Monday, August 5, 2013

Live Review: The Gaslight Anthem - Brian Fallon's Broken Heart Ratcheted to 11 - Pier 26 - July 28th, 2013

"Oh, and I, would just die
If you ever took your CONCERT away”

For those who weren’t satisfied with the 14-song, rather rollicking, quite solid Gaslight Anthem set — hoping the encore would take things from good to great — at Pier 26 Sunday night: THAT is exactly what happened. Lead singer of Gaslight Anthem, Brian Fallon, became the overtly ultra-sensitive character he plays (and GA fans LOVE) when he writes songs, and decidedly “heartbroken,” usurping the carpet from under a few unruly fans, and overall a pretty poor audience in general. But, in a quasi-unrelated story, he also took a quality show away from those that love him/them in the process.

He more or less told the audience they ruined the show, and later wrote on the band’s website that they (we?) broke his heart, finding that record stopping moment leaving anyone with any sense (drunk, high, haters, etc) jaw-dropped in the awkward moment. It was approximately 55% of the Ryan Adams “Summer of 69” debacle. It was very real, emotional, and disappointing if you are a big fan and didn’t contribute to the chaotic melee. 

(Writer's note: The below Tweet/link is imperative to this piece) 

So, how did we get here?

It all started with The Hold Steady. Technically, one might point out it all started with the rain, but that happens at outdoor shows. I’ve been to a number of quality rain shows this summer, and that is something you have to deal with. I don’t know why people choose to deal with The Hold Steady. Apparently, they are one of Brian Fallon’s favorite bands. I must say, I’ve seen them a half-a-handful of times and they are one of my least favorite bands. That happens. Sometimes you have to endure through a set you don’t want to, even if you hope you’ve arrived late enough to miss them.  It’s raining and I’m listening to The Hold Steady. It’s still beautiful outside, the rain is not intrusive, and one of my favorite bands is eventually going to take the stage. Life isn’t too bad. Yet.  

My biggest problem with the Hold Steady is that so many people like them. Why? I don’t get it. I must say, I LOVE the lead singers stage presence. I just wish he were a silent film. I don’t like what he has to say, and I don’t like the way it all comes together. There really isn’t much more I can say about it. Something doesn’t strike me right, and when I hear the words coming out of this clown’s (again, I enjoy the spastic presence, but the guy is a clown) mouth, I just cringe. They were given an elongated set, or so it seemed, and quite a popular one at that. I feel like, as many people were there to see the Hold Steady as the Gaslight Anthem. It’s always kind of strange to move up 15 rows at a concert when the opening band leaves the stage. Right from the get-go, this had the feel of a split, semi-ambivalent crowd. 

Anyone that’s been to a Gaslight Anthem show at MHOW, Bowery or say Webster, would attest to the spirit. It’s typically a pretty unified, fist-pumping crowd, intimidatingly so, even to me, and I’m a big guy. I’m pretty sure I wrote once that I’d love to get more (or any for that matter?) tattoos, a tight black T-shirt, and perhaps some kind of airborne martial arts training to get my game right for these kinds of shows. Something like that, sometime. Anyway, the point is unity, and perhaps it was substance abuse (pick your poison, it was very obvious as I was sick all afternoon, and sober), the rain, the billing, but it was decidedly lacking on this particular evening.

The Gaslight Anthem takes the stage, business as usual. Vocals were a little low to start, but were adjusted in a timely fashion. Lots of energy, lots of Brian Fallon smiles, there was scattered fist pumping and, really, I think everyone was having a good time. The new material sounded great. I know Handwritten isn’t their most popular album, but there are a number of intriguing songs on it, and they play the new ones with more immediacy than the old ones, so they have a little luster to them. Boisterous “45” and the huge hook of “Blue Dahlia” were the winners of this set. Everyone sang, loud and proud, the choruses to these songs, “45” to the point that Brian Fallon could leave the mic stand and direct the “gospel choir” himself. All the usual GA qualities were present. There were a few old songs, at one point during the show Brian Fallon told a gregarious story about how everyone you see on stage is “just a bunch of guys from New Jersey in a band!? (shrug).” Towards the end of the set there were a few slow songs, “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” most notably, a rare cut called “Halloween” I was digging capriciously, and “The Backseat” brought the set to a close. Rock. I love it. Fantastic. I was having a shitty day, and it was much better for having seen this show. All I would like is a few more of my favorite songs during the encore, and I will feel really good about this purchase. This band. My life. I think of Snatch when ALL Brad Pitt needs to do is STAY DOWN.

