It’s fair to say I’ve seen my share of really good concerts, be it Frank Turner, Springsteen or The Gaslight Anthem. And they all hold a special place and a definite spot in the top 5. But sometimes a gig is not just good, or epic, or awesome, sometimes it hits you right in the feels and heals a little bit of your brokeness. Brian Fallon at London’s KOKO is one of those.
I had been torturing my stereo’s speakers with loud Gaslight Anthem noises since about 2010/2011. So when the band announced their hiatus last year I was indeed a little sad. But knowing Brian Fallon has had some pretty amazing side projects before (cue Molly & The Zombies or The Horrible Crowes) I wasn’t too worried – or better: I was hoping we were in for something like that. And here we are today. Brian has released his first solo record Painkillers on Island Records just over a month ago having worked tirelessly in a studio in Nashville with the man who also produced Frank Turner’s latest album, Mr. Butch Walker.
KOKO was a pretty sweet venue to pick for this show, it’s iconic, it’s in Camden, and it’s got an absolutely beautiful sound. We made sure to catch the support acts. Here’s a little bit of unsolicited advice: Always get to the show for the support acts – you never know when you’ll discover your next favorite band. I have discovered my share of talented new bands and singers at gigs. And sometimes you might just get treated to a little bit of Jarred. Who? You know, the guy from The Scandals? Ah yes, awesome!! I have been wishing and hoping for The Scandals to play London again for years, but this is almost better than that. Jarred’s voice is unreal, taking in the whole of KOKO’s four massive floors with just a guitar to accompany. He did tell us that he likes to sing harmonies to Katy Perry in the car all day, we all secretly do it, eh? And then he only goes and covers Billy Bragg’s New England. The part of the crowd that clearly has the same taste in music as I do is excited like a group of little school kids. Next up are Good Old War, an indie band from Pennsylvania who sing mind-blowing harmonies. If you closed your eyes it was a bit like a Simon & Garfunkel reunion, but with an indie revival. It was an early show at KOKO that night, but who really cares? At least you don’t have to stand around for hours and spend millions on drinks before the first support even comes on. Everybody wins. Well, except the hipsters.
Now on to the main man of the evening. We had listened to the new album since it came out, had our favourites and couldn’t wait to hear all of that Americana goodness live. Still, we weren’t sure what to expect. The sound was familiar yet so unlike The Gaslight Anthem’s (and not in a bad way at all). Brian Fallon takes the stage and unlike other bands kicking off with a get-your-dancing-shoes-on-we’re-getting-this-party-started type song, he breathes a super slow cover of Lana Del Rey’s Video Games into the mic. Eerie, and beautiful – yep, we are in for a treat.
The room is silent, and expectant – this can’t be an easy thing to do. But Brian does it so well, as if he was never meant to do anything but play these songs. We kick off with Red Lights, a song written for Molly & The Zombies and now rerecorded for our pleasure. I’ve always loved Molly & The Zombies, and thought it was a bit of a shame that the songs never made it onto an actual record. Maybe Brian heard my prayers, or he just liked them as much as we all did.The setlist is a well thought out mix of songs from the new album Painkillers and The Horrible Crowes’ album Elsie. The first third of the setlist is right of my top 10 Brian Fallon songs: Rosemary, I Witnessed a Crime, Painkillers and Among Other Foolish Things. Dancing and singing ensues. Songs that speak right from heart and songs that you can relate to more than you want to.
I thoroughly enjoy shows where there’s a bit of chat and banter (as the English call it) going on between songs. A band can be great but if they’re only playing AT you for 90 minutes, it can feel very impersonal. Brian tells us he waits all day so he can talk back at someone (after some dude in the audience complains about his chatter), he explains the rules (we play music and we talk) and the crowd cheers (more talking please). Brian also tells us how thankful he was ta how quick this show sold out when none of us actually knew what we were in for – we hadn’t heard any of the new songs or even remotely knew what the sound was going to be. But, in Brian we trust. And we were right to do so, too.
The first notes of one of my two favourites from the new album rings through the speakers at Camden’s legendary venue. That piano, uncanny. Sweet Honey Magnolia. It takes you into trance just a little bit if you listen close enough, hauntingly almost. “It’s so great for a band to play a song and the room is totally quiet. That really means something, guys.” Some guy shouts “I love you Brian” which is followed by the Jersey boy complaining that it’s never a femme fatale or the classy blonde from The Birds (Hitchcock) shouting these things at him, it’s always a dude in a rugby shirt. We’ll try better next time, Brian.
He then plays us a song written about his #mancrushmonday (or Tuesday, or Wednesday or Thursday) – Steve McQueen. Another favourite from the new album and dreamy one at that. If you listen closely, you can picture yourself in British racing greens, with Steve McQueen. Up next, another round of dancing and continued singing along with Smoke, A Wonderful Life and Nobody Wins.
After a bit of banter about Hilary Clinton’s press secretary (also named Brian Fallon), Twitter, the Bruce Springsteen bat mobil (we’ll all just accept the fact that does indeed exist, right?) and the most endearing shout out to Frank Turner (“Frank Turner is king, England you win!”) Brian closes the show with four tunes from The Horrible Crowes record: Black Betty & The Moon, Mary Ann, Crush and Behold the Hurricane.
This night at KOKO was truly something special. We saw a man who we all know and love from a band we adore, do his solo thing and it was perfect.
On a personal level, this was quite the emotional show, healing all kinds of wounds and restoring the faith that sometimes something good has to end for something even better to happen. Dear Brian Fallon, we whole-heartedly believe you are headed for Springsteen-greatness and we’re behind you every step of the way. Come back soon, please!
I want a life on fire, going mad with desire, I don’t wanna survive, I want a wonderful life.