Day Eight: The (Re)Birth of Brian Fallon and a Short Review of a Great Night for Rock and Roll in Philadelphia

by Tom Noonan

The first time I saw The Gaslight Anthem, they were the fourth band on a four-band bill at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.  It was right around the time they were finishing up The ’59 Sound, and there was a swagger in frontman Brian Fallon’s lyrics that didn’t quite show up on stage.  At this point, the band was hiding out in the Jersey and Philly punk scene, trying to tell a story not many people were listening to.

Since then, The Gaslight Anthem have released three stellar records, with The ’59 Sound standing as one of the best rock and roll albums of the past decade.  Within this body of work, the Jersey natives have bridged the gap between page and personality, and, when they headlined a show at the Electric Factory earlier this week, Fallon and company took the stage fully formed, brimming with cool.  The place was sold out.

They opened the set with “Mae”, a slower cut from their most recent record, Handwritten, and it came across like a mission statement.  When Fallon sang, “And we wait for kingdom come/With the radio on”, there was a sense of place and purpose to his delivery, like he finally knows exactly where he wants to be.  Fallon, as a songwriter, has always chosen to exist within the mythology of his forefathers: the likes of Petty, Springsteen, and Dylan.  His lyrics don’t exist in a vacuum; they are about how we relate to music and deal with rock and roll themes when they occur in the real world.

More than this, Fallon writes songs like Jay-Z writes verses.  Each one is knowingly reference-heavy and must be digested within the context of a larger mythology that cannot be completely understood with only their respective discographies.  For Jay, it’s both the self-made story of growing up Brooklyn and the larger-than-him story of hip-hop evolving into a significant cultural medium.  Fallon, on the other hand, places himself in the stories told by those before him: stories of broken heroes, escaping the past, and searching for, and losing, love.

On Tuesday, Brian Fallon gleefully took a sellout crowd on a tour of this landscape, singing his own words right alongside those of his heroes.  When he launched into ‘45’, the lead single off Handwritten, the entire room sang the words back to him.  It was a special moment, and one that Fallon openly reacted to.  After so many years trying to find his voice in a rock and roll mythology that seemed too big for him, Brian Fallon looked like he belonged.