Gaslight Anthem frontman brings his soulful Americana – and new found Swagger – to bear in Scotland.
You’ve got to hand it to Brian Fallon. The esteemed frontman of hugely successful alt. punks The Gaslight Anthem could’ve taken it easy. His band were cruising. A loyal fanbase continued to grow. The formula – ostensibly – was bulletproof. The call for “indefinite hiatus” seemed to come completely out of left field. Refreshingly, though, it wasn’t for fame or falling-out that Fallon looked to go it alone, but rather to completely unshackle himself from expectation and responsibility so that he could pursue visions truly his own.
Tonight, he takes the stage like a musician liberated. Loose in stance and banter, clearly whisky-warmed (“Welcome to Scotland, Bri!” hollers one punter, aptly) and pouring his soul into a set of songs that clearly have profound meaning to him, this is the Brian Fallon we want to see.
Early on, The Scandals’ frontman Jared Hart eases us in with a beguiling solo set; his country-inflected vocals and acoustic guitar sounding hauntingly spare in the ABC’s gaping main hall, but losing little power for it. Contrastingly, Good Old War seem almost too hip for an occasion like this. Bespectacled frontman Keith Goodwin might be a dead ringer for Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, but their music shares little of that band’s hooky mischief or laid-back warmth.
Fortunately, Fallon’s set arrives like a welcoming hug from an old friend. He doesn’t play anything from The Gaslight Anthem tonight – to the chagrin of some of the more casual punters here – but in his mix of cuts from excellent-but-borderline-syrupy latest release Painkillers, short-lived side-project Molly And The Zombies and the seminal Horrible Crowes LP we’re still taken on emotional journey through the songwriter’s recent past.
Nobody Wins, Rosemary and MATZ’s Red Lights drop early; tonally close to the latter-day output of his previous band and rousing the audience into full voice. Predictably, though, it’s the introduction of Horrible Crowes classics Sugar and Ladykiller – still deeply coloured by personal anguish – that cut beneath the surface. Fallon’s songwriting, on cruise control, seems to veer towards nostalgic Americana: filled with sepia-richness but prone to a backward-looking earnestness that could be seen as corny. Set free tonight, he wallows a little and songs like Steve McQueen, The Blues, Mary (not a Springsteen cover, despite sounding an awful lot like it could be) and A Wonderful Life more or less max us out on the upbeat.
Brilliantly, the set subsides towards darker territory towards the close. Smoke and Among Other Foolish Things ebb with plenty of Painkillers’ uplifting musicality, but they’re more lyrically nuanced, more engaging. And in the closing Crush and Behold The Hurricane (“We don’t do that going offstage and coming back on thing,” shrugs Fallon) we get one of the rawest moments of the night. It’s an excellent showing from a fascinating musician revelling in artistic unconstraint and all the better for walking on the sunny side. But it’s the added texture of those dips into darkness that make him truly great.