Then, the encore happened. And, now, we’re fucked

The premise was solid. Brian Fallon wanted to buddy-buddy with the audience in a real way. Like a human being. Like the sensitive man he seems to be. He had a bottle of beer in his hand, with an “I just got out of work, let’s sing some of our favorite songs” kind of vibe. After all, he DID just complete a three-night stand in NYC. I do this with my roommates from time to time, when I get home from a long, long day of work and like to unwind with brew. He explained that he didn’t necessarily like the kitschy call-and-response stuff of arena shows, but, together, singing some classic hits can be kind of fun. So, he started things off with “Ice Ice Baby” and gave some whimsical banter about the man, the legend. The opening verse went well and eventually faded out at the word “dance,” to which Fallon lamented, expectedly, “that’s about where that stops.” And, pretty much, that’s the last moment this show was fun.

What proceeded from here was really awkward to the point that I don’t remember the order it all went down. I remember having my jaw on the floor and saying/thinking to myself, “is this really happening!?” There were probably several thought bubble “OMG’s” floating throughout the night sky, enough to cloud the delicious view of the Freedom Tower just off to the left. Because, I can’t remember the order specifically, I think the best way is to bullet the problematic proceedings

(Writer's note: I apologize for the spacing of this bulleted list. I've given up trying to fix it. The only way I know how is through the HTML, which on bulleted lists is just a mess.) 

·       Brian Fallon engaged in a back-and-forth with one audience member who said something about Bruce Springsteen, to which Fallon sharply throttled him with, “that’s a cool thing that happened to me, NOT YOU.” Swiftly ending the engagement by telling the person to “go see his (Bruce Springsteen’s) show!?” 
·       Following Vanilla Ice, he tried to get the crowd to sing Lady Gaga. This failed miserably! To which Fallon, kind of agitated, but still trying to remain playful, said something like, “wow, that is terrible, that SUCKED, we did this last night with a couple hundred people and they WIPED THE FLOOR WITH YOU!?” 
·       This lead to another back-and-forth with an audience member who obviously bashed Lady Gaga, to which Fallon went on a tirade, hilariously mocking Jersey Shore types that are too “tough” to like Lady Gaga, rallying the crowd around the fact that, “this is NYC, and even hardcore dudes love GA shows, because THEY like to have fun.” 
·       He didn’t give up, yet, on the sing-a-long idea. He proceeded to try to give the audience OPTIONS, hoping to rally everyone around his vision. Unfortunately, he didn’t foresee the progression he inevitably lead himself down. I don’t remember the next song he suggested, but I DO remember the second song was Bon Jovi’s (New Jersey?) “Living on a Prayer,” which he followed with a teasing, “orrrr,” to which the crowd erupted "Bruuuuuuuuuuuce!" If you think about it, there are two sides to this street. He pretty much teased this out of the audience, but anyone that knows anything about GA knows they are SO SICK of this, and wouldn’t dream of asking for that. And, obviously, this was the last straw. 
·       From there, he literally threated to, “go Axl Rose and not play another song.” This, I think, at would have been the right call. Perhaps in hindsight, Fallon wishes the same thing. 
·       Instead, like a crotchety old man swatting a fly, he said, “ahhh, you ruined it.” Like a GIF in my head, I cannot scrape this from my memory. I wish I could. 
·       He angrily slung his guitar over his shoulder proclaiming they’re going to play Gaslight Anthem songs, and played three GA songs with ZERO enthusiasm whatsoever, and closed ironically with the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
·       The band set down their instruments and flatly walked off stage.


