Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Brian Fallon Live at St Pancras Old Church

I think everyone experiences a handful of surreal moments in their life. The kind that force you to take a step back, shake your head in awe and say "Things like this just don't happen". These are the kind of moments we imagine are for the lucky, the privileged, the special - not for every day humans like ourselves. For some, it’ll be your partner proposing in New York City, as the snow begins to fall along with the New Year’s Ball. For others, it’ll be winning a couple of hundred Pounds on a lottery ticket you bought on a whim as you stomped home after a bad day at work. These things just don’t happen.

I myself have experienced just a handful of these moments: meeting the touring guitarist for The Killers in a Starbucks, after years of joking about how much he loves coffee; having Dave Grohl introduce himself to me as “Hi, I’m Dave”; touching hands with Bruce Springsteen as he sang ‘Spirit in the Night’ into my face. And I added another to my list this past Monday night.

In general, I’ve usually been quite successful in obtaining tickets to concerts I’d wanted to go to. Enough perseverance usually wins out in pre-sales and general sales, and failing that, there’s always a fellow fan selling a ticket or two closer to the date. For desperate times, there’s StubHub, where I tend to wait for prices to reach face value or below before parting with my cash. You can understand, then, why I was relatively confident I’d be able to get a ticket to Brian Fallon’s special show at the St Pancras Old Church. I’m not going to repeat how much I love Brian / The Gaslight Anthem - if you’ve read my blog or ever met me, you know. But then I failed in the first sale. And in the second. And in the two competitions I entered. And try as I might, there was not one single ticket going. But I was not deterred.

On the evening of the show, I happily waltzed off to the venue - a mere seven minute walk from my office - certain that someone would turn up with a spare, or even - against my better judgement - willing to pay a tout an inflated price. This was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime show, my favourite singer at his finest, and I could not miss out.

At the church, things weren’t looking promising, but shivering in my cool-but-not-warm, military Coldplay-circa-2008 jacket, I decided to wait it out. I had nothing to lose. What struck me immediately was how genuinely friendly the fans - whom I had never even met before - were, all honestly concerned about whether or not I would get in, and all wanting to help in any way they could. It took 3.5 hours, but I entered the show as Brian played the first note on his harmonica. Take me to church. I’ve already thanked the incredible people responsible for my entry, but I’ll thank them again - you know who you are.

And from there on out it’s an hour of worship. Growling raw emotion, the guitar and the harmonica. You rang on a Wednesday night / I was buried in the churchyard. And the hushed reverence of 150 people, too awe-inspired to do anything but watch. ‘Red Lights’ follows, and what was a massive singalong on Friday at KOKO, is now a stripped-down lament.

Never one to miss an opportunity for a spot of banter, Brian greets his audience. “I like places like this. I grew up with hymns, I like the old ones… not the new ones - they sound like Coldplay.” He grins and I roll my eyes. Then he launches into an explanation of where he got the inspiration for the next song. “I saw this interview, and this guy said ‘people say love is all you need, but I need money. Sure, it doesn’t solve all problems, but it solves the ones I have!’ ” I knew what the song would be, and sure enough, Among Other Foolish things sounds just as good acoustically as it does in all its usual glory.

Out of nowhere, a Gaslight Anthem song makes an appearance. It’s ‘The Navesink Banks’, I spent time ‘neath the trestles / with the punks and the dime store saints and I can almost hear the collective intake of breath of the members of the fan forum of the same name.

A few songs later we hit ‘Honey Magnolia’, one of my favourites from the new album, and surely this is the only way this song should be performed. It is absolute perfection, and topped off with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’.

I’ve never been to such a quiet gig in my life - many people whispering along to the songs, or mouthing the words, but no one daring to do any more. It’s either a mark of the respect of the fans, or perhaps the beauty of the performance has caused everyone to lose their voices. Never know. Brian is completely in his element, and unable to thank us enough for being there. As if we’re the ones who should be thanked.

