Live Review: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds soar at Birmingham’s Utilita Arena​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.
Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.
Gallagher treated fans to a masterful mix of Oasis classics, tracks from his back catalogue and new album Council Skies at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham last night.

Out on tour to promote his strong fourth solo album Council Skies, Gallagher senior is back in Birmingham after five and a half years as part of his seven-piece High Flying Birds (plus a trio of backing singers), including mainstays and former Oasis members Chris Sharrock on drums and Gem Archer on guitar.

First up though at the Utilita Arena is former Kasabian singer and now solo artist Tom Meighan.

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One of life’s natural frontmen, he channels the classic rock’n’roll vibes a-la Bowie / Jagger / Pop in throwing every sinew into presenting both his new songs and some Kasabian classics like Fire and Club Foot.

Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.
Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.

With everything coming with a glam stomp that’s as subtle as a flying brick, he doesn’t treat it like a support slot at all, instead going for our hearts and urging us on to party / revolt like tomorrow isn’t happening.

The Kasabian songs go down a storm, his (mostly unknown) solo songs sadly not reaching the same heights. That will no doubt change with more time on the road.

The arena is most definitely warmed up now. The stage is how one might imagine Noel’s front room to resemble - colourful flora, plus a Pep Guardiola cardboard cut-out next to a Manchester City lightbox.

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And the near capacity crowd cheer the Governor onstage like the old friend he is.

Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.
Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.

But don’t think he’s here to idly give the people what they want.

Instead he showcases his career in reverse, which means any latecomers miss the new album’s highlights.

While these five songs are played, Gallagher does not utter a word.

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These songs are strong additions to his oeuvre, they’re soul-nourishing ruminations on looking back on a life well-lived, with the occasional regret.

Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.
Noel Gallagher on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.

They’re all played with wonderful little flourishes from his talented band, but there’s no denying the atmosphere is a little flat.

Then he speaks and it’s as if the crowd collectively wake from a slumber. “We’re gonna go back gradually, ending in the 90s”.

Slowly the audience are more engaged as the more familiar High Flying Birds material appears, beginning with the full-bloodied You Know We Can’t Go Back.

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AKA…What a Life! witnesses plenty of dancing in the aisles and even the mid-set ballad Dead In The Water pulls all the right emotional punches when performed with just piano accompaniment.

Tom Meighan on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.Tom Meighan on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.
Tom Meighan on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.

After some Villa baiting (“why are you booing?” No idea Noel…), things get a little curious as we hit the Oasis section.

You have to admire him for some idiosyncratic / stubborn song choices as he dives deep into the B-sides - and only the songs (bar one) that he originally sung.

He’s totally correct to resurrect the wonderful Going Nowhere from 1997 and The Masterplan - back in the 2023 setlist after some time away - is greeted like the national anthem it truly is.

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Little By Little might not be this writer’s favourite of Noel’s, but it does sound resplendent sung by thousands, ending the main set on a high.

For the encore he first throws out Dylan’s / Manfred Mann’s Quinn The Eskimo, which feels a little pointless given its standard interpretation.

If he’s having fun playing it no one had bothered to tell those here tonight that they are meant to feel likewise.

Tom Meighan on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.Tom Meighan on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.
Tom Meighan on stage at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Friday, December 15. Photo by David Jackson.

Live Forever - that one ‘Liam song’ - is transformed, slowed down, heart worn even more clearly on sleeve.

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It is the most you’ll ever get to Noel’s very essence - arrogance and sorrow mixed together in that particularly British manner.

There’s only one place to finish, and that is the crowd -sung Don’t Look Back In Anger, the swaying denouement to a lovely Friday evening out.

It is not happening, ever. The Oasis reunion, that is. So, to bask in Gallagher’s masterful back catalogue of multiple decades of melodic rock is right and proper.

Despite his Marmite tendencies among the public, he really is one of our great songwriters of the past 40 years and he demonstrated it in spades tonight.

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*** You can see a gallery of photos from last night’s gig on Birmingham World here. ***

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds played:

Pretty Boy

Council Skies

Open the Door, See What You Find

We're Gonna Get There in the End

Easy Now

You Know We Can't Go Back

We're on Our Way Now

In the Heat of the Moment

If I Had a Gun...

AKA... What a Life!

Dead in the Water

Going Nowhere

The Importance of Being Idle

The Masterplan

Half the World Away

Little by Little

Encore:

Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn) (Bob Dylan cover)

Live Forever

Don't Look Back in Anger

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