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Concert Review: Rock Star Unknown

Make no mistake, Jason Falkner is a rock star. In tight leather pants Falkner swaggered up to the mic in front of a packed crowd at the Middle East and announced that he was here to "rock Boston's collective ass." In a decade when "rock star" has become a dirty word among musicians, Falkner reminds you what the word really means. He's had enough gushing "next big thing" reviews over the past decade to wallpaper his L.A. apartment after every album. But with Falkner, all bets are off. All words fall far short of tying down the brilliance let loose each time he touches something capable of producing sound.

After holding down positions in other people's bands, Falkner became fed up with the burdens of bandmates and the record business. The only solutiion: Falkner set off on his own to capture his personal music vision. "It's hard enough to get the noises in my head out on tape by myself," relates Falkner. "Imagine throwing in a few conflicting personalities. It's impossible, and I'm not interested in compromising it. I'm just interested in trying to express my soul as clearly as possible." Jason's soul was on full display Sunday night at the Middle East.

Falkner began his set with the surging rock pulse of "Honey" that exploded into a fragile and sparkling dance of guitars. Unexpected twists and turns keep Jason's work unpredictable and spine tingling after endless listens. A song later, the funky meandering of "Eloquence" with the drop of bass line tumbled into sweeping and epic chorus. Backed up by a full band, the pure power of Falkner's music swept over the crowd without bullying the songs' pop intricacies. "My Lucky Day" draped the bombast of seventies' rock over the pop sensibilities of the Beatles. By the third song, the band had worked up a full sweat. The bassist was dancing and Falkner had struck enough Cheshire grin rock star poses to send fame loathers like Pearl Jam and angst mongers like the Smashing Pumpkins running for the hills.

"The Plan," one of the standouts from his new album Can You Still Feel? reveals one of the keys to Falkner's amazing blend of influences and styles. Upon first listen, the complexity and care given to songs' arrangements are betrayed by their effortlessness catchiness. His songs manage a deep and dense sound while still floating along with the joy of spontaneous creation. With "See You Again," Falkner slows the pace down with a flow of eastern influenced guitars floating above a lush backing of piano and drum shuffle. "I Live," the only song in the set from Falkner's first solo album, Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown, brought cheers from the die-hard fans. More of a straightforward rock number, the song grew into a crescendo of cymbal crashes and guitar slashes not present with the restraint of the album version. After 45 minutes, the set came to an introspective close with "Goodnight Sweet Night," gently easing the audience back into serene silence.

In any lesser hands this entire scene would be foolish pomposity. With Falkner on stage, it's a near religious experience. Writing, playing and producing his solo albums almost single-handedly gives Falkner's work emotional cohesion and an overwhelming sense of sincerity. According to Falkner, "It was a childhood dream of mine. I never thought I could be a great guitar player. I thought, why not be great at everything in my own way. I honestly never tried to emulate anybody." This work ethic has also given Falkner a deep appreciation for the creative process of record making. The theme of artistic creation frequently slips its way into Falkner's work. The best description of the final creating comes in "Eloquence" when Falkner sings "In this I see/beauty that goes beyond you and me." In an age where low calorie, disposable music is the norm, Falkner aims at creating a legacy.

Endless comparisons have been made between Falkner and the classic rock and pop bands of the past 30 years. But when pressed to put your finger on any direct musical similarities, it's impossible to find any of the blatant regurgitation with which modern bands have made a killing. Falkner laments: "We've had to suffer through years and years of clone bands. The whole quiet verse and loud chorus is really tired and sad." Running the opposite direction, Falkner taps into a timeless beauty and exudes thirst for life present in the pop bands that have managed a lasting impact of modern music.

At one point towards the end of the set, Falkner borrows a video camera in the front row. Joking that he "wanted to film the crowd to prove to my manager that people actually come to my shows," Falkner acknowledged that endless critical praise doesn't always equal megastardom. With the power, depth and beauty of Falkner's work, it's hard to believe Falkner won't eventually stumble upon the fame and fans to match his rock star moves. "There has to be someone who comes along and crosses boundaries and genres while still writing good songs. It could be me--and I wouldn't be bummed out if it was."

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