Co-headlining tour featuring Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Garbage hits Cincinnati

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CINCINNATI, Ohio (WOUB) – Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Birds and Garbage brought their 2023 co-headlining tour to Cincinnati’s Riverbend Music Center (6295 Kellogg Ave.) on the very muggy first Saturday in July.

Immediately, there are questions:

Sure, Garbage fans say they’re “only happy when it rains,” but what if the evening’s omnipresent threat of rain materializes and cuts the show short?

Will Noel Gallagher say anything bristly and comical about Taylor Swift, performing just down the road at Paycor Stadium?

Most pressingly: what’s the point of front section seats if everyone stands up the whole time?

Neither of my first two concerns materialize; but the last will remain an enduring mystery – probably until the end of time.

Everyone is in love with Shirley Manson (and they have every reason to be)

Let’s turn to Garbage, up first with their surging, post-grunge industrial pop.

Vocalist Shirley Manson knows how to front a band – she’s dramatic, she’s playful, she’s got a sense of controlled intensity that’s difficult to look away from. More than once throughout the set audience members shouted “goddess!” and no one had trouble figuring who they were referring to. (Listen to WOUB’s Ian Saint’s conversation with Shirley Manson, here) 

Garbage opened their set the same way they opened their 1995 self-titled debut: with the volatile Supervixen. The song’s central “riff” – deliberate pauses punctuating hazy distortion – was famously a studio recording hardware fault before it was the best part of the song.

Up next was #1 Crush, the b-side of the group’s first single, Vow, and the opener of the soundtrack album for Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet. Garbage then segued into the future with The Men Who Rule the World, off the group’s most recent release, 2021’s No Gods No Masters.

A constant part of the band’s performance, whether playing early career highlights like Run Baby Run, or more recent numbers like Freak Like Me, is a sense of dark romanticism.

It’s an aesthetic rooted in humanity’s dual fascination with death as a concrete concept and love as a far less tangible one. It’s a central strand of rock ‘n’ roll’s DNA, dating back to the murder ballads immigrants from the British isles brought with them into the rolling hills of Appalachia and beyond.

It’s the core sensibility of the melodramatic “tear jerkers”/”death discs” of America’s post-war period; songs like The Cheers’ Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots (1955) or Leader of the Pack by the Shrangri-Las (1964). Sure, those songs can sound a little “on the nose” thematically –  but the whole thing gets more palatable to the contemporary ear once it’s interpreted throughout the late ‘60s via spooky cosmic folk like pre- Electric Warrior Marc Bolan or proto-hard rock like The Doors or (in a druggier, less “romantic” kind of way) The Velvet Underground.

Once we get to the late ‘70s, this “dark romanticism” thing we’ve been tracing starts to look and sound a lot more directly like Garbage. This is the era of Siouxsie and the Banshees; perhaps Garbage’s most recognizable forerunner – not only in an aural sense – but visually, too. Garbage even covers Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Cities in Dust (aka the most danceable song you’re likely to find about Pompeii) on their latest record.

Garbage ended their set with the infectious LGBTQ+ anthem Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) – exiting the stage to appreciative applause.

Noel Gallagher: “What the f*ck is up, Cincinnati?”

While Garbage was more than happy to indulge fans in “the hits,” no one expected that of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds; despite regular cries of “Wonderwall!’ from the more obnoxious portions of the crowd.

Ohioans have again and again been named some of the foulest-mouthed Americans in the country, so it felt more familiar than abrasive when Gallagher took to the Riverfront stage with a simple “What the f*ck is up, Cincinnati?”

What the f*ck was up?

My current theory is “a lot of soccer/football drama concerning Manchester City and Arsenal foot ball clubs” – judging by the nearly constant stream of confrontational, baiting shouts coming from the audience throughout the early portion of the High Flying Birds’ set. A key piece of evidence: a cut out of Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola standing against one of the band’s amplifiers on an otherwise simple stage setup.

The Manchester City football club looms large in the context of the band’s identity: the black and white urban-industrial scene on the cover of the group’s freshly released Council Skies shows the High Flying Birds’ equipment set up where the club’s Maine Road stadium stood from 1923-2003.

The cover of "Council Skies," which is black and white and shoes a rock band set up in an urban and industrial landscape.
The set kicked off with a slew of Council Skies tracks: Pretty Boy, We’re Gonna Get There In the End, Open the Door, See What You Find, and Easy Now.

Noel began performing his solo material as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds shortly after Oasis broke up in the late aughts. The name of the project itself betrays Noel’s passionate, meticulous brand of English music geekiness: the structure is reportedly a nod to Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac; and the term “high flying bird” comes from High-Flying Bird, the folk song by Billy Edd Wheeler and perhaps most famously recorded by Jefferson Airplane.

“Prickly,” “grouchy,” “cantankerous” – these are all words used to describe Noel Gallagher’s seemingly gruff exterior. And while he was suitably prickly throughout the band’s performance in Cincinnati – Noel softened noticeably after a fan from the front row caught his attention with the declaration that they’d seen the High Flying Birds just the week before.

Seemingly caught off guard, Noel paused long enough to make one worry.

Relief came quickly: “Well, aren’t you the f*cking superfan! It’s a pleasure to have you!”

Now Noel seemed more amicable to indulging even the less enlightened portions of the audience – playing five Oasis songs: The Masterplan, Going Nowhere, Little By Little, Half the World Away, and Live Forever.

Ultimately the High Flying Birds would end their set with one of Oasis’ biggest US hits – Don’t Look Back in Anger, but not before throwing in an excellent (and oddly illuminating) rendition of Bob Dylan’s Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn).

The concert ends. Only two questions are answered for sure:

Does America “get” Noel Gallagher?

Of course not.

Don’t fret – he’s got multiple sold out dates on the European leg of the High Flying Birds tour coming up, so he’ll soon bask in the appreciation he deserves.

More interestingly: does Noel Gallagher “get” America?

Of course he does.

The creeping swell of Elvis’ melancholy rendition of Blue Moon as the audience at the Riverbend Music Center drifted out into the parking lot is proof enough.