The foregoing is a portrait of Brian Fallon.
Here are some things about Brian Fallon, lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem and The Horrible Crowes, and now solo artist with the release of Painkillers back in March.
- He is proooooobably trash. The attitudes towards women in his music range from questionably self-aggrandizing to reprehensible. All his love songs are written from a wounded crouch, casting himself as the victim of some woman’s cruel whims. (“Here’s Looking at You, Kid” is all the argument anyone could ever need against the idea that rap is uniquely misogynistic.) It is not clear that he has ever had a self-reflective thought in his life.
- He presents as charmingly self-deprecating, but when the rubber meets the road he’s tiresomely self-important. I once saw him play a show where the audience was very drunk and very douchey, the band was clearly pissed off about it, and the vibe turned sour. I left the show feeling kind of embarrassed about the whole situation and sorry for the audience’s behavior. However, the very next day Fallon published a multi-thousand word screed about what had happened that effectively killed any good will I’d had towards him (you can read about the whole thing here and here. It wound up getting some press coverage because it was so fucking stupid). He just seems to spend a lot of time engaging deeply with his navel and doesn’t come up with anything particularly interesting, but is desperate to know why you don’t love him anymore. It’s all pretty off-putting.
- In the same way that Woody Allen has been telling the same joke for 40 years and you either think it’s funny or you don’t, Fallon has been writing the same song since the late ’00s. Sometimes it’s fast and sometimes it’s slow. (Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down, sometimes it’s almost level with the ground…) I’ve listened to The ’59 Sound a million times, and to this day I can’t remember which track is which song (and I like most of them! it’s a really good album!) because they all sound the goddamn same. It’s true that most bands have a sound they don’t deviate too far from, but Fallon legit has a song and a handful of riffs, and he has been playing Jenga with them for about ten years. I blame no one for being tired of this.
- I have seen him three times now, twice as Gaslight Anthem and once as Brian Fallon and the Crowes, and not once has the bass been properly balanced. He likes the bass to be so loud that it’s physically uncomfortable, and for this I resent him.
These are all true facts and solid opinions. I don’t defend Brian or his compositions or his dumb, dumb lyrics. I’d argue that both Elsie (The Horrible Crowes’ only album) and Painkillers are musically interesting, but to anyone who finds Gaslight boring and repetitive, I’d say, “Yup.” It’s all a thing I like without a lot to that opinion; I just like it. Brian has one song, and it’s a really good song.
I’m thinking about him because I saw him at Terminal 5 last night. It was a pretty good show. He played most of Painkillers, a couple numbers off Elsie, and one or two Gaslight songs. He opened with a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” whose music I would argue is a much stronger ancestor of Fallon’s sound than Springsteen. (Gaslight and Fallon are constantly, and semi-inexplicably, compared to Springsteen. As far as I can tell, the reasons for this are that they’re both from the Jersey shore and their music has *superficially* similar lyrical content (unlike Fallon, Springsteen’s respect for women is constantly evident in his work and I’m gonna write about it soon).) Fallon looked like he’d just stepped out of The Outsiders, as he always does. He’s got the rock’n’roll look down to a science, and paired with his ever-raspier baritone, he winds up ridiculously sexy for someone who’s not that good-looking. (I, of course, think he’s good looking because I read The Outsiders too many times as a kid and also like dudes with pointy faces.) He engaged in some pretty terrible banter and joked about getting mixed up with Hillary Clinton’s press secretary (they have the same name – his twitter bio right now is, “I write songs and have never been to the White House”). There was too much bass and a lot of assholes taking video by holding their phones above their heads and right in my line of sight, and I pissed off the girl in front of me by asking her not to do that. I’m a cool old lady at the rock show, yup, yup I am.
But there was something about the show that made it rise above being just another pretty good rock show: Brian looked genuinely happy. He actually seemed to be having fun. He smiled a lot! He seemed totally content to just bang out rhythm guitar chords and sing lead and bop around the stage. He wasn’t objectively a great frontman in terms of his crowd engagement and such, but his enthusiasm was delightful, and made me more forgiving of when he’d say dumb shit. When I remember this show, I’ll remember him wandering back by the drummer, whacking out chords on the beat and grinning from ear to ear. He’s probably a douche, but douches deserve to be happy too.
I don’t really have a point here. When I started writing I thought maybe I wanted to talk about loving something despite its flaws, but my relationship with Gaslight and Fallon doesn’t rise to that level. I just like it. I like how the music sounds. I like how Brian’s stupid images land. He’s extremely fucking good at writing evocative and emotional lyrics, even if the overall picture they paint is actually pretty dumb. I like being annoyed by what a douchebag Fallon seems to be. I like chuckling at his near-total lack of range. I just like it. And liking stuff doesn’t always need a reason.