Noel Gallagher has his High Flying Birds. Until 2014, Liam Gallagher had Beady Eye. Nowadays, with a second solo album pending, he is simply “Liam Gallagher”, making music that sounds like Oasis but retooled to suit the Spotify age.
Serge Pizzorno, guitarist and songwriter behind stadium-fillers Kasabian, is a rather more questing sort of musician – mainstream British lad-rock’s closest thing to an eclectic vibes-bringer. Known to Leicester city council’s department of births, marriages and deaths as Sergio Lorenzo Pizzorno, his initials give rise to the SLP. Pizzorno’s debut solo album, The SLP, released a fortnight ago, samples Turkish psych-pop, nods to 70s Lagos, invokes the Wu-Tang Clan and house music and, most unexpectedly of all perhaps, references old punks Meat Puppets.
Calling his solo endeavour the SLP intentionally gives Pizzorno’s enterprise the ring of something sub rosa and intriguing, rather than conjuring up the guy-next-door solo troubadour trope, now seriously over-represented in pop, from Ed Sheeran down. “Serge Pizzorno” sounds like a famous man unburdening himself of his more intimate confessionals, the ones his Kasabian bandmates have repeatedly vetoed, while that vehicle is on breezeblocks.
The SLP, by contrast, nods intentionally to the three initials at the end of the Notorious BIG. “The dot after the P is very important if you’re gonna write it,” Pizzorno told the BBC in June. Kasabian may have long had a porous border with the two Gallaghers – sharing fan bases and even personnel – but here, Pizzorno has come closer to making a more engaging detour from the day job than either Oasis sibling has, even considering the last High Flying Birds collaboration with David Holmes, Who Built the Moon? (2017), which had its freer moments.
With the inclusion of collaborators such as rapper Little Simz and the man of 2019, Slowthai, The SLP album actually recalls the breakbeat-driven, collaborative spirit of Gorillaz rather than a solo endeavour from British rock’s pantheon. The Damon Albarn influence is real: Albarn, over a game of table tennis, told Pizzorno that working office hours in the studio was good for the soul, and The SLP came together in Pizzorno’s own studio, the Sergery (what else), mostly in daylight, when three pieces of music he had written for an aborted film soundtrack gave him an idea for a start, a middle and an end.
If the album constitutes a break from Kasabian’s more rafter-shaking stuff, the show is something more thoughtful besides. On his first night of two at this atmospheric north-east London venue, Pizzorno plays no Kasabian songs at all. Two hand-held confetti cannon are the only real hangovers from stadium theatrics – well, those, and the requirement to play off the right-hand side of the room against the left, upon which a ban should be declared now and for ever. Pizzorno himself is still a showman, bounding around the stage in a series of top-end cagoules, but there is a nerviness to him that suits the unexpectedness of the staging.
In interviews, Pizzorno has talked about American art darlings David Lynch and David Byrne as inspirations for this tour. Tonight, static screens are spread across the stage of this semi-restored old cinema, with black-and-white film projections dappling across them. The five-strong band work behind the screens – sometimes visible, sometimes not. Again, you can’t help but think of Gorillaz live. The words “arts feature presentation” appear, projected in a retro font, and Meanwhile… in Genova – the cinematic overture that opens The SLP album – kicks off the mood music. Genova (Genoa) is where Pizzorno’s grandfather was born, and such is the convincing spaghetti western ambience here, cut through with low-slung beats, you could be forgiven for thinking the SLP might stand for Sergio Leone Picture. (In fact Pizzorno is such a fan of Ennio Morricone that he named one of his sons after him.)
The real disappointment tonight is that neither Simz, a local, nor Slowthai (from Northampton, which, like Leicester, wears its east Midlands underdog status with pride) are along for the ride, which would have been energising. Their songs are still solid, though. Favourites – the Little Simz duet – calls to mind Happy Mondays, with Pizzorno bawling what seem to be non sequiturs (“There’s a discrepancy in the bill!”) that add up to a kind of poetic duologue. The Slowthai track, Meanwhile… at the Welcome Break, makes for a moody interlude that builds in intensity.
Pizzorno, a guitarist unburdened of his guitar, ducks in and out from behind the screens, swapping jackets or acquiring props as each track requires. These scene changes are just on the right side of laboured. For Soldiers 00018, there’s a faintly totalitarian theme, a lectern and footage of soldiers on parade, but it ends with a tremendously 2019 sentiment, a projection reading “without each other we are nothing”.
For Nobody Else, Pizzorno is wearing the striped pyjama top he wore in the video as the track kicks up into a feelgood Italo-house celebration. The high point of the night is the most scattershot: The Wu, a messy, sparking pop song with a faintly Japanese-sounding keyboard melody, an almost 80s feel and a bombardment of textures. The drummer comes out from behind the screen, wearing his drum pads on a harness.
It’s hard to see how a Kasabian fan could be unhappy. With a band’s popularity comes increased physical distance. Tonight, instead of marvelling at Pizzorno’s latest hairstyle from the back of an arena, the audience get the man himself sweating on them as he frequently jumps down into the stalls and runs around the stepped seating, singing into people’s faces. Despite the array of influences, nothing here is truly weird enough to scare anyone away.
The obvious caveat is that the SLP could get away with being a lot stranger than they are. Noel Gallagher, a man whose record collection is broader than his output, used to threaten to make a genuinely psychedelic record but hasn’t. With no need to keep arenas full of people happy, Pizzorno has cracked open the doors of perception a little, but has missed an opportunity to truly blow his audience’s minds.