Another good old-fashioned double-header for these old bones to contend with, kicking off with a Sunday jaunt down to Bristol for Brian Fallon, vocalist of those strident Noo Joisey blue collar flag-wavers The Gaslight Anthem, on his first solo jaunt promoting his debut solo album in “Painkillers”. Truth to tell, this one being billed as “Brian Fallon And The Crowes” had captured my attention somewhat, given that the man had previously recorded a quite splendid, more stripped back and introspective album with a “side project” as The Horrible Crowes (2011’s “Elsie”) in conjunction with his GLA roadie Ian Perkins, but to my understanding had never toured the damn thing. So I was hoping that this set would eschew any delving into his rockier, more dynamic GLA canon in favour of a sprinkling of “Elsie” material over his more alt-country/ Americana tinged new album material. Here’s hoping, but either way an intriguing night was in prospect...
A slippery early evening drive down the M4 and a parking-mare double-whammy (firstly my usual level 5 entrance to Trenchard Car Park being closed – apparently until 2017! – and then the machine eating my money, prompting an irked call to the attendant) meant I actually hit the venue at 8 in an uncharitable mood, not helped by finding the venue stuffed full early doors as well... bah, what an old mizzog I am...! Not feeling kindly disposed towards support acts then, but I have to say opener Jaret Hart turned me around. A soloist (and also a member of Brian’s backing band tonight), he played a gravelly-voiced set of bleeding-raw alt-Americana not too dissimilar to tonight’s headliner, with tinges of the honest emotiveness of Dashboard Confessional and a nice line in repartee (on selfies, and the evident debt he owes to Rancid for his music). Nice stuff, and preferable for me to main support Good Old War; another acoustic act, this being a two-piece (voice and one guitar) clearly in thrall to a more 60’s harmonic folksy vibe, they came across like a whimsical Simon And Garfunkel. Diverting (particularly the vocalist’s shape throwing) but wispy, insubstantial stuff overall.
Kept my usual stage left spot for this busy one – surely a sell-out on the door tonight – as the lights eventually dimmed and, unheralded, Brian Fallon and his 6-piece Crowes took the stage at 25 to 10. They kicked off with a couple of the more dynamic cuts from Brian’s solo effort, the bouncy country of “Red Lights” and the more strident, fist-pumping “whoa-oh” soaring chorus of “Rosemary”, proving you can take the boy out of Gaslight, but you... aaah, you know... Then we were treated to a lengthy and entertainingly bizarre preamble from the man, taking in compliments about Bristol, a critique about coffee around the globe and some odd comparisons to crack cocaine and hair growth (“I used to drink black coffee because I thought it would put a beard on my face!”), rounding off with a discussion on fellow Americana artiste Chuck Regan’s fishing habits! Strange!
This was actually typical of tonight’s show, as Brian treated us to a relaxed, open and inclusive performance (“don’t worry, there’s some songs included in this whole thing!”) and thankfully the set consisted solely of cuts from “Painkillers” and “Elsie” (hooray!). So the sombre late night funk of “I Witnessed A Crime” bookended nicely with a passionate “Painkillers”, before another discourse, this time on New Orleans and witch gender preference (“I guess I’m not an equal opportunities witch guy!”) and a splendid subsequent “Sugar”, which was a U2 “Joshua Tree” esque parched early set highlight.
After a lovely, touching mid-set double of newies “Honey Magnolia” and “Steve McQueen”, bare and tender acoustic ballads both, and a more anthemic “A Wonderful Life”, I confess the set thereafter trod water a little for me, before happily roaring back with a vengeance, with a growling, deliciously discordant “Mary Ann”, the spooky keyboard refrains giving it some chilling New Orleans voodoo licks. “Crush” was another highlight with some angular and deliciously circulating and descending hooks and riffery, but the best was saved for last; “Behold The Hurricane”, the centrepiece of “Elsie” and possibly one of Brian’s best ever songs, straddling both the epic and introspective, with a lengthy and discordant crescendo a thrilling punctuation to an overall excellent set; just what I’d hoped for from tonight, and how!
Straight off after taking a bow, no encore; so I mulled around, eventually procuring the last set-list and a quick chat onstage with one of the Crowes, who mentioned they’d be loading up shortly if I wanted said list signed. So, I hung around a short while afterwards, my persistence not being put off by stewards claiming the band wouldn’t be out until 1 a.m (yeah, right), and sure enough, at 20 past 11, my onstage mate popped out for a quick chat and a signature, promptly followed by Mr. Fallon himself for the same! A gregarious and softly spoken chap, I enjoyed a quick conversation and pic with The Star Of The Show before heading off for a late and equally sodden drive home. As I mentioned, just what I’d hoped for from tonight. Top show, Mr. Fallon, Sir!