Brian Fallon and the Crowes (Gaslight’s Alex Rosamilia on keys and guitar, the Horrible Crowes’ Ian Perkins on guitar, the Scandals’ Jared Hart on another guitar, the inimitable Cat Popper on bass and some guy on drums whose name I did not get) played the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, New York Friday night on the second night of the tour promoting Fallon’s first post-Gaslight solo album. The set focused completely on Fallon’s solo material, which included all of the material on the forthcoming album, Painkillers, as well as material from the fantastic and overlooked Horrible Crowes project, and the “Molly and the Zombies” side project (which was less formal side project than just him getting together with some friends and having fun).
Although the band is electrified, the show felt more like an intimate acoustic set. The drummer was used on a few songs at the most. There was a lot of emphasis on vocals and lyrics and creating a soundscape; it’s clear that Brian wants that much guitar on the songs, and that’s not a bad thing. None of it felt contrived or particularly precious, but rather an earnest attempt at writing material in more of a singer-songwriter vein. Fallon is one of those guys who is stone cold Rock and Roll History 101; he’s working within the canon, period. You either dig that or you don’t. He’s referencing the likes of Petty and Springsteen, the latter unashamedly, pointing at River-era Bruce specifically. It’s also not accidental that he’s referencing the guys who figured out how to play the long game in this business without embarrassing themselves.
The band is rehearsed and there for business, and will only get better as the tour goes on, the performances get stronger, and they gain a little more flexibility and swing. You already know that Alex Rosamilia is a pretty talented guy, and he’s off in his stage right corner, angled sideways, handling guitar, keyboards and occasional vocals. Jared Hart was mostly on acoustic and added strong harmonies. The audience loves Ian Perkins and there were multiple shouts of “Under-rated!” from the crowd; my only frustration with him is that he’s still too tentative of a presence and at this point I’d like to see him present onstage with more confidence regarding his contributions. Cat Popper is a national treasure; she is like silly putty, she is so successful because she can transform herself into any style at all to suit whoever she is working with. Here, her playing slips between fluid and straightforward solid, and her lovely vocals mesh beautifully with Brian’s; it would be great to have more material that let them do that.
There isn’t a bad song in the bunch, to be honest. “Red Lights” is where Popper’s backing vox stick out, warm and rich. “Among Other Foolish Things” has a touch of Phil Spector; there are two 12-string guitars and two six-strings on the song, and that’s not accidental. “Honey Magnolia” is the best of the keyboard numbers, underscored with gorgeous vocal harmonies. “Steve McQueen” sounded even better than it did at the Newport Folk Festival (where most people heard it for the first time) and “Mojo Hand” veered into Beatle-esque territory. I’m happy to report that “Open All Night” is not a cover, but was probably the most Gaslight-sounding song in the bunch.
It sounds dumb to say something like “he wants people to listen to these songs” because it’s not like he didn’t want people to listen to Gaslight Anthem songs. But these are songs to listen to, and not necessarily to shout along with. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, at all, but not ever single song has to be something you can jump and shout and scream with. It’s good if you can but it’s not bad if you can’t, but not everyone feels that way, especially not in the diehard Gaslight fan camp. Fallon knows this, though, and that’s why he put “Behold the Hurricane” at the end of the set, so it gives the people who want to jump and shout a song where they can do that.
The latter will be the real challenge for Fallon. While most of the crowd in Woodstock was there to listen to the new songs, there was that carload of kids from Tinton Falls who drove up for the night, and all they wanted to do was yell the lyrics of the songs they knew as loudly as possible, and then talk just as loudly through the ones they didn’t know, complaining that they didn’t know them. (You would learn where they were from due to their loud attempts to get Brian’s attention between every song until he acknowledged them; while on the one hand, doing so did shut that down, it also has the unfortunate side effect of encouraging bad behavior.) If he wants to grow his audience and career beyond the kids yelling for “Blue Jeans and White T-shirts,” he’ll have to figure it out.
Fallon would comment on the noise later in the show, noting that he didn’t mind if people talked (only to be quickly admonished by the kids down front that they actually did mind, which Brian acknowledged). Someone in the crowd yelled at him to stop talking, and with a charming smile, he told her in no uncertain terms that he would not: “My name’s on the ticket, not yours.” He’s cheerful and relaxed, genuinely grateful that people are showing up to see him play these songs, and as chatty and talkative as ever; on-stage chat in Woodstock would cover Transformers, an excursion with Laura Jane Grace to explore the creepy under-stage area at a venue, and how famous people smell good (“Bruce smells super-human exceptional,” Fallon confirmed, after the inevitable shout from the crowd mentioning Mr. Springsteen).
There are plans for the band to tour this project extensively; as seems to be usual for some reason with Gaslight-related projects, there’s a tour going on without a record being out for purchase (Painkillers comes out in March). Brian Fallon is clearly going to have a long, rich musical career for as long as he wants it. It will be great to see this band in six months or so as they get dialed in and maybe extend the repertoire to add a careful cover or two to the existing set. The tour hits the east coast for another few weeks, over to the West Coast in February, and back to the East Coast in March before heading to Europe in the Spring. It’s a show well worth seeing if you dig what he has to offer.
Painkillers will be released by Island Records on March 11, 2016, but the single “A Wonderful Life” is out now.