We may be halfway through 2017, with Britpop all but a distant memory people in their forties reminisce about, yet the cultural impact left by its leading lights Blur and Oasis can never be underestimated. While the former have managed to remain something of a going concern, largely due to spending long periods of time apart and essentially doing their own things the majority of the past two decades, the latter's public implosion remains a continual talking point for fans and social commentators alike. As the reunion gravy train shows no sign of abating, the "will they, won't they" rumours are unlikely to ever go away until it inevitably happens. However, with both Gallagher brothers about to release solo records over the coming months, any prospect of Oasis reforming doesn't seem imminent.
While elder sibling Noel has continued to remain at a similar, stadium-sized level since Oasis split in 2009, younger brother Liam hasn't enjoyed the best of times. Beady Eye, the band he formed with the remaining members of Oasis, didn't fare too well either critically or commercially and their disbandment in 2014 was met with sighs of relief rather than a genuine sense of loss.
So it was with some trepidation and a bucketful of curiosity that Drowned In Sound headed to Brixton on a sweltering Thursday afternoon in June. Having signed to Warner Brothers last year and announced his intentions to make a solo record, incredulously titled As You Were, Liam Gallagher's first live performances as a solo artist were always going to attract more attention than pretty much any other act on the planet. Unsurprisingly, tickets for both tonight's show at Brixton's 1,800 capacity Electric and Manchester's O2 Ritz forty-eight hours earlier were gone in minutes, and with tickets going for £400 and upwards from unscrupulous touts, it's fair to say these really are the hottest tickets in town.
So what of Liam Gallagher v.2k17? Well for a start it seems the intervening years between Beady Eye and the present have seen him reflect on the past and adopt a more back to basics approach. Taking on a whole new perspective, not least coming to terms with being an iconic performer doesn't necessarily make you a brilliant songwriter, he's enlisted the likes of Greg Kurstin, Andrew Wyatt, and Cherry Ghost's Simon Aldred, who between them have previously worked with the likes of Adele, Beck, and Miike Snow as writing collaborators on As You Were, and while that might not go down too well with the "real music for real people written by themselves" brigade, it's clearly a step in the right direction for someone still striving to make a significant impact in his own right.
Understandably, the atmosphere inside the venue is already electric if you'll pardon the pun. With the front rows already packed as eldest Gallagher brother Paul spins a catalogue of tunes from the rock and roll annals, what is essentially a low-key gig to road test new material feels like something of a highbrow event from the outset. A white sheet emblazoned with the words "ROCK'N'ROLL' is draped over one of the amps in the centre of the stage as football style chants of "Liam! Liam!" resonate around the room long before their hero appears. When he finally does almost fifteen minutes later than scheduled, he's greeted like a returning captain bringing home the World Cup.
Dressed in a customary designer parka, this is a leaner looking and ultimately keener Liam Gallagher than the one that last took to the stage in 2014. Gracious and welcoming from the moment he sets foot on the Electric's tiny stage, 'Fucking In The Bushes' from Oasis' fourth LP Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants ringing ceremoniously through the speakers, he introduces himself via a lyrical quote from The Beatles' 'I Am The Walrus' before launching into the familiar strains of 'Rock'n'Roll Star'.
Backed by a five-piece band, the most notable presence is that of Babyshambles bass player Drew McConnell, who also takes on the role of backing vocalist throughout the set. They're a tightly assembled unit that while not steeped into the "gang mentality" of Gallagher's previous ensembles, sound well rehearsed and completely in sync both on the new and older material. As the final chorus of 'Rock'n'Roll Star' draws to a halt before giving way to 'Morning Glory', it's fair to say Liam Gallagher could probably play a set of One Direction covers from here on in and hold the crowd's attention like putty in his hands.
Not that he ever would. Playing it safe has never been on his agenda, even during Beady Eye's short-lived tenure, and while six Oasis songs form part of tonight's fourteen song set, some of them are hardly what would be described as fan favourites. 'D'You Know What I Mean?' and 'Be Here Now' from the record that many decry as sounding the death knell for Britpop get an airing here, not so much revitalised but certainly refreshed in such intimate surroundings, while Definitely Maybe is represented by the aforementioned 'Rock'n'Roll Star' and a celebratory 'Slide Away' which tears the roof off the Electric as every single word is hollered back at the stage.
Even more impressive is an acapella version of 'Live Forever' during the encore, dedicated to the 22 fatalities of the recent Manchester terrorist attack and sung impassionately from start to finish to a silent, respectful room. Indeed, it's this more than anything else tonight that stands out this evening. Not just for the sentiment behind its inclusion, but also to ably demonstrate Liam Gallagher's vocal delivery back to its raspy, evocative best.
Of the eight new songs aired this evening, current single 'Wall Of Glass' is already a firm favourite with many assembled here. While hardly reinventing the wheel, it's a typically anthemic number that could probably have sat quite comfortably on Oasis' later albums Heathen Chemistry or Dig Out Your Soul. Better still are 'Greedy Soul', another no nonsense rocker that harks back to the sonically direct punk sounds of 'Bring It On Down' or 'Fade Away' and 'Paper Crown', which sees Gallagher take inspiration from the psych rock revolution that's currently dominating guitar music.
Elsewhere, melancholic ballad 'Bold' could be 'Stop Crying Your Heart Out' Mk II, while 'All I Need' and 'Universal Gleam' also hit the ground running in a way that's both unexpected but incredulously heartwarming. While it's early days as far as the new songs are concerned, the signs are unanimously positive for As You Were that this might just be the best record Liam Gallagher has put his name to in over a decade.
A welcome return then for one of the most iconic frontmen in the business and a massive shot in the arm for traditional rock and roll, which looks like it's about to become interesting once more.
Photo credit: Amy Davis.