“Are you saying Yorkshire?” Brian Fallon quips to a boisterous thousand-strong crowd crammed into the low hanging events venue at Leeds Beckett University’s student union. A pause, then a mischievous grin follows. “That’s the dumbest chant ever!” he proclaims, before he spends the next five minutes attempting to corral an ad-hoc, call-and-response song named for the county with his audience.
He succeeds with a ramshackle attempt on the fifth try and jokingly threatens to play it for the rest of the night if anyone misbehaves.
The New Brunswick native has come some way from the heartland punk, Springsteen-goes-Ramones mould that characterised his early work in The Gaslight Anthem over a decade ago; albeit not so far as to have reinvented himself entirely. Calling into West Yorkshire behind second solo long-player Sleepwalkers, much of his solo material carries the same heart-on-sleeve anthemics of his formative days; few charge out of the gates, however, in similar blistering fashion. It occupies the middleground between full-throttle and folksy; on a rainy Friday night, it is a dynamic he mines with diligent effort with solidly enjoyable results.
Fallon has always harboured a love of the melodrama threaded through classic pop and soul structures, and Sleepwalkers showcases this admiration in full bloom. Much of the record is unfurled across a one-hundred-minute set by his three-piece the Howling Weather; they offer a stocky, muscular R&B template around which the Motown-tinted If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven and the skittish, pining Come Wander With Me are built. They are big songs, bolstered with a workmanlike heft and precision; when Fallon unleashes his gravel-laced bark on the chunky rocker My Name is the Night (Color Me Black), there’s a rock-and-roll bombast to it that, almost insidiously, demands to be sung back with infectious terrace-level fervour.
It’s when he pivots away from newer material that deeper musical shades elevate his performance. A brace of tracks from side-projects Molly and the Zombies and The Horrible Crowes bring additional nuance, with a moody, brooding Sugar the highlight and an earthy bar-band cover of Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing spawns an eighties high-school party shuffle up on the balcony.
When he teases out a tender, piano-solo rendition of The ’59 Sound, the sweet sighs across the room are audibly palpable. Nobody does bruised romanticism quite like Fallon any more; on this basis, the torch, however familiar, still burns brightly in the dark.