hat who wanted to come on stage. Noel mocked him a little, and then launched into The Death of You and Me. The song was enhanced by the trombone, trumpet, and sax player, which was a nice live touch.
Freaky Teeth began with Noel saying “this was a new song but it’s not anymore.” I don’t think a lot of the crowd knew it, but it’ll be interesting to see where it ends up.
A nice surprise for me was stripped down version of the Oasis classic, Supersonic. Noel played it with just himself, the pianist, and the drummer shaking some bells. It was an unexpected and fantastic reworking of the song.
Another Oasis B-side followed, dedicated to Graham Coxon, in the form of D’Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman?, followed by (I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine.
Before kicking off AKA… What a Life!, Noel said, “If you support Man City, the greatest club in the world, then this song is for you.” And while Man City are shite, the song was thumping live. It’s great to hear a Noel song you can sort of dance to! Oddly, snippets of the music video were shown in the background, including Noel getting into a car. You don’t show your own video at your own concert!
Up next was another Oasis B-side – Talk Tonight. It’s amazing how well all Oasis B-sides are known. I’m convinced that if the B-sides for Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory were released as “proper” albums (instead of box sets / singles), and Oasis had basically 4 near-untouchable albums released in a 3 or 4 year period, their already legendary status would be heightened. How many artists can play so many B-sides and a) not be booed off the staged and b) not only keep the crowd’s attention, but have them going mental, and screaming out every lyric? Answer: you’re looking at one of the few.
The trumpet-led Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks was next, making me glad that the brass section was live and not a recording or synthesized. Another track from his solo record, AKA… Broken Arrow, followed that.
Half the World Away, yet another Oasis B-side, was next, with the crowd singing the first part of chorus LOUD. This version seemed a little more high tempo, and was actually a lot better for it. The crowd sung the song like it was a number 1 song, and not a B-side, which is a testment to my earlier statement.
My least favourite song on the album, (Stranded On) The Wrong Beach, was next, and – SURPRISE – featured a singalong chorus. Apparently the fans like the song more than me. This was the 16th and last song of the regular set.
The encore kicked off with a B-side from his solo singles, Let the Lord Shine a Light On Me. No one seemed to recognized it, and someone beside me said to his mate that it was a new one. Not quite. The backing choir made the song a lot better, however, and it was more enjoyable than the studio version.
Non-album Oasis single Whatever was played next, with Noel noting “If anyone knows the second verse, I’ll give you fifty grand.” Um, right…. The song made full use of the choir yet again. You only had to look around the room to see how much love that Noel’s songs bring to people. There were people hugging, guys with arms around their mates, beers in the air. Pretty much everyone is happy, and singing along to one of the better “karaoke bands” in the world (note: this is a compliment).
Somewhat obscure Oasis single Little by Little followed, and no one recognized it at first, with Noel’s verses sung quietly and unassuming. However, once the chorus came along, thousands of voices spoke up in unison. As per the extremely strange custom in Britain, beers were thrown. As a Canadian, I don’t know why you’d waste your hard-earned money by throwing away a precious beer – we sure as shit don’t do that back home. But it’s dumb – there, I said it.
Noel was either joking or seriously hasn’t learned the names of his 3 brass players. He introduced “the guy on the end, I don’t know his name, so well call him Trombone Dave. The guy in the middle is Jack. Trumpet Jack. The saxophone players name begins with an A. Not Aristotle. I think it’s Andy. Saxophone Andy.” Brilliant, unless you’re Dave, Jack, or Andy.
The final song was a song that Noel obviously had to play to make it out of Wembley Arena alive – Don’t Look Back in Anger. As I said on Twitter last night, I challenge you to find one person who was not singing along to the Oasis classic. Nothing like ending the night on a high.
Overall, the stage show was nothing too elaborate, but the screens slightly added to the experience. The solo album songs transitioned well to a live setting, with the only song not played off the album being the album closer, Stop The Clocks. The use of a choir and 3-piece brass section were both nice touches, and definitely added to some of the songs. Check out the full setlist below, as well as our overall ratings for The Kooks and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Who wants to give me bonus points for making it through the entire review without mentioning Liam Gallagher?
For more concert reviews, music news, and general awesomeness a) “follow PeteHatesMusic on Twitter” and b) “Like PeteHatesMusic on Facebook“, and be the coolest person on your street (note: this is guaranteed if you are the only person on your street).
PHM Rating for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: 9.0 out of 10
PHM Rating for The Kooks: 7.5 out of 10
Setlist for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds @ Wembley Arena, London, England – Friday, September 7, 2012
(It’s Good) To Be Free
Everybody’s on the Run
If I Had a Gun…
the Good Rebel
The Death of You and Me
D’Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman?
(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine
AKA… What a Life!
Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks
AKA… Broken Arrow
Half the World Away
(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach
Let the Lord Shine a Light On Me
Little by Little
Don’t Look Back in Anger
Setlist for The Kooks @ Wembley Arena, London, England – Friday, September 7, 2012
Is It Me
She Moves in Her Own Way
Always Where I Need to Be
Junk of the Heart (Happy)