Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield
Ladyhawke, Rough Trade East, London
The best thing about Noel Gallagher is that he isn't Liam. Sadly,it's also the worst thing about the former Oasis songwriter
Sunday 26 February 2012
The billboards at Don Valley Stadium station, the tram stop for the Motorpoint Arena, advertise a food court in Sheffield's Meadowhall shopping centre where every ersatz culinary experience awaits. You can have pretend-French (Café Rouge), pretend-Spanish (La Tasca), pretend almost anything. It's called the Oasis Dining Quarter.
But where do you go if you want pretend-Oasis? The Arena itself, where Noel Gallagher is staking a claim to be Britain's foremost Oasis tribute band. This, since the big fraternal fallout, is where you go if you wanna hear Oasis songs: tonight, I count no fewer than nine.
Noel's auto-impersonation act isn't doing quite as well as the real thing: come showtime, touts outside are still trying to shift their unsold stock. Nevertheless, there's a groundswell of goodwill out there for Gallagher Senior. In the minds of many, Noel gets a free pass simply for not being his brother.
If you found Oasis too dizzyingly futuristic, then Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds are the band for you, their oeuvre typified by sub-Kinks/Small Faces plodders such as "Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks" and "The Death of You and Me". There's nothing in the way of spectacle. The show consists merely of massive video screens of Noel's face, and his already small charisma seems to shrivel in the spotlight. He tries to get a bit of football banter going, dedicating "AKA ... What a Life!" to "the Manchester City supporters in the house", prompting half-hearted chants of "Blue Army".
What quickly becomes clear is that, while the best thing about Noel is that he isn't Liam, it's also the worst thing. While he may be a preferable human being, he's nowhere near as good at being a rock star. "Supersonic" is the one Oasis single I really love. That blast of sheer invulnerable arrogance cannot be denied. But this weedy, acoustic version proves that Noel simply can't carry it off. Still, being a solo act does have its benefits: at last, he gets to be the centre of attention. Midway through "(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine", someone throws a bra at Noel. He doesn't miss a beat. After all, he's used to having a giant tit on stage with him.
A green fedora jammed down over her blonde frizz, hiding inside an oversized paisley jacket with the cuffs turned up, Pip Brown looks even more like a mid-Eighties Stevie Nicks than Ladyhawke's songs usually sound. The return of Ladyhawke to live action happens in a very low-key setting: the Rough Trade shop off Brick Lane. Brown cuts a nervous figure, her banter self-deprecating to an uncomfortable degree.
The New Zealander has gone on record about suffering from Asperger's syndrome and a range of associated anxieties and allergies. She seems so ill at ease in front of an audience that one person next to me turns to his friend and says, simply, "Poor girl."
"I've got an album coming out... eventually," she frets. "May, I think. I'll probably be 40 by the time it comes out." On this evidence, it'll be worth the wait. Opener "Blue Eyes" reveals a beefier sound than her electropop debut: there's a hiatus after the first chorus when the synths come in and squiggle, as if to remind you that, oh yeah, that's what she normally does.
Best of all is "Sunday Drive", whose driving dramatic melody is reminiscent of The Motors' "Airport". She hits the home run with the familiar singles "Paris is Burning" and "My Delirium", the battle won. It's a line from a new song, though, that speaks volumes: the refrain of "Anxiety" runs "I've always been too cautious/I'm sick of feeling nauseous". Maybe Pip Brown is ready, at last, to step out from those shadows.
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