Gig review: Brian Fallon & The Crowes @ Bristol 02 Academy 10/4/16
by Polly Hember
Brian Fallon is best known as the front man of The Gaslight Anthem, whose raging punk energy and gritty lyrics have resulted in five successful albums, securing themselves in the American rock canon alongside the likes of Springsteen, Tom Petty and other assorted heartbreakers. Following TGA’s hiatus, Fallon has released his first solo album Painkillers, which acts as a point of happy comparison to early Gaslight lyrical aspirations, and an exciting departure from the anthemic punk riffs. Fallon came to Bristol’s o2 academy on his Painkillers Tour, with his signature gravelly vocals, showcasing new material that edges towards alt-country.
TGA’s last album Get Hurt, released in 2014 just before the group’s indefinite hiatus, sounded exactly how you would imagine a break-up album to sound and that’s largely because – for Fallon – it was. Taking listeners to ‘Dark Places’, the track listings threatened to ‘Break Your Heart’; it was an album about ultimately getting hurt. The album was penned after the divorce and dissolution of Fallon’s ten-year marriage and is filled with slow, sad ballads and heavy synth. Fallon asks “Have you come here to get hurt?” in the title track, and the simple answer is – yes. It is steeped in unavoidable pain, agony and despair. It was met with largely negative criticism, as many fans and reviewers were surprised at this musical development. In Get Hurt, Fallon professes “I keep my wounds without a bandage, baby” – but now, two years on, you get the feeling that Fallon has dressed his wounds, picked himself up, taken a large dose of paracetamol and ibuprofen, in order to move on to the (aptly named) Painkillers. Fallon’s new songs still sound as raw and emotive as ever, often looking to past relationships with nostalgia, but they are not weighted with heavy trauma or pain.
His musical development has led him beyond the pain of Get Hurt – Painkillers instead is full of jangly acoustic guitar, leaning towards country rock and Americana to create stripped down songs, still rich and beautifully textured with complex lyrics and Fallon’s raspy vocals. Fallon has always been one for nostalgic dreams of a glorified past; a vision of an idyllic American Dream that is indebted to Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty
and the Heartbreakers, Roy Orbison and the like. This is a high and lonesome dream of wanderlust, of dancing in the dark, of girls called Maria in late night diners speaking in American slang, quoting Casablanca back and forth to each other until the lights dim and the credits roll.
Painkillers is an album that draws from both reality and these rose-tinted fantasies. Halfway through his set, Fallon explained that these were “dream songs”, because songs about real life were often sad and uninteresting, making a joke as he sung a few bars of a “real life” song, in which he woke up, walked out and grabbed a coffee. Instead, Painkillers presents a web of fantasies bursting with these dream-scope songs, poetic and forever angled towards a better past. These dreamy lyrics are accompanied by easy, Americana tinged country rock and finger picking guitar; it is easy to relax into this fantasy of old cinema, long drives and lost romance.
Fallon’s live performance delivered a gritty edge to these bittersweet dreams; his energy and gruff vocals contrasted the acoustic rendition of ‘Steve McQueen’, one of the highlights of a tight set. Accompanied by The Crowes; a variation of TGA’s side project The Horrible Crowes, including Ian Perkins and Jared Hart, providing raging guitar and robust harmonies. Alongside new songs, old Crowes songs from their album Elsie were a welcome addition to the set and were met with cries and shouts of encouragement from the packed out audience. ‘Sugar’ and ‘Behold the Hurricane’ were heavier than Fallon’s new material and added grit and energy to the set. The lively audience, packed full of TGA and Horrible Crowes fans, sang along to every song, and particularly relished the earlier material.
Fallon’s self-deprecating and chatty charm was seen throughout the set, often pausing to add comments and introductions in between songs. He laughed about his love for TV programme
American Horror Story, praised beautiful Bristol for its hills and views, recounting a café visit earlier that day where he ordered a latte, blaming his age (36) for his choice in beverage, trailing off as he recounted his younger New York days where he only would drink espressos and black coffee, in hopes that it would put a beard on his bare face and admitting great beard-envy of Chuck Ragan, who he played with on their Revival Tour in 2011.
Fallon’s new musical endeavour stands alone from TGA and the pain of Get Hurt, yet shows his progression and sonic development, towards alt-country and golden dreams of the past and future. In the pop-rock like ‘A Wonderful Life’, he asks “Don’t you want a life like we saw on the picture show?”, gruffly admitting wistful fantasies that, sometimes are hard to reconcile with cold reality – later in the set he sung in ‘Steve McQueen’: “This life is only chains, nothing like the colour of my dreams”. A truly enjoyable night that showcased an accomplished solo album which deals with the long-lasting effects of broken hearts with poetic and playful elation.
Check out Brian Fallon's social links and catch him live on the rest of his European Painkillers Tour.
Painkillers was released March 11hth 2016 on Island Records, as is widely available on Spotify, itunes and Amazon.