This was, without a doubt, the gig I’ve been waiting for, the gig I’ve needed since the dark days of April 2020: a legendary rock star singing legendary rock songs. And it was so, so good to be back.
This year sees me approaching the 25th anniversary of two hugely important moments in my life: the day I left Australia to start a new life in London, and the day I joined the NHS to start my first job as a clinic receptionist. Given that my whole reason for moving to London was to be able to see as many bands that I loved as possible, it feels wonderfully apt that I have been able to restart my post-pandemic gigging life so spectacularly this month precisely because of the NHS career I started nearly a quarter of a century ago, not long after I arrived in the UK. To be able to celebrate at once the two most important things in my life so far – live music and the NHS – has been a wonderful gift.
And while last week’s Gorillaz gig was a fantastic reintroduction to the thrill of live music, it was this show from Liam Gallagher that truly felt like coming home: a blazingly brilliant night of classic rock from start to finish.
Just as in many of the indie gigs I attended back in the 90s, there were two support bands, with the first on just after seven. Black Honey played an impressive selection of dark and dirty indie rock songs, and though I was not familiar with them prior to this gig, they were a brilliant start to the evening with their head-pummelling bass lines, hook laden choruses and charismatic lead singer.
But I am, of course, an old indie girl from the 90s, and if it wasn’t incredible enough to even be able to get a ticket so see Liam, I could not believe my luck when I discovered that the main support band would be none other than Primal Scream. And bloody hell did they put on a storming, headline-worthy show in their own right. They galloped on with a rocked-up version of “Moving On Up”, and from the moment they took the stage the night truly ignited with a soul-engulfing aura of long-awaited celebration. Rollicking through an effortless stream of classic hits, it was hard to believe that they were just a warm-up band this night.
I will admit that the only Primal Scream album I have ever bought is “Screamadelica”, and I had not expected to hear any more than maybe one or two songs from that album, but we were treated to almost half of the album, with “Slip Inside This House”, “Higher Than The Sun”, “Come Together” and a hugely, dementedly joyous “Loaded” all performed as well as its set-starting opening track. The songs were all beefed up with full-blooded guitars but still retained their trippy-piano acid-tinged 90s euphoria. And of their other hits, “Jailbird” was an immense party anthem, “Swastika Eyes” full of fantastic driving menace, and “Rocks” brought their set to a close with as much arms-in-the-air, hollering-along vigour as you would expect if it had been a headlining set.
But it was Liam Gallagher we were all there to see, and when the lights went down and the screens started playing hypnotically flickering images of Liam in all his rock-star insouciance to the pummelling drive of “Fuckin’ In The Bushes”, we were in a different realm entirely. I’d managed to slip into a little gap at the barrier during Primal Scream’s set, and finding myself in that down the front position after all this time, as the anticipation was hyped up into overdrive in the seconds before Liam took the stage, was utterly overwhelming. There were moments when the adrenaline surged so forcefully that I feared I may pass out before Liam even appeared.
And then he was there, that unmistakable figure, louche and shaggy haired with his effortlessly cool rock’n’roll stride, maracas in hand, and everything seemed brilliant in the world. In his huge coat and sunglasses he was the opposite of glam but the epitome of ROCK STAR, that dying breed. Launching straight into “Hello”, the lyrics seemed to aptly summarise the moment: “It’s never gonna be the same, ’til the life I knew comes to my house and says ‘Hello’“. In this gig, it was more like the life we once knew – the pure sense of freedom, fellowship and ferocious celebration of being alive that can only come with live music – came back with a vengeance and swept us off our feet.
I had half-expected that opening track from “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory” to be the first song of the set, as Liam had indicated as much on Twitter in recent days. What I did not expect, however, was for it to be immediately followed by the roaring helicopters that lead into “Morning Glory”. From the very moment those incendiary guitars seared around the arena – which I described as sounding like ‘the Earth revving up as it speeds into the sun‘ on first hearing the song in 1995 – the gig could only hurtle from glory to escalating glory.
We had the sneeringly catchy “Colombia” before Liam got into any of his solo songs. “Wall of Glass” and “Shockwave” were huge shoutalong monsters and “Paper Crown” provided a gorgeous moment of repose. An early highlight of the night for me was the title track to his second album “Why Me? Why Not”, a song that I listened to obsessively in the bleak days of last summer, when attending a gig like this seemed a distant impossibility. I truly feared I may never see any of my favourite bands live again. A year later, to stand mere metres from Liam and holler along to its defiantly, bewitchingly uplifting chorus, singing “stand your ground and defy anyone who tries to tell you you ain’t beautiful” along with him, was incredible. Liam showered us with his optimism and love and we paid it back to him with interest.
