My personal history with Brian Fallon and The Gaslight Anthem goes back a long way. I first discovered The Gaslight Anthem in 2008 when they released their awesome album The ’59 Sound. Like so many, I got to know the band because of the gazillion Bruce Springsteen references that were made, both by journalists and by the band itself. Actually, The ’59 Sound is full of musical and lyrical nods to The Boss that any Springsteen fan will pick up right away.
It was a cool moment when I got to see Brian and Bruce share the stage during their Hard Rock Calling performance in London’s Hyde Park in 2009; a moment captured on film and released on Bruce’s London Calling DVD. But constantly being compared to your idol, that must take its toll.
Brian’s solo album Painkillers is an attempt maybe to get away from the high expecations surrounding The Gaslight Anthem. It’s a great album, although musically not a huge departure from The Anthem; a bit less punk, a bit more singer/songwriter. Nothing really new under the sun there, but let’s see how the music holds up in a live setting, backed by the band The Crowes, a band that doesn’t really exist outside of the reality of this tour.
The audience gets warmed up (well we were hot already as Fallon remarked opening the show) by Crowes bandmember Jared Hart, who delivers beautiful live versions of songs from his own solo album Past Lives & Pass Lines. The real surprise is the second opening act however, Simon & Garfunkel’s awkward nephews Good Old War. They charm the audience with their goofy performance, cliché-laden lyrics (which is not necessarily a negative thing) and beautiful harmonies. At the end, they got us all woo-woo-ing and la-la-ing along.
Then time for the main act. Brian Fallon is in a talkative mood, even starts his show with a little chat with the audience. “It’s warm here. Maybe that’s because you Germans are so hot.” Definitely a smooth talker this guy. But on with the show. The live renditions of the Painkillers songs impress. The Crowes surely surpass The Gaslight Anthem in terms of musicianship, and Brian seems to be enjoying playing these songs. He avoids any Gaslight-hits, and no Bruce covers either (although Springsteen is still name-checked a few times during the concert). His solo songs are strong enough to hold up the show. Highlight is the ‘acoustic’ set in the middle of the show, including two beautiful ballads from the album Steve McQueen and Honey Magnolia.
All in all, a great show. And what’s next for Brian? More solo material or back to The Gaslight? Or maybe a full album performance of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, as he jokingly hints during the show. Who knows. But Fallon is on the right way.