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. 

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