But oh lord, then there was “Stand By Me”, and good god, that was a moment like no other. I truly understood why “biblical” and “celestial” are the terms most often used to describe a Gallagher live experience, because there is really no other option but to appeal to the divine, when the thousands are united in the arms-in-the-air ecstasy of hollering along to an era-defining song and Liam is there, just being Liam, as he has been since our youth when we first heard it. Somehow, I never realised until that moment just how much I needed to be there at the barrier, singing “what’s the matter with you? Sing me something new!” back at Liam as he made his way through this unassailable classic with unforced confidence. It feels like many a long year since I experienced such an engulfingly powerful gig moment, and this was far from the only one of the night.
Liam appeared alarmingly unchanged from his 90s self, except a tad more weather-beaten around the edges, but then, who isn’t? His voice is in pristine shape, particularly in his lower register – he may have left some of the high notes to his backing singers, but he’s hardly the only older rocker who does that. But there was something entirely unexpected about him, which was, to be frank, just how damn adorable he was. Sadly, I don’t have a gigging history strewn with Liam live experiences, and my only other time witnessing him sing was way back in 2000 at a Wembley Stadium show from Oasis. It’s safe to say he was not on his best form that night, drunkenly swearing at the audience and goading female fans in a shockingly sexist display. The Liam persona of this O2 gig could not have been further from that oaf of long ago. He was cheeky and charming, telling us how lovely we were, praising all the doctors and nurses before mysteriously asking if any bankers were present, flashing us with gleeful grins and chiding any audience member foolish enough to leave early as a “silly billy”. In his belligerent, no-frills kind of way, he radiated warmth, and it’s safe to say I fell a little bit in love with him this night.
And never more so than when we got to the closing song of the main set, “Once”. I admit to being slightly sniffy and dismissive when I reviewed this song back in February 2020, criticising Liam for wallowing in a sound so reminiscent of anything he might have sung in the 90s. But I was forced to ruefully eat my words as I watched him perform this song, blinking back tears as I sang “oh how I remember how you used to shine, back then” along with him. Somehow, this song perfectly encapsulated the importance of what we were witnessing. Its acknowledgment of the fact that the big, significant moments of your life only happen once and can never be revisited shines with soul-piercing clarity after a year and a half in which life has been diminished and curtailed, with everything that enriches and defines a life denied to us.
But there was no time to wallow in tearfulness as Liam and the band soon came back on for the encore and bombarded us with Oasis classics in breathtaking style. “Supersonic” and “Roll With It” could not help be anything other than storming, and “Acquiesce” gave the crowd a chance to prove our lung power as we provided its buoyantly uplifting chorus. “Go Let It Out” was a genuine but very welcome surprise, and “Cigarettes and Alcohol” a thrilling throwback to those earliest Oasis days.
But for me, there is one Oasis song that means the most to me, a song etched into my soul, whose lyrics I wrote in my diary the day I left Australia for London 25 years ago and have remained my own personal mantra ever since. After nearly dissolving into an emotional wreck at “Once”, I feared that this song – “Live Forever”, of course – would destroy me completely. And it was immensely powerful, to sing that song along with Liam and the thousands – but its power resonated in the present and the future, a rallying call to all of us to carry on living our lives to their maximum potential, rather than being a wallowing moment of nostalgia.
And as Liam sang those words I wrote in my diary all those years ago – “maybe I will never be all the things that I want to be, now is not the time to cry, now’s the time to find out why” – I did think of my 21 year old self, stepping on that plane and into my new life. It’s true that I did not get to be all the things that I wanted to be, but that doesn’t matter, because what I did do was find out why. I still am finding out why, and always will be. And one thing is for certain: that young woman embarking on her new life would have been hugely thrilled to know that nearly 25 years later she would be down the front at a massively wonderful Liam Gallagher gig, singing along with him as he sang those very words.
It seemed like this was the end of the gig – indeed, the background music that signals “gig is over guys!” briefly started up, and the house lights were already on as Liam had ordered them to be switched on during the encore. But then Liam and the band rambled back on stage. “We’re gonna do a new song, and you’re gonna fucking love it!” he said, and we all mentally prepared ourselves to hear something unfamiliar. So when those unmistakable chords of “Wonderwall” came ringing through the arena, the pure shot of adrenaline and joy was unmatchable: laughing at Liam’s cheekiness, hollering along to this wonderful and timeless song, remembering what it felt like to be alive when “Wonderwall” actually was a new song.
I am so lucky to have been there then, and to have been here, now.
Categories: 2021 Gig Reports, Latest gigs
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