“Why are you wearing a suit?”, one obviously confused fan ask. Brian Fallon had a fairly simple explanation for her – “Because it looks awesome!”. When The Horrible Crowes walked on to the stage at Bowery Ballroom on September 8th to play their first show ever, it was clear that this would not be the same type of show that The Gaslight Anthem fans in attendance were used to. For those unaware, The Horrible Crowes is the side project of The Gaslight Anthem’s front man Brian Fallon and his longtime friend and guitar tech Ian Perkins. This show at Bowery Ballroom, was in essence a record release show for the band, as their debut album “Elsie” was released a couple days prior.
Opening the show was Brian McGee, who played a 40 minute set armed with only his acoustic guitar and harmonica, as well as his commanding vocals. Walking out to sing an acapella song to start off the night to a crowd unfamiliar with the singer was extremely risky, but it paid off for him, as he immediately grabbed the attention of nearly everyone in the room. The highlight of his set was the dark, yet almost comedic tone “Hell Is Open All Night” which drew many cheers from the audience, especially with the line “Is that the boy from lower Manhattan who smells just like vermouth?”. Typically such a song would not be funny in the slightest, however McGee prefaced it with a story in which a young woman came to his place of employment looking for a man, despite it being closed. When McGee told her that nothing was open that late at night, the woman responded to him “Honey, hell is open all night”, thus inspiring the song. A more somber, yet just as powerful moment came at the end of his set when McGee played “That’s When The Night Comes On”, a tale about a friend going to war the next morning, made all the more real when it was dedicated to a friend of McGee’s who is a veteran of the Iraq war.
After a very brief changeover, The Horrible Crowes walked on the stage around 10 o’clock and went right into “Last Rites” – the same song that opens “Elsie”. This quiet song would immediately set the tone and establish that The Horrible Crowes are a totally separate entity from The Gaslight Anthem, despite multiple shared members. Brian Fallon has said that he likes to see The Gaslight Anthem as Springsteen, and his work with The Horrible Crowes as more of Tom Waits. While this is noticeable on the quieter songs, a couple of the heavier tracks blur the line between the two, especially with Fallon’s notable voice. “Sugar” had everyone in the crowd who had picked up the album a couple days before singing along “No no no, that’s not the way it goes”. The band would continue to play “Elsie” in order, with “Behold The Hurricane” next. This song went over extremely well with the crowd, particularly with people not too familiar with “Elsie” as it is one of the aforementioned songs that blur the line between The Horrible Crowes and The Gaslight Anthem. It was around this time that we also got the first bit of playful banter from Fallon, with him joking that this album was essentially him and Perkins cashing in on their sorrows and thanking everyone who helped cause these sorrows, most notably, the numerous women that they’ve encountered.
“I Witnessed A Crime” once again threw off the crowd with its heavy reliance on keyboards, but the large majority of the crowd enjoyed it. “Go Tell Everybody” was when everything really started to fall into place with Fallon wailing on the verses and the band really letting loose and starting to find a groove. “Cherry Blossoms” brought the tempo back down and allowed Fallon to display the softer side of his voice, crooning the lyrics “see all I can do is think about you”. “Ladykiller” kept up the theme of lost love, and really displayed the importance of Perkins in the band. It’s easy to forget how much he contributes to their sound, as he stays out of the spotlight and doesn’t speak much, if at all, but the intricacy of his playing is astounding here. Before playing “Crush”, Fallon explained that the song was about the worst kind of crush someone can have – the kind when someone tells you that they’d die without you, that they’d cease to exist if you left them, and just how unfair this was, because it made no mention of them leaving. After this, Fallon kept up the banter, and made note of how little material the band had, and so to play a full show, they had to learn some covers. He revealed, much to the horror of many hardcore fans present, that he liked Katy Perry and spoke about how he imagined “Teenage Dream” as someone singing while watching someone from the bushes. The band then launched into what was, most surprisingly, an absolutely amazing rock cover of “Teenage Dream”. At the end of the song, he remarked at how shocked he was at how many guys in the crowd not only knew the words, but were singing along.
The Horrible Crowes quickly went back to playing tracks from “Elsie”, with “Mary Ann”, easily the heaviest song of the night, next. This song features a very heavy drum beat, numerous guitar solos, and Fallon’s raw vocals as his screams about poisoned water and burning skies. After playing “Black Betty & The Moon”, Fallon again mentioned how little material the band had, and that they only had a couple songs left. Someone in the crowd yelled at him to make some up, and Fallon happily obliged him. Starting off with just a few notes on the guitar, the rest of the band quickly joined in on this improvisational jam that featured Fallon playfully singing “No Refunds” over and over. After remarking that that would probably be the number one video on YouTube the next day, the band played slow builder “Blood Loss”. This track starts off quiet but about midway through, explodes with sound, but in a melodic way unlike typical songs by The Gaslight Anthem. They then rounded out their set with “I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together” which Fallon described as a hymn that’s screwed up, because “well we’re all screwed up”. As the vocal part of the song ended, Fallon issued a simple “Thank you” and a wave and walked off the stage, leaving the rest of the band to finish out the track.
After a short encore break, the band returned to the stage, Fallon saying that they wouldn’t leave us hanging like that, and that they still had one more trick up their sleeves. The band then ripped into one of the heaviest covers of “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS that I’ve ever heard. Again thanking the crowd, the band would disappear again, this time for good, their 80 minute set over. The Horrible Crowes showed off the diversity and talent that Brian Fallon is capable of and played one of the better sets I’ve seen all year. Unfortunately, they only have one other U.S. tour date – September 14th, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, but something tells me that this isn’t the last we’ll hear of this absolutely wonderful side project.
The Horrible Crowes