The Horrible Crowes, Bowery Ballroom, 9/8/11

Almost no one I know cares about Brian Fallon, or Gaslight Anthem, or Fallon’s latest project, Horrible Crowes. I get it, because I came dangerously close to disregarding him myself – the first time I saw him, in an opening slot, he was yet another guy with an acoustic guitar from New Jersey dropping massively unsubtle “Thunder Road” references. (I confess there may have been some snickering on my part at the time.)

But that was a while ago, and I am now the person who buys the poster from the Radio City show because it was the first Radio City show, and who blocks an hour in her calendar to run down to the Mercury Lounge at lunchtime to make sure I will get tickets to the first ever Horrible Crowes concert, at the Bowery Ballroom September 9.

It is easy to write off some of the songs as sounding just like Gaslight Anthem, and the same pop sensibility and melodic habit is there, for sure, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The name “Greg Dulli” was invoked a few times when Fallon was talking about this record, and I hear that, too, the attempt to make the focus darker and less brightly inspirational. You will – and we did – sing along on plenty of choruses, but you sing along to the chorus of “Milez Is Ded,” too.

The Bowery Ballroom show on Thursday night was a breathtaking, buoyant affair. Despite this not being a permanent ensemble, the band was rehearsed within an inch of its life, or did a remarkable job of appearing to be thoroughly rehearsed. (Then again, while waiting on line to get into the venue, I eavesdropped on a soundcheck that was so solid I started to wonder if the band was doing some kind of press showcase.) Fallon, wearing a snazzy new suit, was proud and buoyant and a tad apprehensive, it seemed, as the band ran through a set consisting of the 12 songs from the album and 2 covers. He needn’t have been, because the crowd of mostly young Gaslight enthusiasts sang every word back at the band, with genuine enjoyment and appreciation. They were there because of him, to be sure, but this wasn’t de facto hero worship; they were articulate and clear about why they liked this project and these songs.

The set’s highlight, for me, was the trio of songs at the end of the set, the crescendo of “Mary Ann,” “Black Betty and the Loss” and “Blood Loss,” and ending the set with “I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together,” a masterful four song segue which was bookended by two covers (more on that in a bit). Fallon channelled all of his heroes, the Tom Waits rasp, the Springsteen soul shout, the Dulli growl, with the band behind him every step of the way.

I was sad that I heard most of the soundcheck because the covers weren’t a surprise. Fallon is the modern king of covers, at least for my money – listen to their version of “State of Love and Trust” or “Straight to Hell” some time – so I was looking forward to some carefully curated choices. He didn’t disappoint, with versions of “Teenage Dream” (yes, that “Teenage Dream,” Fallon talking about being the guy hiding in the bushes outside your bedroom window, turning the song into far more than a disposable pop anthem) and a mindblowing cover INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart” as the final encore.

I don’t mean to sound like their mom, but the Gaslight Anthem kids are fucking awesome. They take their fandom seriously, studiously, in an almost old-school manner – talking about how they had to buy two copies of the record so they could put one away, discussing the pros and cons of investing in a turntable (if you weren’t lucky enough to have a parent or other relative who had one to give you), and generously sharing tips on where to find this rare track or that early recording. There was the kid who came up from Baltimore without a ticket – “I know it’s New York City, but how hard could it be?” – the kid who wore a black shirt and white bow tie because Fallon told people to dress up, the girls from the Netherlands who extended their vacation by two days so they could stay for the show, , the father and son who knew where you could find just about any Brian Fallon-related rarity. It was the closest I have been to sitting on the sidewalk in front of CBGB’s and exchanging phone numbers and copies of my tape list than I have been in 20 some years.

At the end of the show, everyone around us traded handshakes and hugs and email addresses, while I was drawing a map for the kid from Baltimore so he could find the Joe Strummer mural on the side of Niagra and the corner of Joey Ramone Place. Rock and roll can use more of that, any day.