(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Live Review: Brian Fallon and The Crowes with Jonny Two Bags at The Rock, Tucson, AZ – 11th February 2016

By on Tuesday, 16th February 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

The Rock in downtown Tucson is a gruff and gritty dive bar, known mostly for its willingness to host heavier rock bands than other Tucson music venues. Many of the bands on the docket are underground metal bands or local hard rock groups, but last Thursday night The Rock’s stage was graced by two nationally-known acts, though each was appearing in a new and novel guise. Brian Fallon, playing here with backing band The Crowes, is best known as frontman for New Jersey rock band The Gaslight Anthem, while his support act for the evening, Jonny Two Bags, is the current guitarist for Southern California punk band Social Distortion.

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Having co-written tracks with Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness on two of that band’s albums, Jonny Two Bags (aka Jonny Wickersham) was no stranger to songwriting before he embarked on writing a solo album. But his own debut release, 2014’s ‘Salvation Town’ has an unexpectedly low-key “pub rock” feel to it, as described here by Rolling Stone. I had never heard of Jonny Two Bags before Thursday night, and I was only familiar with Social Distortion in passing. Despite my personal lack of knowledge, Wickersham clearly had a fair few longtime fans in attendance at The Rock. Several punters cheered and called out song titles, all of which were unfamiliar to me, but Wickersham seemed genuinely pleased with the attention and with the warm response his solo songs received from the Tucson crowd.

Wickersham played through most of ‘Salvation Town’ in his 45-minute set, opening with the album’s first single ‘One Foot in the Gutter’ (streaming just below) and closing with the surprisingly infectious ‘Hope Dies Hard’. ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Forlorn Walls’ were popular choices among the crowd, but the song that most captivated my attention was a cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘Lip Service’, which Wickersham cleverly disguised by crediting it to Costello’s given name, Declan McManus. (As an interesting sidebar, Costello’s drummer, Pete Thomas, also played on ‘Salvation Town’.) Well played, Jonny Two Bags, both in the banter and in the music.

Brian Fallon and The Crowes made their appearance on stage around 9:30 PM, with the lineup including Gaslight Anthem member Alex Rosamilia on keyboards and Fallon’s Horrible Crowes side-project partner Ian Perkins on guitar. The band played an hour-long set that shifted focus between Fallon’s new solo album ‘Painkillers’ and the Horrible Crowes’ 2011 album ‘Elsie’. The crowd appeared remarkably familiar with the new songs from ‘Painkillers’, starting right away with opening number ‘Red Lights’, especially considering that the album isn’t due for official release until mid-March. As for the Horrible Crowes numbers, Fallon mentioned early in the show that the band had been “waiting a long time to play some of these songs again”, and the crowd were evidently equally eager to hear them. All around me, voices sang along with every chorus in the set list and diehard fans alternated between dancing and ecstatically recording video on their smartphones.

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Fallon appeared relaxed and at ease on the stage, his boyish smile and improvisatory banter bringing a sense of energy and spontaneity to the songs, while the sheer number of guitars in the live arrangement rounded out the sound nicely. His between-the-songs monologue included a lengthy fable of acoustic guitarist Jared Hart’s proclivity for winning large sums of money playing dice along the Boardwalk. Aside from his dice-wielding talents, Hart displayed a lovely singing voice when he joined in on harmony vocals, as did bassist Catherine Popper (Molly and the Zombies, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals).
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Fallon’s mid-set acoustic break featured those sweet harmonies on ‘Painkillers’ tracks ‘Honey Magnolia’ and ‘Steve McQueen’. His obligatory Springsteen cover came in the form of ‘Atlantic City’, which is a personal favourite of mine and which Fallon performed with an admirable level of restraint, capturing the intimacy and urgency of the original. With their audience’s spirits lifted by that familiar tune, the band then broke into another popular choice, the rousing recent single ‘A Wonderful Life’. From that point forward, Fallon and company were in high gear. They raced through ‘Open All Night’ and ended the show with three Horrible Crowes tunes, finishing the night on a satisfying note if not a truly exhilarating one with ‘Behold the Hurricane’.

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Brian Fallon and The Crowes’ set list, 11th February 2016

Brian Fallon’s debut solo album ‘Painkillers’ is due out on the 11th of March on Virgin EMI in the UK and on Island Records in America. Fallon will play a run of live dates in the UK this spring following his scheduled appearance at SXSW 2016; you can find a listing of those dates right here. Our collection of current coverage on Brian Fallon is this way, and our previous coverage of The Gaslight Anthem can be found here.

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