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Monday, March 28, 2016

Live Review: Sayonara Brian Fallon of Yore

Posted By on Mon, Mar 28, 2016 at 10:15 AM

click to enlarge Brian Fallon - WILLIE CLARK
  • Willie Clark
  • Brian Fallon

Brian Fallon is a snake.

Sure, it might not be the most complementary of metaphors, but it's fitting. During Fallon's set Friday night at the Great American Music Hall, it was clear that Fallon, much like a snake, is shedding his skin.

One would never guess this was the same New Jersey punk rocker who fronted The Gaslight Anthem through five albums, before the band went on hiatus last year.

Fallon and his backing band — billed as The Crowes for this tour — opened with "Last Rites " off of Elsie, the 2011-album that Fallon created under one of his side projects, The Horrible Crowes. It set the mood and tone for the evening, as if to say this show was going to be about as far from a Gaslight Anthem set as it could be. Punk be damned, this was the time for the slow and the sultry side of Fallon's musical personality to shine through.

Throughout the evening, Fallon wove — or attempted to weave — together songs from both Elsie and his new solo album Painkillers, which was released on March 11. Fallon was all smiles to see the crowd singing the newer songs back to him — it's a creative risk he's talked about in interviews — but it seemed pretty clear that most of the audience was already well versed in Fallon's latest EP, which is a testament both to the album, Fallon, and the dedication of his fans.

For me, Painkillers has been on near constant repeat. And yet, the show still left me wanting.

Don't get me wrong. What Fallon is doing now is good, it's just different. He played most of the Painkillers tunes pretty straight forward — focusing more on the slower, intimate, and acoustic notes on the albums — where I was instead hoping to see live, amped up versions of those songs. There's some real rockers on that album, and I wish he had approached them with the same vigor and energy he'd brought to The Gaslight Anthem's sets.

But he's shed that skin.

Even the two musical sides of Fallon that were on display were at odds with each other. The Elsie tunes (and I love that album, don't get me wrong) just didn't mesh well with the songs from Painkillers, and it led to a bit of musical whiplash. It didn't help that the Crowes songs just popped a bit more live, maybe because they are more rehearsed, being older tunes.
It wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen from Fallon, but this is the side of himself that he wants to show off now. Fallon seems to be trying too hard to distance himself from his own musical past instead of embracing it. There were brief moments that showed that same energy is still in there somewhere, it's just a shame that Fallon restrained it.

From time to time, Fallon's old growl slipped through , and even songs like "Sugar" managed to show some of that old Fallon spunk. And by the end of the set, with "Behold the Hurricane," some of that old energy started seeping through. There just wasn't enough of it, and it wasn't consistent.

The songs from Painkillers are still stuck in my head and, like I said, it's an album I can't stop listening to. But Fallon seemed unwilling to try to make them come alive on stage, leaving me wanting a bit more out of the overall performance.
And that might be the problem. Fallon is working so hard to shed the skin — and any musical comparison to The Gaslight Anthem — that this is the musical foot he wants to put forward now. So, fans of The Gaslight Anthem be forewarned: expect something different from Fallon's shows now.

Of course, different isn't always bad, but it seems he's very much done with his Gaslight days. He's done the punk thing. Now he's going to do another thing (and again, do it well).

Critic's Notebook:
-Overheard: "He wants to be a singer-songwriter, but he's not." Yup. Pretty much.
-For some reason, the band didn't come back on for an encore, which was odd, and something that almost never happens. I did overhear one of the sound guys say that Fallon may have lost track of time and ended up cutting stuff from the set because it was running over...but still weird.
-No "Mojo Hands"? Come on!
-Damn. I had never been to Great American Music Hall before. Beautiful venue.
-Fallon had a lot of very nice things to say about San Francisco, and actually had a lot to say in general over the course of the night, including an interaction with one audience member who kept yelling and requesting songs that led to Fallon taking his wallet out to give him his money back, only for the two to make up and Fallon to kiss him on his head.
-I was a little surprised I didn't see more Gaslight tees in the audience. Think I only spotted one the whole evening.
-And nope, no Gaslight songs were played. But I didn't expect any to be, either. 
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