‘Ladykiller’ is darkly fantastic, and ‘A Wonderful Life’ gets what is probably the biggest crowd reaction of the night. “Some people say some songs are inside guitars… I never believed that and then I got this guitar and I took it back to where we were recording the Handwritten album, and I just started playing this…” It’s the opening chords of ‘National Anthem’. I never will forget you, my American love. And I will never forget this night.

It’s a bit overwhelming the whole thing. There’s an air of something incredibly special having happened tonight. The emotion seems to be in the very air, and although the mood is euphoric, I'm bordering on melancholy. Perhaps that it’s the effect of the church. Perhaps that’s just what happens when you know you’ve just seen one of the best gigs you will ever see in your life. I wish I could go back in time and tell 2011 me, who had just discovered this album called ‘The ’59 Sound’, that one day she’ll live in England and some ridiculous things will happen, and she’ll see that guy in a church down the street from her work. But she’s never even been to England. And she’d never believe me. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Brian Fallon Live at KOKO, London

The Gaslight Anthem is my drug. My painkiller so to speak. I entered into a whirlwind romance with their music way back in 2011, after a casual peruse of the year’s festival lineups led to my discovery of a little album called The ’59 Sound. For months - which became years - I didn’t stop. I wondered how I had co-existed in a world with this band for so long, without ever knowing it. They filled a void within me that I had not known existed - their lyrics spoke to my soul. I often say that although The Killers are my lifestyle, The Gaslight Anthem are my favourite band.

Fast forward to Cape Town on a fine February evening in 2012. Picture me sitting on my bed, live streaming BBC Radio One for the Reading Festival announcement, to decide whether or not I should attend a festival in a country I’d never been to before. If Gaslight play I’ll go. I need to see them. Imagine the DJ announcing …. “Paramore, The Foo Fighters… The Gaslight Anthem”. Now imagine me screaming loud enough to wake up all the neighbours. I bought tickets immediately. I was going to see Gaslight.

Three years and four Gaslight Anthem shows later, I found myself living in London, where I was lucky enough to attend a show in Brighton, and a final one - before the hiatus - at Shepherd’s Bush in London. And then it was over for an indefinite period of time, and my heart felt like I imagine it would at the end of a four year relationship. I almost cried, but then I realised I’m a heartless princess of darkness.

Then came the whispers of a Brian Fallon solo album, and my ears pricked up. If I couldn’t have The Gaslight Anthem together, at least I could have something to sustain me. Unfortunately, when Brian’s UK tour was announced, I was happily sunning myself in South Africa, completely unaware that my favourite had just released tickets to a show 6 minutes away from my work. And so I missed out on ticket sales.

As soon as a second London date - the St Pancras intimate show - was announced, I plotted my strategy for tickets. I had to make a plan to get to Brian in London somehow. But despite my best efforts, both round of tickets sold out, and neither of my attempts at winning tickets were successful. I gave up hope, and resigned myself to the fact that come April, I would be breaking into a church in Camden.

But a few weeks before the show I did manage to find a spare ticket for KOKO (thanks, Jess Baker, I am eternally grateful!) and on the day I took a rare lunchbreak and strolled down to the venue. A quick scope around the stage door revealed that the tour bus was already there, and assorted crew members were hanging round outside. Now imagine me pretending to be on the phone whilst I walked up and down, feigning ignorance as to who these human beings even were.

And so, back at work I attempted to concentrate for four more hours before I could leave for the actual gig. Let’s just say that by 4.30pm I had given up on doing anything productive, and was doodling Frank Turner lyrics in the back of my notebook. When 5pm finally arrived, I hightailed it down to KOKO, picked up my ticket, and then inhaled what I assumed would have been a very delicious chicken flatbread from Pret - though I wasn’t in any state to taste it. I joined the queue, where I was entertained by a plethora of excited fans. “I mean… he has more guitarists now than in The Gaslight Anthem! Let’s see, there’s Jared, and Ian, and Alex… and cousin Frank…”

Inside - and 5 rows from the front - I met some lovely fans, who made me feel like I was part of something. One of the things I love most about music is how it brings people together, and there is no better example than when a fan community gets together at a gig.

