Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, OVO Hydro, 20/12/23

It’s only five days until Christmas, but he’ll always be the first Noel

With Noel Gallagher and the band arriving onstage to the sound of vuvuzelas, and 14,000, mostly seated, fans hollering their appreciation, the occasion feels more like a football match than a gig.

Luckily indie rock’s greatest curmudgeon is more of a team player these days, with a tight crew including Gem Archer on lead guitar and a trio of backing singers. Like the crowd, they’re all in fine voice tonight, firing into the driving ‘Pretty Boy’ from most recent album Council Skies as flowers bloom on the video screens behind. 

The yearning title track comes next, accompanied by unsavoury images of Burnage life, and even die-hard Oasis fans have to concede the Birds are far more musically accomplished than they ever were, even if there’s less of that alluring chaos. 

Noel may be a cynical so-and-so, but he knows what the crowd wants – and doesn’t mind stretching out the anticipation. He teases ‘Supersonic’ before the sunny dadrock of ‘Open The Door, See What You Find’, and tells us the setlist will be taking in the good old days, just not yet.

In truth, his best material has always been retro, whether the Beatle-sy ‘Easy Now’ or the soulful ‘We’re On Our Way Now’, which doffs its hat to 1995’s ‘Cast No Shadow’. ‘AKA… What a Life!’ sees lads hugging, beer flying and arms aloft. But it’s a five-strong finale of Oasis deep cuts that raises the roof.

B-side ‘The Masterplan’ is the first great song of the evening, moving from descending verse to soaring chorus with spine-tingling finesse. ‘Half The World Away’ is the second, sprightlier in its full-band form without losing the melancholy. ‘Little By Little’ closes the first set in anthemic style. 

A speedy encore starts with Dylan’s ‘The Mighty Quinn’, a shame considering Noel has plenty of better rockers in his own back catalogue. But ‘Live Forever’ sweetens the deal. Slowed down to ballad speed, and beautifully sung, it’s less a swaggering mission statement than a wistful tribute to the recklessness of youth.

He relinquishes the reins completely for ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, allowing 14,000 happy voices to take over. Fittingly, it turns one of the greatest songs of the last century into a football chant, providing a stirring end to this game of two halves.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds play Portsmouth in March, before returning to UK stages again in summer 2024 for a set of headline outdoor summer gigs. Find tickets here

Photo credit: Andrew Benge/Redferns