(Writer's note: After completing this piece, I found an NPR posting a video of the actual event. I think it's ironic to note how far OFF my memory was. That just tells you how much of a state of shock I was in at the time.)

I’m a Huge Fan of Brian Fallon

Because of what Brian Fallon wrote in his letter about spiteful critics, I feel the need to profess my love for the man. I love this guy. The Gaslight Anthem has continued to climb the “charts” if you will of my favorite bands. Over the few GA shows I’ve been to the guy won me over hand over fist.

First and foremost, his lyrics are THE BEST. He is my favorite lyricist, hands down. Perhaps, I try to think of myself as too much like him. We’re both blonde haired, sensitive guys that are “cut to ribbons” by girls eyes. (I know this description is incredibly narrowing) Yes. We even pretty much have the same name. I just like the approach he has to writing these edgy hard rocking songs, with these almost flowery, poetic, lovin’ the ol’ times with tears running down your face lyrics.

Second, he seems like an awesome dude. I love how he smiles the entire time he sings, and after seeing that encore, it’s quite apparent that the songs really need to be sung with emotion, or they are really fucking flat. That emotion means a great deal. In that way, what happened was shined an illustrious light on that necessary variable. Besides the unconditional happiness he seems to sing with, I love his banter. He destroys hecklers with sharp wit. He’s obviously very quick and loves to use it. He always tells stories that are coy about his fame, and typically end with something along the lines of, “we’re just average guys that happen to be in a band. We quit our regular jobs and THIS is what we do now. Thank you for coming to our show, we’re going to work really hard to make a product that makes you proud in the future.”

I can get behind that.  

I will always be a big fan of the band because of these concepts. The ‘59 Sound will always be in the conversation when I talk about my favorite albums of all-time. The time I saw them at MHOW (A few months prior to Handwritten being released if I do recall) is one of the best concerts I have ever seen. I’m always going to hang on to what we’ve had and the memories I have tied to these gracious entities—whether they become muddled amongst the heap remains to be seen.  

I cannot wait to see Gaslight Anthem again.

I Get It, I Really Do

But, seriously, I’m now in a position that I HAVE to see Gaslight Anthem again. I need to see them put on a great show, or I will forever have a bitter taste in my mouth. I need to cleanse the Gaslight Anthem palate!? In the words of General Hummel, from Alcatraz, “Damn you (Brian Fallon) for putting me in this position.”  

With that said, I get it. From what I can gather, there have been little murmurs and slight disturbances throughout Fallon’s recent touring that would indicate that this is all getting a tad old. He’s tired of ungracious patrons of shows trying to jack his show up with inattention and retarded banter. Audiences are getting more and more A.D.D. with phones, camera’s and other assorted technology. You see so many people go to shows and just take pictures of themselves the whole time and upload them on Facebook right there at the show. It’s the new next day t-shirt?! And, when you get bigger, more and more folks come out, just to say they were there. Do these people really even enjoy going to the show? Crowds are so unresponsive that artists that rely on audiences for feedback, have to come up with new ways to “live in the moment” on stage. Like a standup comedian telling jokes in an empty studio. It’s very sad.

The band itself is CLEARLY at a crossroads. They probably feel like they’ve brought it upon themselves from the course they’ve paved rising to the top, but really, it’s something EVERY band has to go through, and there is no reason to feel singled out or embarrassed. I think that’s why there’s a “Rule of 5” for bands. If you can make it as a band through five albums, you’re a legit band. You’ve had to wind through a trend or two, and diversify your sound a time or two, not to mention the core human element of just living as a band family of human beings. People that change and have to spend obscene amounts of time together in close quarters, most of the time without money. There are uppers, downers, girl drama, and all kinds of life problems that someone in the family is going to battle and need support threatening to bring the whole band family production to its knees. It’s a real accomplishment.

