Concert Review: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at MGM Music Hall at Fenway
By Adam Ellsworth
Eventually, former Oasis leader Noel Gallagher gave everyone (including the diehards) what they really came to hear: Oasis banger after Oasis banger. B-sides, album tracks, and stripped down versions of the classics.
“Formula” is a dirty word, but when it comes to crafting a setlist, former Oasis leader Noel Gallagher definitely has one. First, make everyone sit through four to five tracks from the latest album (which the diehards will love anyway). Next, play a few songs from previous solo records (which, again, the diehards will totally eat up). Then, and only then, give everyone (including the diehards) what they really came to hear, Oasis banger after Oasis banger. B-sides, album tracks, and stripped down versions of the classics. This will lead to massive singalongs. To close, throw in an unexpected yet delightful cover, before ending proceedings with “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” This will lead to an even more massive singalong (and the diehards might even cry).
Are we sure “formula” is a dirty word?
Per the recipe, Saturday night’s co-headline show with Garbage at MGM Music Hall opened with “Pretty Boy,” the lead single from Gallaher’s new LP, Council Skies, chased by the record’s title track. “We’re Gonna Get There in the End,” a horn-driven bonus tune included at the end of the album, followed.
“This next song is not [Oasis’ 1994 debut single] ‘Supersonic,’” Gallagher quipped as a preface to yet another new track, “Open the Door, See What You Find.” It wasn’t clear if this comment was meant to rebut an audience request, or to temper any excitement that could come from “Open the Door”’s opening drums, which, admittedly, could be mistaken for the introductory beats of “Supersonic.”
For what it’s worth, Council Skies is a strong album, less adventurous than its predecessor, 2017’s Who Built the Moon?, but at its best a dip into Burt Bacharach-inspired ‘60s pop. To put the record in Oasis terms, it feels like an album’s worth of “Going Nowhere”’s (but hold that thought!), and it was certainly no chore to listen to Gallagher and his band perform these songs Saturday night, even right at the beginning of the set.
The transition out of Council Skies began with “We’re on Our Way Now,” Noel’s 2021 non-album single featured on the compilation Back the Way We Came, Vol. 1, and truly got into gear with “AKA…What a Life!,” Gallagher’s post-Oasis theme song. It completed, ironically, with a rocking take on 2014’s magnificent “You Know We Can’t Go Back.”
“Ironically,” because going back is exactly what Gallagher intended to do with the rest of Saturday night’s set. This was, after all, why everyone (even the diehards) showed up in the first place, which Noel had no interest in fighting against.
“So, now we’re gonna go aaaaaaall the way back,” he informed the crowd following “You Know We Can’t Go Back,” and immediately before the all-time Oasis “B-side that should have been an A-side,” “The Masterplan.” “To when everybody was fucking cool as fuck.”
These remarks were not just the acknowledgement that the Mighty-O card was finally being played, they were also the first time Gallagher engaged at length with the MGM audience. This is no small thing, as “between song banter” is, in fact, the final piece of Gallagher’s setlist formula, worth the price of admission all on its own, and the one ingredient in the recipe that is guaranteed to be different every gig.
To give one example, Saturday night the crowd was treated to Noel’s running dialogue with a couple in the front row who were celebrating their second wedding anniversary. They asked him to dedicate a song to them, which he declined, stating that two years was nothing and that they had to get to at least a decade of matrimony to earn a dedication. When they responded they had been together for eight years prior to getting married, and thus had already hit the 10-year mark, he was incredulous. What on Earth would cause such a drawn out courtship? “She must really have something on you,” he said to the husband. Vintage Noel.
But back to the music.
“The Masterplan” led to “Going Nowhere” (the aforementioned precursor to Council Skies’ sound and vibe), which led to “Little by Little,” and, as the formula predicted, all of these tunes inspired a massive crowd singalong. As did “Half the World Away,” and, naturally, the High Flying Birds’ reimagined, acoustic take of the pantheon-level Oasis classic, “Live Forever.”
After such a high, it was only right to take things down a notch, and go in a completely different direction to wind down the show, which Noel and the band did with their left-field cover of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn).” All of this, of course, could only lead to one place.
“We did save the best one for last,” Gallagher assured the audience, before kicking off a rousing, full-crowd singalong of “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” Not that this was a surprise or anything; ending with “Don’t Look Back in Anger” was simply what the formula demanded. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Adam Ellsworth is a writer, journalist, and amateur professional rock and roll historian. His writing on rock music has appeared on the websites YNE Magazine, KevChino.com, Online Music Reviews, and Metronome Review. His non-rock writing has appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, on Wakefield Patch, and elsewhere. Adam has an MS in journalism from Boston University and a BA in literature from American University. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, and currently lives with his wife in a suburb of Boston. You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamlz24.