When speaking of concerts, one can go see a choreographed stadium concert with a matching light show and un-personalized scripted stage banter, or one can choose to travel a few hours to see something truly unique. That’s what I found myself doing on 2.22.14 driving from Washington, DC to Garwood, NJ to see Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem and the Horrible Crowes play a solo acoustic show in a delightfully charming (Thanks Rick Steves for that adjective) bar called The Crossroads. To say the least, I wasn’t disappointed.
This was the second show of this kind in February at this same venue from the same showcase of local artists including Tommy Gunn (No, not the guy from “Rocky V”), Brian McGee, Jared Hart, and of course Brian Fallon. It was dubbed “Round 2” in what ads existed. It wasn’t highly publicized.
The Brooklyn Ale-filled audience was boisterous, yet respectful while at the same time thoroughly thrilled to be there. There were all kinds-a guy who looked like Jesus, some guy that looked like George Clooney going to audition for the lead in “Argo,” and even 4 guys who apparently decided upon all wearing the same flannel shirt. With an eclectic mix of fans such as this, we were all in for a great show.
One can come to expect a few things when seeing Fallon or the Gaslight Anthem in the NJ/NY area. First and foremost, one can expect the audience to know every word to every song. Secondly, Brian Fallon is always visibly more excited to play and brings a higher level of intensity as well as candor to the stage than anywhere else I’ve seen him play in the U.S. With that being said, Fallon occupied the tiny stage at Crossroads until the early AM hours.
After a swift greeting to the audience, Fallon opened the show with a barrage of acoustic interpretations of well-know Gaslight Anthem songs such as “American Slang,” “The 59’ Sound,” and “45.” That 1-2-3 punch started the audience out on cloud 9, at times singing over Fallon completely. As a musician, it’s a breath of fresh air when a show almost “plays itself” like that. That’s the feeling Fallon must have had on this evening. He could have just not played, stood on the stage, and told the crowd “OK kids, sing “Handwritten.” An atmosphere such as this for live music is something truly special to be a part of.
In between songs, Fallon frequently bantered with the audience telling stories with subjects ranging from working with legendary producer Brendan O’Brien to a list of popular songs with the same chord progressions. At one point a note even made its way to the stage to request a song. Although Fallon said he needed Alex (lead guitarist from the Gaslight Anthem) to pull off the song, it was humble of him to acknowledge the request and explain why he couldn’t play it. Many musicians would have ignored it, laughed it off, or possible even thrown it back into the crowd. That level of professionalism shows how much he cares for his audience in the spirit of making the shows about a collective musical experience rather than the spectacle of “Brian Fallon.”
After a healthy helping of Gaslight Anthem songs, Fallon welcomed his new side project band – Molly and the Zombies – on stage to perform some new songs. Of the three they played, the first song, “Red Lights,” really stood out as what could be a single. It’s part folk, part rockabilly, but yet contains that personal sensibility that Brian Fallon always puts into his lyrics to the point that anyone can identify with the words in some form or fashion. Molly and the Zombies have hinted at a studio album or EP, however at the time of publication of this article no official word has been given into the future of that project.
To close out the set, Fallon surprised the audience with some Gaslight Anthem rarities such as “National Anthem” and “Old Haunts.” To me, the climax of the evening came in the last three songs – a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and into “Wherefore Art Thou Elvis?” and closing with “Great Expectations.” The only time I’ve seen audience participation close to this level at a Gaslight Anthem or Brian Fallon show was at a gig I attended at Irving Plaza previously. If you’ve ever been to a bar in the Temple Bar area of Dublin, Ireland then you can compare that to what it was like to be at Crossroads on this particular evening. If there was anyone somehow not singing along to every word, then they were most certainly in the minority.
The songs were delivered not flawlessly, not without a mishap here or there, but instead with smiles, excitement, and relaxed comfort. We could have all just as easily been at a campfire. That’s what made this show special. It wasn’t scripted. When you run into an artist willing to perform in that kind of setting, you are getting a glimpse into the artist themselves rather than a rehearsed character. Through all his success with the Gaslight Anthem and the ups and downs that have worn on him from those experiences, it’s great that he can still sit down in a bar in Jersey and simply have fun with the music that got him to this point in his life.
The set list was as follows:
American Slang – The 59’ Sound – 45 – The Diamond Church Street Choir – Handwritten – We Came to Dance – Stay Lucky – Too Much Blood – Red Lights – Long Drives – Smoke – National Anthem – Old Haunts – Here’s Looking at You, Kid – Senor and the Queen – Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts – Atlantic City – Wherefore Art Thou Elvis? – Great Expectations
All photos courtesy of Lorraine Schwartz