The arm-length tattoos weren’t the only Chris Carraba comparisons evoked by Gaslight Anthem front-man Brian Fallon at the Black Cat last Saturday night. The love or hate one had for the solo show could come down to two simple questions, “Did you secretly love MTV Unplugged?” and “Do sing-alongs send shivers down your spine?”
I answer, “yes.”
To be fair to Fallon, the similarities to the heart-unveiling frontman for Dashboard Confessional only run skin-deep, and even there, it’s just barely. While Carrabba made/makes sure that everyone knows the contents of his journal, letter for tear-stained letter, Fallon operates from a point of narrative distance and nuance in his lyrics. Oh, and when it comes to tattoos, Carrabba’s bedroom wall-ready lower arms can’t compare to the ink that covers nearly every bare portion of Fallon’s body.
But when Fallon opened the nearly-sold out show at the Black Cat with a rambling seven minute story about people dating his sister, or going on tour, or moving out of his parents basement–it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a rock show.
“It’s kind of like this offhanded backstory that no one gets to see. It’s not popular stories — we came from regular things, not extremely bad, not extremely good. … None of us were, like, really, really broke. I never feel like any of us had it worse than anyone else.” –Brian Fallon in Express
Fallon and company have been hard at work recording the follow-up to the brilliant The ’59 Sound and it seemed like Saturday night was Fallon’s chance to get out of the studio, stretch his legs a bit and play a few songs in the process. Making a joke about the mystique leaving marriage after you woke up to the person snoring next to you, Fallon braced the crowd for a night bereft of pretension and full of pauses.
For me, that was just fine. Fallon is one of the easiest people to interview, almost to a fault, and the solo show was just a chance for me to get to hear some of the stories and random stories that should provide the basis for Gaslight Anthem’s new album, American Slang.
There was little polished or smooth about Fallon’s stage patter (yes, seven minutes) but there was something disarming about his soul-baring honesty. When he wrapped up the opening monologue and started strumming the quiet chords to Great Expectations, his first words were echoed by everyone of the voices from the packed house. It was a bit unsettling.
Go to enough of these shows, and you forget that some of these small(ish) bands are only a few songs from the top. There was a fervor that the crowd injected into these songs that was stunning. For many of us, Fallon’s songs of backseats, classic cars, a girl named Mary and kids who die on a Saturday night, these have been the anthems blasted from the speakers, with the windows rolled down, on a Saturday morning in July. Gaslight has yet to have a huge spot on the silver or small screen, but that didn’t seem to bother any of the tattooed punks from Jersey or flannel-wearing kids.
When live music can break down the barrier between the floor and the stage, and bring the audience and the singer to the same place, there’s something special that can make you catch your breath. It depends on who’s singing, but Fallon’s everyman anthems are filled with body and weight when they’re being preached like a rock ‘n roll creed.
Borrowing from all three releases, Fallon sang of blue jeans, sailor tattoos, and a soldier’s last letter home. He talked about trying to be a decent husband, after being fathered by a “crappy” one, and how he was only making a little more money than when he was roofing houses and working construction.
And then there were the covers. My fingers lost count of how many classic bits of Americana that Fallon sprinkled into the set. There were the standard swaying sing-alongs of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” the fist-pumping moments of “Ring of Fire,” and then the slightly bizarre duet of Tegan and Sara’s Call it Off from Fallon and The Loved One’s Dave Hause.
But there is little room for nuance with anthems, the tempo of the song is dictated in waves not whispers. While Fallon had burned his words into the minds of the audience, the crowd was more interested in reciting those manifestos than allowing the sheepishly-grinning singer to preach a new gospel.
It became less like a concert and more like what would happen if Fallon decided to come hang out in your living room for the night and just play music. The originals were premeditated and didn’t deviate (no matter how much that kid with the glasses might scream for Mary, The Blues) but Hause and Fallon seemed to have decided on the covers that afternoon with songsheets and tabs resting on the music stand.
It was a set that was long, sloppy, and absolutely perfect.
Hause and Fallon’s encore was all covers, closing with Social Distortion’s Ball and Chain, and leaving the stage after 1 a.m. Walking out of the show with a few friends and Scotland, it just felt like you had seen something special. Gaslight Anthem has firmly entrenched itself in minds and hearts, and with this upcoming release, it shouldn’t be long before that sound spreads to bigger stages. That’s a bittersweet expectation though, because Fallon occupies the small stage so well. He’s a 29-year-old who doesn’t take success for granted, whether he’s just hanging out by himself, or sending a sold out club into waves of moshing, fist-pumping fury (like at the 9:30 Club last fall).
But you can’t keep a good sound down, and the testament of The Gaslight Anthem will spread to the four corners of the earth.
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