Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds At Massey Hall in Toronto on Monday
Thousands of fathers went home late to their families on Monday, still humming “don’t look back in anger, I heard him say,” as they walked through their doors, stripped off their brown leather jackets and headed toward the fridge for a Carlsberg. They tried to tell their wives all about the show, but were cut off: “That’s nice, dear. I’m glad you enjoyed your Beatle-y Brit-rock guy with his taste for suspended chords, descending bass lines and tension-releasing anthemic choruses, but could you take out the garbage before you go to bed?”
The great ones make it look easy. And then there is Noel Gallagher, an easy one who makes it look great. The smallish, 44-year-old blue-collar millionaire, who provides derivative, melodic rock and cloaks it with gauzy guitars and pumps it with soccer-chant bigness, is the more talented of the Gallagher brothers of the split-up English hitmakers Oasis. At the first of two Massey Hall shows that kick off a short North American tour, he and his new act the High Flying Birds played Oasis favourites and new material from his just-out solo album.
Gallagher described himself in an interview with The Globe as a “spare-time songwriter” with little interest in being a front man. His indifference was in evidence at an unexcited affair at Massey. New material was unmemorable, delivered with passion that satisfied contractual obligations, but nothing more. Mike Rowe, on keyboards, organ and saloon piano, was a godsend, adding needed colour to the predictable chord progressions, unvarying rhythmic trudge and unsophisticated lyricism.
New one AKA…What a Life! had a hustling brood to it, though it didn’t deserve its exclamation point. As a singer, Gallagher lacked his brother’s spit, snarl and presence, but his voice is smoother and more pleasing to the ear. Shame he gives himself banalities like “keep on chasing down that rainbow, you never know what you might find” to work with.
Not only was this Gallagher’s first proper show here since the Oasis breakup, it was his first local appearance (not counting a short, secret gig at the Mod Club on Saturday) since he was bull-rushed and injured by a drunken lout on stage during the Virgin Music Festival on Toronto Island in 2008. Any high anticipation, however, was not equalled by the performance. Ninety minutes flew by inconspicuously, though the undemanding fans of invention-free rock and one gorgeous acoustic ballad ( Wonderwall) filed no complaints.
Dream On suggested that Gallagher had listened to the same magical-mystery music growing up that Montreal’s Sam Roberts had; Freaky Teeth was nothing Arctic Monkeys couldn’t do better.
Gallagher was chatty enough, encouraging his audience to boo his American guitarist for being American and later responding to a front-row fellow who’d asked about a missing brother. “He’s okay. Have you seen him?” After the fan mentioned something about Liam purchasing footwear, Noel replied: “Were they high heels? He’s secretly wearing women’s shoes. You heard it here first.”
The stage backdrop was of a giant LED screen, which occasionally showed barely decipherable images. The onstage lighting was soft and diffused, bathing a performer not keen for the spotlight. “Why am I really here?,” Gallagher asked, in the typical full-swoop chorus of Little by Little, the first of three encore numbers (before The Importance of Being Idle and the finale, Don’t Look Back in Anger).
The answer? To provide tuneful euphoria to people who don’t really like to rock all that much, but like to think that they do. It’s a service.
THE SET LIST
(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
(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
Little By Little
The Importance of Being Idle
Don’t Look Back In Anger