Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds / Johnny Marr / Black Rivers - Manchester Castlefield Bowl - 11th July 2015

The second weekend of Summer In The City sold out within minutes as Noel Gallagher brought his High Flying Birds back home for what is by their arena stadiums an intimate show. To complete the bill of Manchester legends, he was supported by Johnny Marr and Black Rivers, themselves members of celebrated Manchester groups in their past. Even the weather couldn't dampen the spirit of the crowd, but we walked away at the end of the night feeling a little underwhelmed.

Opening up are Black Rivers and they're unfortunate that the heavens open just before they are due on, which means some of the crowd stay in the nearby pubs and others escape under the railway arches or shelter under the roof at the back of the arena. This means they don't get the crowd they deserve as they run through the highlights of this year's excellent self-titled album.

The biggest cheer they get is, as you'd expect given that Doves could have probably headlined here in their prime, for Black And White Town, but in the likes of in particular Age Of Innocence and recent single The Ship, they've got songs that can more than hold their own against the Williams brothers' back catalogue.  Even though their tight claustrophobic rhythms and the intensity they generate in their playing is lost a little in the expanses of the bowl, they impress and cement that notion that they're more than just passing time waiting for a reunion but creating something special of their own.

And speaking of reunions, because it's hard to avoid the subject given the history of the men that take to the stage tonight, Johnny Marr is doing a mighty fine job with his two solo albums of obliterating the need for a Smiths reunion. Whilst Morrissey might have the voice of The Smiths, Marr is the one that produces those moments like the one on How Soon Is Now that defines the band and their legacy. What Marr does though is that when he sings Stephen's lyrics - be it on Panic, Bigmouth Strikes Again, How Soon Is Now or There Is A Light That Never Goes Out - he sings them with a passion and a purpose that seems absent whenever Morrissey performs them live.

However it's Marr's solo stuff that stands out here. Sure, it doesn't get the same rapturous response, but that's no surprise.  The likes of Generate Generate, Candidate and Easy Money as well as a brilliant new song called Spiral Cities dismiss any notion of him riding on the back of his legacy, but show a man who's driven to finally put out great music under his own name after what seemed like an eternity of playing the hired gun for others.  He still has incredible energy for a fifty-one year old too.

It's only really towards the end of the set that things go slightly awry. They play Electronic's Getting Away With It which misses its signature keyboards and there's a cover of I Fought The Law that's somewhat unnecessary because of the quality of his own material. But the final denouement is possibly not of his own making. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is one of the greatest songs ever written, but when the song stops at the breakdown, people sing and clap along and take the song away from him and it just feels so horribly horribly wrong. If that's the taste of what a Smiths reunion might end up like, then let's hope that they never swap numbers. With Marr's solo stuff reaching such heights and a wave of popular support behind him, then hopefully we'll be spared such.

Then it's onto the main act. The arena has filled up to bursting point with a mix of kids desperate to see their hero and the more world-worn of us who want to see if Noel can recreate the energy and excitement of two decades ago. The two High Flying Birds albums possess some of the best songs he's written - Aka What A Life, Dream On, Riverman, If I Had A Gun, The Death Of You And Me - but strung out together over a set there's a slight feeling that they're all similarly paced and Noel's fairly deadpan delivery and a sound mix that's dominated by keyboards and the addition of brass to some of the songs mean that away from the masses in the centre, people are a little easily distracted as the songs often just about fail to spark into life. The songs need a lift that just isn't quite forthcoming.

He doesn't say much all night. Ironically when he does and there's a barb at his absent brother "this for all the fat and bald men out there somewhere" before playing Fade Away, what immediately becomes apparent is that the Oasis songs that Liam sang need Liam.  Champagne Supernova also feels incredibly flat, like a dog that's had its bollocks removed, not that you'd be able to ascertain that from the masses of waving arms, people on shoulders and the communal singalong that it becomes, but when you've seen this song played in their heyday at breakneck speed, this feels a little like a middle of the road easy listening picnic in comparison.  However, when he goes back to the songs he sang in Oasis, the more restrained brilliance of The Masterplan or the uplifting majestic closure of Don't Look Back In Anger, two songs that will form the cornerstone of his legacy, then everything feels right again.

As the show finishes, Noel says he'll be back soon when he's got something new to sell us or when he's running short of money. Ever the sarcastic, you assume he's joking but you can never be quite sure. Noel's past means the bar has been set very high for whatever he does now and tonight he gets there in fits and starts - there's no denying the timeless nature of his songwriting craft and that hasn't diminished and his voice has always been under-rated, but there's a little spark missing. Not that most of the crowd care, it has to be said. 

Johnny Marr's official website can be found here.  He is also on Facebook and Twitter.

Black Rivers' official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

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