By: James Wilkinson
2 March, 2018, 13:30
What were you doing ten years ago? One thing I can distinctly remember is seeing The Gaslight Anthem for the first time a few roads down from tonight venue (SWX).
Brian Fallon and The Gaslight were riding a wave on the back of their second, probably best album, The 59 Sound. The show had already been moved to the much larger capacity main room of the O2 Academy and it was rammed with excitement, people and expectation. That night, Fallon couldn’t stop smiling as the songs were sung back to him and his flowing charisma had us laughing with. They played two outstanding covers (Bon Ivers’ ‘Blood Bank’ and Pearl Jam’s ‘State of Love and Trust’), also they had one of the best supports I’ve ever seen in the shape of Frank Turner – back then armed only with a battered acoustic.
Leapfrog a couple of years and I caught them in arenas, such as Hyde Park, but while never feeling like a bad gig, it was always paling in comparison to that first show. Most recent time was back at the O2 Academy supporting his first solo outing Painkillers. That evening, Fallon seemed subdued and struggled to connect. Now whatever has awakened his mojo in the last couple of years we could all do with some, as tonight’s show at SWX was set to mesmerising with a side of breathtaking and a good measure of stunning thrown in.
SWX was full to the rafters as support Dave Hause sauntered on, introducing his brother Tim as sole musical foil. Hause quickly told us that while coming from Philadelphia, this was his fifth Bristol show in the last 12 months, more than he’s played in his hometown.
And it showed; large portions of the crowd knew the blue collared, impassioned songs word-for word. While not breaking new ground, his songs quickly become anthems, none more so than the irresistible ‘Dirty Fucker’ from his newest album Bury Me In Philly. (At this rate, he may have to rename it Bury Me In Bristol!) He promised to be back again with his full band The Mermaids; I shall be heading for that one and suggest you do as well.
On a stage bathed in rich hues Fallon confidently opened his show with ‘A Wonderful Life’. It took three songs before he paused for breath, gave us that smile and had us in awe. He sparred with the crowd. He was randomly taught about Bristol’s heritages of pirates and bridge builders. Then there were the songs. Where on record some of the tracks failed to grab you, tonight ‘Rosemary’ and company were transformed. Fallon’s current album Sleepwalkers may be his best since American Slang, if not The 59 sound.
The title track coda-ing out on Fine Young Cannibals’ ‘She Drives Me Crazy’. It’s near impossible to pick out the highlights. ‘Etta James’ and ‘Forget Me Not’, made you swoon and shout. Alongside them we are also treated to some Horrible Crowes and Molly and the Zombies (Fallon’s other dalliances). Then from the brief of encore breaks the moment when the show went from a four to a five out of five. Sat washed in greens and blues, only his voice and keyboard for accompaniment, we are spellbound for with a stripped and sparse version of the song, ‘The 59 Sound.’ No one in the room expected any Gaslight, even if we did, not delivered so poised and masterfully. It was one of those moments and reasons why we all would give up our Sunday nights, in fact any evening, for five minutes as perfect as this.
As if that wasn’t enough, Fallon brought back on his band, The Howling Winds, and the Hause brothers to finish the night with a raucous, yet spine tingling, version of U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’.
I went in slightly weary, close to cynical about seeing Brian Fallon tonight. Now I can not wait to see him again and am trying my damndest to see if there’s any way I can catch him in London next week. If you can, go!