GA is definitely at a point where they need to find something new for their fifth album, and Fallon has alluded to the band taking a No Code (Pearl Jam’s surprising change to a mellower tone) type of turn” with their next album. I would expect it would be more acoustic based, mature and eerily complex. I’m really fucking excited about it to be honest with you. Hearing Brian Fallon play GA songs solo, they definitely carry over. See you on the flip-side, sir!? Some of the songs sound completely different and will certainly have a whole new resonation with long-times all the way through first-timers, which is a rare and beautiful thing when bands can do that with their songs. My favorite band, the Foo Fighters, are absolute wizards at this maneuver.

With these things in mind, I think it’s entirely possible Mr. Fallon was in his head a little bit, and just became, honestly and purely heartbroken. When you’re sensitive, and live by the emotions on your sleeve and let your heart drive you, life can be a rollercoaster. As someone who lives this way, it’s definitely worth it, but at times you have to be able to coach yourself out of the very thing that makes life so amazing. You can’t berate your strengths when they become weaknesses. That emotional jolt leads one down ridiculous paths and causes the pot seemingly inexplicably boil over. When in front of an audience, even the experienced get frazzled and don’t have time to think through actions.

People with broken hearts usually don’t follow logic and make the best decisions. More often than not, a guy that gets his heartbroken will immediately try to fight for whoever did the heartbreaking, when in fact, this is almost never the right choice. It’s what the heart wants, but the heart doesn’t have the thought process to do the make the right move in that situation, which is almost always: Focusing on yourself and reacting indifferent to the heartbreaker, until they realize THEY made the mistake. It’s fucking that simple. It really is. Anyone that follows their heart first will make this mistake, and have to live by it.

I think that analogy reigns supreme in this situation and it caused Brian Fallon to make an illogical choice, punishing himself, his band, and the actual fans that were in love with the show. The very fans that realize the band supersedes the faulty, stereotypical, utterly ridiculous and unfair branding of a Bruce Spingsteen tributary pop-rock cash cow, and ultimately the show became crippled because of it.

I can’t say I haven’t done the same in similar situations (I’m obviously not a rock star), but in hindsight it makes it easy for me to pontificate to this laptop and discuss why it was the wrong call. In some ways what happened at Pier 26 was awesome, because it was real, and it solidified the lyrics in Gaslight Anthem songs as something that comes from a real human being, not just a talented writer, though if you’ve read this far, you realize Brian Fallon is that, in spades, as well.

Why It Was Wrong?

Again, I think the show would have been better if they walked off stage when things went bad. Walk away before you do and say things you don’t mean. But, Brian Fallon claimed he was going to, “play Gaslight Anthem songs.” He did that, yes. But, unlike what Grantland and countless others reported, they didn’t do it diligently or professionally. He played the material to say he finished his setlist, and to avoid potential pandemonium. What he really did is murder his own material. This is never ok.

I’m a big enough fan that I’ve been running the Gaslight Anthem pretty heavily in my music rotation, despite the disappointing aftertaste. Typically a bad concert will cause me to put the bands catalog on ice. After a poor Tom Petty concert, I didn’t listen to the man for five years. It can be THAT serious. I think just yesterday I ran through GA’s entire catalog twice. Hey, I am writing this piece, and my current love life needs Brian Fallon’s vulnerable vernacular. I did, however, skip three songs both times. Can you guess which they were? 1) “Here Comes My Man” 2) “Mulholland Drive” 3) “She Loves You,” yeah, yeah, yeah. (Note: Setlist included at the bottom)

In fact, I’m reading the Pete Townsend autobiography right now, so I’ve also been listening to the Who a great deal, and I’m skipping “Baba O’Riley” currently as well. That album just doesn’t sound as good starting with “Bargain,” though that may be my favorite song the famed album (Who’s Next). I just can’t with that shit right now. You can’t kill your songs. It’s like hanging with a bunch of people that suck AND aren’t much fun at karaoke (dealing with one is tolerable). Every selection they make is like shooting a flaming arrow into your collection. It heals, yes. “Mulholland Drive” is too good of a song to remain on ice. I’m not sure the other two will make it for me. I just don’t know at this point. It’s very raw and unseasonably sensitive right now.

