SAN FRANCISCO — Singer-songwriter Brian Fallon has learned a thing or two in his two decades as a touring musician. The talented singer-songwriter rolled into the Bay Area Saturday for a show at The Independent and did not disappoint the capacity crowd, which was packed in tight and jostling for position to get the best view. The set was equal parts Storytellers and Lollapalooza, with a hint of An Evening At The Improv.
Brian Fallon ran the gauntlet, playing songs that spanned his career, the majority of which came from his most recent album, the stellar solo effort Sleepwalkers. He also covered his back catalog thoroughly, including songs from The Horrible Crowes, The Gaslight Anthem and his phenomenal Butch Walker-produced solo debut, Painkillers. His material took new life with the latest incarnation of his solo band, Brian Fallon and the Howling Weather.
“If you’ve never been to one of my shows, there’s the songs and then there’s the talking. That’s just how it is,” Fallon announced partway through his set.
His on-stage banter was nearly worth the price of admission alone as he told the stories behind the songs, had extended conversations with individual audience members, and generally went wherever his musings took him at any given moment. Fallon is genuinely funny, endearing and entirely confident in his interactions with his fans, which gave the 90-minute set an unrivaled intimacy.
Fallon kicked off the night with “Red Lights,” a song that originally surfaced on his side project Molly & the Zombies before finding a place on his solo debut. He kept the tempo up with other new songs like the upbeat rocker “Forget Me Not,” the bluesy shuffle of “Come Wander with Me” and ventured further back into the Horrible Crowes catalog. Fallon is often compared to Bruce Springsteen, the godfather of New Jersey blue-collar rock. Fallon’s razor sharp voice cuts through the distorted strumming of his Rickenbacker guitar. At its highs, his voice is raw and rugged, and at its lows, tender and vulnerable. He traded vocals with his drummer and back-up vocalist on call-and-response singalongs like “A Wonderful Life” and “Behold the Hurricane.”
He slowed down the pace at the piano for a few moments during the show, for the Americana swing of “Sleepwalkers” and The Gaslight Anthem’s “59 Sound,” which he performed solo at the piano. Prior to the former, Fallon joked of his apprehension about playing the piano on stage as it ultimately left him with his back to a portion of the crowd.
To close out the show, Fallon telegraphed his encore, saying he would “play a song, walk off stage for a second, then come right back and play two more.” Brian Fallon, ever the anti-rock star, described his dislike for the encore, saying it serves no one at the show except for the artist. He concluded his set with the aforementioned “59 Sound” and a heartfelt performance of “Proof of Life.”
The night opened with a stellar opening set from Nashville singer-songwriter (and husband to country megastar Kacey Musgraves) Ruston Kelly. Flanked by a pedal steel guitarist and an electric guitarist-singer, Kelly played some traditional country, mixing gorgeous harmonies with stellar songwriting. Kelly was self-deprecating in his stage banter, talking about mosh pits, black metal, having his song dropped from Kenny Chesney’s album—twice, and concluded his set with “Asshole,” an ode to his own arrest.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.