Photo by HENRY SAVAGE
Last night, fans of hometown hero Ron Gallo gathered in the basement of the First Unitarian Church to welcome his return in glorified house show style. As Coltrane deep cuts played between sets of bluesy Laurel Canyon harmonies from two Nashville-based openers Twen and Ian Ferguson, locals exchanged beers, handshakes, and tales of the last time they saw Gallo play the church. Having found his music a few months ago through Instagram posts from one of his tour photographers, I let these exaggerated claims of Gallo’s “indescribable awesomeness” feed my anticipation.
The band members emerged, each equipped with a Fiji water bottle (not very rock and roll, if you ask me), to a loud play of “Happy Birthday,” as Gallo passed a cookie, card, and candle to a dude in a red shirt. Wearing white overalls and a yellow beanie over his voluminous hair, Gallo marched into the slow and steady opening of “‘You’ Are the Problem” off of 2018’s Stardust Birthday Party, the keyboardist backing up the song’s meditative verse with heightened layers of distortion at the end. This new album brings Ron Gallo’s personal reflections on one of the most tired clichés: going on a spiritual retreat in California in an effort to find himself. And while this venture may have helped him resolve some sources of stress or anxiety in his life, it’s also taken the hard edge out of his music.
He took this theme of compassion to unironic and corny extremes, purposefully taking a moment before “It’s All Gonna Be Ok,” to look directly at the crowd and say with a practiced omniscience, “It’s all gonna be okay, no matter what it is. Really.” Certainly the pleas for love and equality in songs like “Happy Deathday,” or “Love Supreme (Work Together!)” are a mentality we should all strive for, but given the recent acts of immense hatred in this country, they seemed far too na?ve a solution.
But worst of all was the lack of connection between Gallo and the crowd, one that’s absolutely necessary when espousing such cheesy messages of community. The frontline of the pit was packed with wobbly drunks who couldn’t handle a few cans of cheap beer, a girl on one side of me inexplicably crying through the entire encore, and a dude on the other loudly yelling that he would piss his pants by the end of the night (I didn’t stick around to see that). Even when Gallo’s former Toy Soldiers bandmate Matt Kelly came onstage to play while Gallo jumped into the crowd, fans stepped back in awe instead of dancing along with him like he so clearly wanted.
Though the encore of “Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me,” and “All the Punks are Domesticated” – two songs off of Gallo’s debut Heavy Meta – nearly provoked the bluesy concert high I expected from the night, Gallo poisoned it with another pretentiously pensive proclamation that people’s egos prevented them from enjoying moments of silence. He still ended the night with a small laugh and smile, but the awkward intensity of his exchange with the crowd made me wonder if he had been spiritually overwhelmed by his homecoming, or if this were merely an off night for him in the monotonous routine of touring. — SOPHIE BURKHOLDER