When you kill your own songs you’re punishing your own fans. Why, would anyone do that? Do you think the hecklers shouting about Bruce Springsteen have the iTunes exclusive “She Loves You” American Slang B-Side? There is nothing to gain by playing a song some audience members don’t want to hear, poorly. Nobody wins. Everyone losses.

There has to be some options where SOMEBODY gets what they want. Honestly, the encore performance was so terrible it was comical. If Brian Fallon was truly heartbroken and he did this to punish people, I just think there were better options, than playing your own songs flat, and bitching to your band mates about the audience while playing. That’s what it looked like was happening. He wasn’t even really enunciating the syllables. It. Was. Bad.  

I, however, have some suggestions that would be more constructive, or more comical so SOMEONE wins and can gloat at those that lose. Isn’t that what it’s about?

1.     Play BRUCE songs poorly – You want Bruce? Play a handful of Bruce Springsteen songs as terribly as possible. I once watched Ben Folds bastardize “Brick” by playing a heavy metal version on just a bass, essentially sticking it to people that came to hear his biggest hit—Screaming, “SIX AM!!!! DAY ATFER CHRISTMAS!!!!!?!?!” It was fucking awesome!  Comical for those that knew what he was doing and horrific for those that wanted their live moment with that 90’s super-staple. Can you imagine like a ukulele version of “Born to Run” or perhaps a choppy unrehearsed take of “Glory Days!?” Oh my God, that would be hilarious.

2.     Play YOUR songsBETTER – You won’t sing my sing-a-longs? You want covers? Here are 10 Gaslight Anthem songs down your fucking throat, fuckers!??!! These songs fucking rock, we’re a great live band and nobody can stop us!!!! Play them hard, play them emotional, and play them without banter. Say, “we are Gaslight Anthem, you’re not, FUCK YOU.” Walk off stage. This would be AMAZING for the diehards!? It would take the voice out of the hecklers, and besides the extra work, be a pretty amazing thing. If you’re going to sit around, and post a heartbroken letter four hours after playing anyway, wouldn’t you rather do easier work like playing songs you know by heart? Make your point by playing your best show ever, and gain three hours getting drunk with The Hold Steady. You can win a crowd over!? I saw it this summer with Born Ruffians. That was a first; I wish this had been the second. Pete Townsend, to spite the critics of Tommy when it was initially not well received, invited all the critics he could, put them in a room, gave them free beer, and proceeded to put on the best performance possible, winning the critics over and launching the band into the next level of musicianship. That’s rock ‘n roll.

3.     The Andy Kaufman Treatment – Grab a Bruce Springsteen lyric book and read it to the crowd until everyone leaves. You know what? I think it’d be funny enough that not everyone would leave. Start with Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973) and see where it takes you.

4.     Poorly Executed Technology Gag – Have Bruce Springsteen call or record some voice message greetings and play them to the crowd. Play them over the phone in a way where everyone would have to be quiet (this would be a spectacle, possibly lead to a couple fights) to hear what he’s saying. The gag would be, he would never end up saying anything exciting. He would just talk about mundane things like what kind of salad he’s eating on tour.

5.     Bring the Hold Steady Back Out – I can’t imagine a worse line item, the Hold Steady cover Bruce Springsteen. Or, you could jam with your buddy’s, produce something unique, fuck around hanging out and having fun in front of an ungrateful audience. Why care if you’re just jamming with your buddies? How about a song like, “For All Y’allThat Wear Fanny Packs!?”

6.     Play the Same Bruce Song on Repeat – Again, this is alot of work, but Jay Z (mimed “Picasso Baby” for six hours topromote Magna Carta Holy Grail) and the National (played “Sorrow” for six hours straight) just accomplished it for the sake of “art.” Pick a song and play it over and over again. By the third or fourth time, I think people would get the point and it’d turn into a true rock spectacle. People have already started the movement, put the fuck you in the movement by sticking it to the haters, and giving the people that want something unique a little something unique!?

