“And another thing, when did a gig become a show?” Liam Gallagher recently asked his almost 3 million Twitter followers. “I do gigs. If you want a show, go see The Lion King.”
So during his headline set at Finsbury Park, there are no dance routines (unless you count the vigorous shaking of maracas and a tambourine). There are no costume changes (just the one parka tonight). And there are no attempts at enforced audience participation.
But this is no ordinary gig either.
Not many feature a surprise warm-up act in the form of Richard Ashcroft banging out four of The Verve’s greatest hits. Armed with just his Jeff Lynne sunglasses, sparkly jacket, and an acoustic guitar, he leads tens of thousands of people through spirited singalongs of Sonnet, Lucky Man, The Drugs Don’t Work, and (to a lesser degree) the more challenging Bitter Sweet Symphony.
Not many, even those outdoor gigs held at the height of the British summer, play out as the sun sets in a cloudless sky, while temperatures still linger in the mid-twenties, shirtless men let off flares, and chants of “football’s coming home” break out between songs.
And not many feature six crack musicians formerly of bands like Kasabian and, uhm, Oasis, playing some of the biggest songs of the past 25 years with just the right amount of rock ‘n’ roll swagger.
That confidence is there from the off, as the big screens show Gallagher making the long walk through the backstage area, flicking Vs, patting a security guard on the back, and playing up to the camera as he goes. As he strolls onto the stage, the audience lose their nut, their screaming only drowned out by the opening chords of the more than fitting Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.
Morning Glory follows, as “our kid” leaps head first into a set heavy on tunes from the years he was still on speaking terms with the big brother who first called him that. Good old fashioned lighter anthems Slide Away and Whatever were written to be chanted by audiences of this size. And it’s difficult to think of a more thrilling run of hits than Supersonic, Some Might Say, Cigarettes & Alcohol, and Live Forever, all sung with a focus and intensity totally lacking from Oasis’ ill-fated final tour.
It’s not all about nostalgia though. Exhibit A: Gallagher, who favours the hands-behind-back stance throughout, isn’t the most animated performer but gives his all on recent solo hits like Greedy Soul, I’ve All I Need, For What It’s Worth, and instant classic Wall Of Glass.
Exhibit B: instead of padding the day’s line-up with blokey ‘90s guitar bands, the organisers have picked support acts that are young, exciting, and frequently fronted by women.
On the Second Stage, Spanish quartet Belako are all about spiky guitar riffs, huge trippy grooves, spaced-out distortion, and the ferocious vocals of Cristina Lizarraga that tackle subjects like gender violence. In Reykjavik’s Rakel Mjöll, all-female pop-punk trio Dream Wife have a singer with the personality (part cheeky smirk of defiance, part hip-hop braggadaccio) to pull off lyrics like F.U.U.’s “gonna fuck you up, gonna cut you up” on a sunny weekday afternoon.
And over on the Main Stage, Wolf Alice continue their rapid climb towards the top of festival bills with a confident hour-long set that shows off the depth of their two albums, and the breadth of their sound. The shoegaze-meets-indie-rock of Your Loves Whore acts as a gentle introduction before the punky Yuk Foo lets singer-guitarist Ellie Rowsell unleash her inner banshee. You’re a Germ connects shouty garage rock choruses with verses that boast melody, nuance, and plenty of groove.
Don’t Delete the Kisses contains traces of icy ‘80s synth-pop as Rowsell casually walks around the stage and sits on a monitor, while Joff Oddie plays guitar and synth simultaneously. Cranking up the volume once more, Beautifully Unconventional and Motown-on-meth rocker Formidable Cool hit as hard as they swing. The soaring Bros prompts the audience to sing along to the quiet interlude performed solo by Rowsell – in the very park the song’s video was shot.
By contrast Space & Time, dedicated to footballer Harry Kane, is at its thrilling core an all-out punk song complete with thrashing riff, throbbing bass, and feedback that ends with Oddie smashing his guitar. Visions of a Life continues that attitude but in the form of a churning eight-minute epic that shifts between chugging stoner rock, breathless krautrock, heavy metal guitar solos, and atmospheric introspection.
The unwavering Moaning Lisa Smile, which prompts the crowd to raise their hands in unison, and blistering Fluffy distill that same power into three minutes before loud-quiet-loud barnstormer Giant Peach has Rowsell prowling the photo pit.
The set closer prompts the audience send-off Wolf Alice deserve, but judging from the amount of “R KID” merchandise, paisley Pretty Green shirts, and mod haircuts on display across the park, there’s really only one man they’re here to see.
He makes the diehards more than just a little happy by dusting off Noel-sung Shakermaker B-side D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman? before spreading that euphoria to all 45 000 people in Finsbury Park with an impassioned Wonderwall that sends everybody home happy – even Gallagher.
“There are no words to describe that crowd tnight in Finsbury Park”, the man who usually has words for every situation tweets later. “I fucking adore every single 1 of you. Live forever. LG x”
Review of Liam Gallagher and Wolf Alice @ Finsbury Park on 29 June 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photos courtesy of Festival Republic.