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Between his debut solo album topping both the UK and Irish albums charts which, after only one week of sales, is already outselling Beady Eye’s Different Gear, Still Speeding – and opening his first ever solo tour in his ancestral hometown of Dublin, Noel Gallagher has reason to swagger on stage at the Olympia Theatre. Add to this the result of the Manchester derby and the former guitarist and chief songwriter in Oasis has no reason not to be in great form.
Indeed, Gallagher is in playful mood tonight, initiating banter between audience members, despite his advance warning in press interviews that he was an uncomfortable and inexperienced frontman. He opens the set, confidently, with an Oasis B-side, ‘(It’s Good) To Be Free’, the title and chorus of which, alone, carry symbolic and rhetorical weight to the nature of the night’s event and is, no doubt, a gift to the red-tops who are still generating stories and interest from Oasis’s messy split two years ago. During a successive run, half a dozen or so songs in, of ‘Everybody’s On The Run’, ‘Dream On’, ‘If I Had A Gun’, ‘The Good Rebel’, ‘The Death Of You And Me’, and a heavy, early Kinks-sounding untitled new track, one realizes that Gallagher has not only the tunes, but also the backing band to go the distance. Mike Rowe, who played keyboards during Oasis’ Be Here Now world tour, is a key player in the band, skillfully negotiating the middle eight of ‘The Death Of You And Me’, which on record features a New Orleans-style marching band, but tonight is convincingly replaced with the twinkling sound of a bar-room piano.
What work best tonight are the dynamics, a sign of the old stager that he is. After a blazing run through the first eight songs with his full band, he brings the feel of the set down a couple of gears and reduces the line-up to just himself on acoustic guitar, drummer / percussionist Jeremy Stacy and Rowe. Together, they run through a rejuvenated ‘Wonderwall’, in which Noel blends hallmarks of Ryan Adams 2004 cover version of the track with his own distinctive tenor voice. This is followed by the most surprising song choice of the night; an acoustic version of Oasis’ 1994 debut single, ‘Supersonic’, which lends an insight into how it might have sounded when he first wrote the song on an acoustic guitar all those years ago in his Manchester flat.
There’s no question that Gallagher is playing to a home crowd of dedicated Oasis fans, some of whom may have attended and may have distinct memories of Oasis’s December 4th & 5th nights in The Point Depot in 1997, when Noel took over lead vocal duties from a missing-in-action Liam. Tonight, however, the songs which elicit the loudest cheers and sing-alongs of the night aside from ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, which appeal to casual fans and die-hard fans alike, are those B-sides that are held in such high regard with Oasis devotees such as ‘Half The World Away’ and ‘Talk Tonight’.
The night ends, somewhat predictably, with a definitive, three song encore of some of Oasis’ most successful stadium rock anthems. An acoustic-led ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, an excellent band performance of ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’ and ‘Little By Little’, which, when played tonight, feels close in sentiment and style to some of the tracks on Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and satisfy Oasis fans even if ending on those songs threaten to eclipse his current solo songs. However, it’s a mark of the wealth of material that Gallagher can draw from over the past 18 years that many of his band era songs, such as ‘Sunday Morning Call’, ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong’ and ‘Let’s All Make Believe’ – all of which would have gelled well with the sound and feel of his current solo material – are sadly omitted from the night’s set. But with Gallagher’s falsetto hitting all the notes, a versatile and ambitious backing band and a set list of choice cuts that successfully tie together a broad and prolific songwriting career, it’s not a bad way to open his live account at all.