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. 

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