7.     Play “Fred’s Got Slacks” – Just once I want a legit band to play this. Not my most thematic suggestion.

I hate to say it, but I don’t know what the big deal is? I know ANY joke or reference gets tiring over and over and over again!? This has been happening for EVER. How about “Free Bird?” You know? I’ve seen two separate bands (Builtto Spill and Ben Folds, this is my fourth Folds reference in this piece, yikes) stick it to audiences that yell “Free Bird” by actually playing “Free Bird” in its entirety. There has to be a way to embrace your idols and be yourself in the same breath, but embrace your idols. Embrace where it’s gotten you. (GA has done this well, and even in his note he did this profusely) The comparison is a GOOD THING. If people called me Klosterman Zerfas or whatever and constantly compared me to my idols of writing, I would be flattered. It would get old and I’d try to separate myself from it, but I can’t imagine biting the hand that feeds.

Besides, it’s an unfair comparison anyway. Anybody that knows anything about music would realize GA have made changes to their sound over time and have proven to be a band that’s beyond the Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce shadow.

Why is this album NOT Bruce? A quick album arc of Gaslight Anthem

·       Sink or Swim – This does have some of the old time flare (records, Judy Garland, boys and girls being boys and girls) that I think helps the association. I just think it’s more of a punk album, more like the Clash. Not as much like Bruce.

·       The ’59 Sound – You can’t write a song like “Meet Me By the River’s Edge” and not garner Bruce comparisons. This is the breakout album that cemented this comparison, and even myself, on this day to a friend that hadn’t heard the band before, painfully, and with unintentional foreshadowing, dropped the Bruce Bomb. This album lead to Bruce joining the boys on stage. There is a great deal of diversity on this album with, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” a song that has the depth and guitar sound of an ACTUAL blues song and “Film Noir” which is a stomping punk rocker that reminds me of the Living End.

·       American Slang – Not at all like Bruce. This album has a tasteful whisk of Motown and plays out like a rolling collage of driving heartfelt pounding the pavement soul, with a full snapping fingers gospel choir, kids playing basketball turning their heads to the parade, and a road trip with a lot of bridge tolls. That may sound like Bruce, but really, it’s Brian. It’s too intrinsic to be altruistic. It’s a fun diversion from the previous two albums, without losing the essence of the band.

·       Handwritten Just a straight rock record. Bruce doesn’t record straight rock records? Sure, he has an “ooooooh” on “Born to Run,” but almost every song here requires a rock chorus of some kind of chanting vowel sound. I think Bruce would get bored, but I wouldn’t. It’s a damn good rock record. Like Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedos with bigger choruses and a divine obsession with the Ramones. It’s simplistic, yet effectively communicative.

The people that love you, know you’re not Bruce. The people that don’t, are too stupid to dignify with a response. You guys are doing a great job; I can’t wait for the fifth album, apparently coming out sometime in ‘14. We’re all eager, and I’m betting you’ll make enough of your fans proud that the Bruce ordeal will decrescendo at tad. And a tad more over time. Furthermore, I’m predicting their sixth album, whenever it comes out, will be even HARDER rocking than any of these other albums. I honestly am projecting a masterpiece. I think these guys have it in them. They will make a softer, beautiful adult album, and then, much in the vein of the Foo Fighters Wasting Light they will want to rock one more time before they get “old.” Razor sharp, reinvented and so G.D. effervescent, Bruce will join them again, and it won’t even be a big deal. Because it’s all going to blow over.

Unless you keep acting out like this. Then, you’re writing your own eulogy, and even “spiteful critics” won’t be able to save you. Enjoy the extra press, press your grown up button ups and get that fifth album to the press—you are the new idols.    

No retreat, no regrets.

The ’59 Sound
The Diamond Church Street Choir
Biloxi Parish
We Came to Dance
Blue Dahlia
Old Haunts
Great Expectations
Too Much Blood on the Page
Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts
The Backseat

Here Comes My Man
Mulholland Drive
She Loves You
Baba O’Riley (Who cover)

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