To round off his current sell-out UK tour, Brian Fallon played a special stripped-down show for just 150 fans in North London’s beautiful St. Pancras Old Church. Here’s what we learned…
For Brian Fallon, Painkillers is the sound of liberation
The most significant lyric on Brian Fallon’s debut solo album occurs on Nobody Wins, when the New Jersey-born singer-songwriter writes “I lost most of myself pleasing everyone.” Tonight, while a genuine treat for hardcore fans, is about the 36-year-old challenging and pleasing himself, with no crutches to lean on. When TeamRock spoke with Fallon ahead of the release of Painkillers, he expressed his desire to take his new music to the masses in a more spontaneous fashion, ideally switching between full band shows and stripped-back solo performances, and here, with his band The Crowes watching on from the balcony, the merit of this approach is evident, with his songs taking on a new resonance in this most naked of formats. Unburdened of the responsibility of leading a collective, with just a guitar and harmonica for company, Fallon looks as happy as he’s ever been.
The spiritual side of Fallon’s songwriting shines in this house of God
As much as Brian Fallon tried to push the boundaries of his band’s sound, in the months before he placed The Gaslight Anthem on hiatus he came to accept the idea that, for a large part of his audience, TGA would always be “the rock band that sings about the radio and the girls and the cars.” Tonight, however, offers emphatic proof that there’s much more depth, soul and spirituality to Fallon’s songwriting beyond these classic rock ‘n’ roll tropes. The Horrible Crowes’ I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together is an entirely apposite introduction to the evening, and lyrics such as “Do you believe there’s a heaven? Do you think we’re invited?” take on an added poignancy in this hushed, reverential setting. Fallon has never overtly pushed his Christian beliefs in his music, but his explorations of faith and conscience and sin and regret in the likes of Ladykiller and Red Lights carry an undeniable weight and significance when pared back for this congregation.
Precious few of Fallon’s peers have a catalogue this strong
Painkillers might be Brian Fallon’s debut solo collection, but those familiar with his career will be aware that, beyond TGA, Fallon has written and recorded music as The Horrible Crowes, with Molly and the Zombies and under his own name in the past, and consequently, he has an extensive, and rich, catalogue to draw upon. The singer switched up his set list on each night of his UK tour, and tonight he elects to omit new audience favourites Rosemary and Smoke while making room for Gaslight standards The Navesink Banks and National Anthem and a spine-tingling version of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right. It’s entirely understandable that Fallon doesn’t wish to lean too hard on his past while moving forward, and wholly commendable that he doesn’t choose to rely on Gaslight songs to flesh out his set – three days earlier at Koko, no Gaslight songs were aired - but it’s a measure of his confidence and self-assurance this evening that he allows echoes of the past to ring out and they never threaten to overpower his new compositions.
Fallon, and his audience, need not fear getting a little loose
It might seem like a curious complaint, but the beauty and intimacy of this setting, and the innate sense among those watching that tonight is a rare privilege to see Fallon so undecorated, ensures that, for all Fallon’s self-deprecating wisecracks and easy charm, the atmosphere this evening is almost too reverential. No-one dares elevate their singing voice above a whisper, and this respectful tone consequently ensures that some of the sense of euphoric communion in-built in songs such as A Wonderful Life and Among Other Foolish Things is muted. Some of the fragility and tenderness of Fallon’s songwriting would undoubtedly suffer in more boisterous environs, but there’s probably scope for both the man and his faithful following to loosen up and allow a little punk rock energy to permeate the solemnity now and again without despoiling the atmosphere.
For Brian Fallon, the road ahead is now wide open
Much of the romance in The Gaslight Anthem’s music, as with the songs of Fallon’s heroes Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, draws upon the timeless American concept of the open road, and the sense of infinite possibility offered by journeying towards distant horizons. For Brian Fallon, unfettered by the past and newly emboldened by successful experimentation in terms of presentation and form, that sense of mythic freedom is now a genuine reality in his career. Beyond demonstrating that he’s one of the finest songwriters of his generation, tonight’s performance is a fine illustration that Fallon now has the opportunity to push his art into whatever direction he chooses, and the confidence to take leaps into the unknown. Gaslight fans might be advised not to hold their breath waiting for the band’s return, for one senses here that Brian Fallon’s career is only just beginning.