With the novelty factor of the often ill-fated solo career all but worn off at this point, Noel Gallagher started off his second touring stint under the High Flying Birds moniker with a business-as-usual but rousing set in Belfast on Tuesday night following the release of new album Chasing Yesterday.
“What’s the craic?” grins Noel after set-opener (Stranded On) The Wrong Beach from his 2011 solo debut. This appears a strange choice at first glance, until its opening riff is received by the crowd as if it were that of Rock ‘n’ Roll Star being delivered by the original Oasis lineup. The same applies for Everybody’s On The Run directly after; what still feel like new songs are suddenly greeted like old classics and feel, particularly the latter, like they would be firm fixtures in any greatest hits-orientated setlist.
As shown by the amount of potential setlists and rumours circulating the internet on the day, this first gig back was a real point of interest amongst a still huge fanbase. The sense of occasion was an interesting and even surprising reflection on Gallagher’s career at this point – people flying from as far from America to catch the first performance of the tour serves to debunk both the underlying idea that such an artist can no longer be culturally relevant, and the somewhat patronising assumption that his career now merely consists of going through the motions musically. Whatever your opinion, it’s clear that the man is hugely influential to this day.
Long settled in to his role as frontman, there’s a real swagger in the set – but not the arrogant “laddish” kind so long associated with the Gallagher brothers. There’s the triumphant sing-along atmosphere that’s part and parcel to this setting, but there’s something else entirely that can’t be as easily explained. He seems, dare I say it, to be enjoying himself. It wouldn’t be at all fair to claim that that wasn’t the case before, but there’s a different kind of sincerity that seems to have crept in somewhere along the line. As well as the expectedly consistent and strong all-round musicianship in the band (with help from a brass section and choir), Noel’s vocals are genuinely impressive, finding a perfect balance between subtlety and strong presence.
The sleek stomp of In the Heat Of The Moment and driving radio-rock of Lock All the Doors and The Mexican go down well with the crowd, many of whom seem eager to show off their ability to remember the lyrics of new songs at such an early stage. And, to be fair, it does make for a great audience. A similar pattern emerges when Noel dedicates little-known Oasis b-side Shout It Out Loud to “the connoisseurs in the crowd” – his approval is immediately lapped up, which again only served to add to the atmosphere.
Inevitably, the highlights come in the form of fan-favourites from Oasis’ back catalogue: a surprising but gorgeous mid-set acoustic version Champagne Supernova; a sentimental and light Fade Away; an almost “oh, go on then” bash at Digsy’s Dinner; an emotional stripped-back Don’t Look Back in Anger and a triumphant set-closer in the form of The Masterplan all result in a united singing voice in the crowd that was quite something to behold. The admittedly-magnificent versions of Champagne Supernova and Don’t Look Back in Anger would have brought a tear to the eye of the most hardened cynic. They probably did. Fans of a huge age range left the venue in full voice, well satisfied by a spirited set and night of mass singalongs. Eoin O’Hare, GiggingNI.