Two opening acts later Brian grinned his way on to stage and then began to growl into his microphone: Swinging in the backyard / pull up in your fast car whistling my name. Huh? Open up a beer / and you say get over here and play / I’m in his favourite sun dress OH! He was covering Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ with such dark emotion that it sounded like a different song. It was brave, perhaps, to open with a cover, but when has Brian ever done anything the ‘normal’ way?

‘Red Lights’ was the first original song up, and boy did it go down a storm. I am aware that it was originally released by Brian’s Molly and the Zombies project, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that for most of the audience - myself included - it had been heard for the first time on Painkillers. And for an album that only came out a month ago, everyone was already very familiar with the words.

Next up was ‘Rosemary’ and I sang my heart out. It must be my third favourite on the album, and although it does hint at underlying sadness, it somehow fills me with hope. My name is Rosemary, and you’d be lucky if get to hold me.

And so we continued with a mix of Painkillers songs and The Horrible Crowes covers “we’ve been waiting a long time to play these songs”. After a hauntingly beautiful rendition of ‘Honey Magnolia’, Brian stopped for one of his typical speeches. “Have you never been to a show before, where I talk a lot? So it’s usually an hour and a half show, and I make dumb jokes and play some songs… and if you need a history lesson, well New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey, New Jersey”. He was on top form. One of my favourite things about Gaslight shows was Brian making fun of everyone from Obama to Bono to Jesus, so his sense of humour always goes down a treat.

‘Smoke’ was a definite highlight, and translates amazingly well live. It is astounding to see how seamlessly Brian and the Crowes transition from the slow and sad ‘Steve McQueen’ to something to upbeat. Although ‘Nobody Wins’ is my favourite song off the new album, I found the bass to be a bit overwhelming live, so I was slightly disappointed, but before I could dwell on it, I found myself being thrust full-force into a four-song Horrible Crowes marathon, losing myself in Brian’s screams.

All too quickly it was over, and I attempted to make a dash for the stage door, but getting out of KOKO turned out to be quite a process. Nonetheless, I made it eventually, along with a small handful of dedicated fans hoping to meet the man himself. In my typical style, I’d convinced myself that it ‘wouldn't be that cold’ and had opted for my leather-jacket-edgy-cool look. Turns out I was just cool. And by cool I mean cold. I was freezing.

I began to lose hope when about 70 other people turned up, all with the same objective. It was 10.30pm, I was shivering from a lethal but familiar combination of cold and adrenaline, and I thought there was no way in hell I’d meet Brian. I also somehow managed to make friends with the two guys next to me, and at least talking distracted me slightly from my rapidly plummeting core body temperature. At last - at last - Brian came out, considered the long queue of eager fans for a second and then said “Okay, I’ll start at that side, and work my way around” much to the horror of his manager, who was also considering said queue of eager fans, but with horror. “Move it along, guys, let’s be quick.” Brian paused his conversation with the first group of fans. “You can go, it’s okay, I do this every night. Hey - are any of you going to stab me? It’s fine.” Perhaps he had been warned about the British penchant for stabbing.

And then it was happening. A crew member took my phone to snap a photo, and I heard words coming out of my mouth, although I could not tell you how I managed to form them. “Hi! You’re my favourite songwriter ever. And could you sign my photo? I don’t know if it’s weird, it’s you… my mom took this photo at a Gaslight show in… in Dublin a few years ago and we thought it was a really cool photo so…” “It is a cool photo.” He said, signing away. And then it was over, and I was shaking so much I could barely hold my phone steady enough to broadcast said photo. And this must - surely - count as one of the best nights of my life.