Noel Gallagher: “What goes on here? Anything?”
Shindigmusic: “Rock and roll!”
Noel Gallagher: “Rock and roll goes on here? *laughs*”
Fortunately for the capacity crowd at the Walmart AMP Friday night, rock and roll definitely “went on” here in NWA as the Smashing Pumpkins, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and AFI played what was the greatest show ever played at the AMP, full stop. It was simply powerful. It was everything you could want from a concert – incredible artists, a treasure trove of beloved, well-known hits, fresh new music, incredible musicianship, cool lights (at least for the Pumpkins, the other sets were very spare production-wise), a hot, enthusiastic crowd… it just had everything you could want.
AFI kicked things off banging out a pair of their biggest tracks, their 2003 breakthrough “Girl’s Not Grey” and “Love Like Winter”. Fitting the somber tone of much of their music and their general stage presence, AFI didn’t have any small talk for the Rogers crowd. Toward the end of the set, singer Davey Havok had the standard “thank yous” and so forth, but the rest of the time it was all intense, serious business. And it was great, just straight forward, high energy rocking.
There was definitely a dramatic shift in all-around tone for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. All three acts are very singular and distinct from one another, but Noel and company probably stood out the most stylistically. It’s impossible to not look at a bill like this at least partially through the lens of nostalgia, especially for us AMP regulars here in NWA who’ve gotten a steady stream of the ‘90s all summer long, but Noel didn’t really rely on that nostalgia at all. He’s “his own biggest fan” as he mockingly told the crowd, and he was heavy on that fan service for the vast majority of the performance.
The Manchester rocker and his eponymous, avian themed backing band did a full seven High Flying Birds songs before briefly touching the Oasis catalog. Noel said nothing during the first five numbers, then sarcastically asked “are there any Oasis fans out there? These next two songs are for y’all” before launching into his two most recent tracks, “Black Star Dancing” and “This is the Place”.
Yes, Noel Gallagher, one of the most Mancunian men who ever lived, said “y’all.” It was honestly pretty funny, and it was not the only time he ripped on Arkansas. He derisively asked, “I don’t believe I’ve ever been here before. What goes on here? Anything?” before declaring “I haven’t made a fucking dollar off you lot since the ‘90s.”After his biggest indulgence of the night for the crowd, Oasis’s 1995 smash “Wonderwall”, Gallagher remarked “that song made me so much fucking money, I can even come to this fucking place.”
Doubtless, some of the former Oasis songsmith’s insulting quips really annoyed and upset more than one Arkansan in attendance, but long-time fans of “The Chief” expected nothing less, were obviously not disappointed, and found his shit-talking to be hilariously on brand. More importantly, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds played a remarkably fantastic set. Fellow ex-Oasis rockers, guitarist Gem Archer and drummer Chris Sharrock, are nigh unrivaled masters of their respective instruments and it was mind-blowing to see them kill it live. The rest of the HFB were similarly flawless, sounding like a band that has practiced together every day for at least the last twenty years. As we say down here in the South, they were tight as a tick.
Noel’s solo material was all fresh and vital, and it was nice to get in a couple of big-time Morning Glory hits, but the most jaw-dropping, emotionally devastating tune was the obscure-in-America Heathen Chemistry single “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”. It’s an astonishing piece of music to begin with, and it sounded phenomenal live at the AMP. And, of course, he paid homage to the Beatles by covering “All You Need is Love” because, well, Noel Gallagher.
Unfortunately, this was not something Arkansans are likely to be able to see here again, as Gallagher tossed out his last barb of the evening for the Southern crowd by remarking that a small child watching from the railing “would probably be at least 50” before Noel returned to Arkansas. But most of these type comments were very schtick/tongue-in-cheek, so maybe there’s hope Noel and his Birds will fly to Arkansas again.
Speaking of flying, the Smashing Pumpkins took the crowd to the moon and beyond with a stellar set. It’s probably easy for someone who wasn’t there to look at this review as the over-the-top marking out of an ultra-fanboy, but it really was even more laudable than it’s described herein. Whereas Noel Gallagher was stingy with the songs that made him famous, William Patrick Corgan was exceedingly generous.
James Iha: Do you want to talk about the song?
William Patrick Corgan: *laughs* no
The Smashing Pumpkins: *play “Cherub Rock”*
Corgan, like Davey Havok before, let the music do the talking and had very little in the way of stage banter, though when he spoke, he too was gracious, thanking the crowd and his stagemates. James Iha was a bit more talkative, throwing out a few “Woo Pigs” that, like always, were well received by all the Razorback faithful.
“Cherub Rock” was actually the last chart buster the Pumpkins did before launching into the most notable b-side in their repertoire, “The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)” to close out the night. Before that, we got “Today”, “Zero”, “Eye”, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, “Disarm”, “Ava Adore”, “1979”, and “Tonight, Tonight”. Not too shabby and more than enough to satisfy the casual Pumpkins fan and those who grew up to a Smashing soundtrack constantly on MTV.
The set was a bit light on deep cuts for the diehards, but the raw power of the performance was more than enough to make up for it, and lesser known latter day gems like “Knights of Malta” and especially “Tiberius” were honestly some of the best parts of the whole gig. Guitarist Jeff Schroeder should seriously consider changing his last name to “Shredder” because he totally does shred and it was easy to see why he remained in the band even after original axe man James Iha returned to the fold in 2016. And man, Jimmy Chamberlin is still the most powerful drummer in rock. Just, wow.
Again, seeing such an iconic, venerable band, there’s always going to be a “remember when” factor, but there was very much so a still “this is what’s happening now” vibe. The Smashing Pumpkins still clearly have a lot of gas left in the tank and show no signs of slowing down in middle age. If hearing something like “Solara”, the lead single from the Pumpkins most recently release, Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., Friday night is an indicator, the Smashing Pumpkins could keep playing at this level and at the vanguard of popular music for another 30 years.
The man who actually owns the NWA (that’s the National Wrestling Alliance, purchased and brought back to prestige by Corgan in 2017) finally came to NWA and we here at Shindigmusic really, really hope he comes back soon. He also now owns Northwest Arkansas. Maybe next time he’ll not only come back with the Smashing Pumpkins, but also show some love to Arkansas’s nascent indie wrestling scene and maybe team up with our hot new promotion, Springdale’s WCWA.
Again, it was the best thing that’s ever happened at the Walmart AMP and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. That shouldn’t stop you from hitting some of these upcoming shows though, because there’s still plenty of cool gigs ahead before the 2019 Cox Summer Concert series wraps up. Shindigmusic will be there and we hope to see you around as well.