I saw Gaslight Anthem last night in D.C. Well, two nights ago, technically, by the date, but just a little over 24 hours. It was everything I wanted and more.
Venue, the 9:30 Club, got sweaty, but it was a pretty beautiful place, charming architecture with dirty floors. The audience was hip, and liked to mosh. Didn’t expect that but it thrilled me. There were action figures and red candles settled on the amps, kind of felt like what the set up must’ve been in their Jersey garage back when. The setlist was pretty impeccable, I could’ve heard “When We Were Young,” but they opened with “Mae” which broke my heart in just the right way. After that, a black scrim dropped down, showing a fierce bird/dragon emblem. I really appreciate their song choices. “Handwritten” tracks sounded fresh, those guitar melodies just sliced the air and locked in a revelry as the album would have you believe. Truly impressed by the layers and precision, definitely got the feeling that touring over the last few years have given these guys a good handle on the kind of riffs that can just energize a crowd. Bass tones were solid, I couldn’t see Alex Levine play too much from where I was standing and its mix wasn’t too balanced from where I was standing unfortunately, but sounded good if not too intricate. Alex Rosamilia and Brian switching off on lead guitar melodies works well, they really have different feels and gear preferences that gives you a good blend of metal-inspired riffs (fastfingers!! I watched them as close as I could over the heads and iPhones) and sustained chromatic notes that are all feel (goddamn those semi-hollows sound great, I would want one if I had money to burn and better shoulder muscles to show it off cause they’re damn heavy).
“There you go, turn the key and engine over
Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet…”
The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten
Dudes in the band seemed like lovable punks; think they’d make good friends if I happened to find myself friends with them. As lead vocalist and MC and de facto spokesman, Brian Fallon was not ashamed to be a jerk – calling himself a liar, and a bad friend, and yelling at some dude who said “Fuck You” after he had declared his New York Jets allegiance (“Isn’t my life terrible enough?” he shouted back). He told a cool story about Bon Jovi texting him (with a great line about filling 20,000+ capacity stadiums that to me revealed a certain ambitious insecurity I immediately recognized) that could’ve been seen as douchy if he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who didn’t care if you thought he was douchey. We all hear his songs, so we know he’s a sentimental old fool at the core. He didn’t talk too, too much, just enough, I think, to give you a feel of who he wanted to present himself to be that night. Guy seems existential as fuck, but if he read that he’d probabyl tell you that’s just my perception of him and I don’t really know. You could speculate, maybe, if The Gaslight Anthem will just be Brian Fallon someday — I’ll bet his bandmates do, given the media attention he gets — but I do not predict that in the near future because this band gives you a show, a mood, a scene, and that generally can be more profitable in many ways including the obvious financial ones.I would like to see them stay around for awhile more. As for his singing – he did what I’ve seen him do with live footage, tinker with the higher melodies to make them more comfortable, cause night after night that can get pretty taxing I’d imagine given how raspy his voice is a lot of the time….however, a gift for melody and counterpoint seems to work in Fallon’s favor here, surprising his audience with more complex parts on even the most familiar of tunes.
“Well, I wonder which song they’re gonna play when we go.
I hope it’s something quiet and minor and peaceful and slow.”
~The ’59 Sound
The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound
Older tracks, like a personal faves “We Came to Dance” and “Drive,” as well as an extended intro version of “Angry Johnny and the Radio” were rehearsed really well, obviously, to the point of reinvented solos and Brian turning his back to the audience to jam out with the long-haired bearded drummer, Benny. Benny did not seem like a super-master technician trick wise, but he was all feel, all dynamics and pocket and drive and push that really propels a lot of their song structure. “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” was so good to hear, so so so so so good to hear, even though they took a break before the last verse to give Brian a minute to talk about the ex-girlfriend in the third verse. Following a one-song acoustic break with the opener that I had missed, there were some cuts from “American Slang,” including the title track that made me want to run away and do all kinds of things and see all kinds of things and have no cares in the world other than what the day might bring. Continuing that theme emotionally and musically, “Diamond Church Street Choir” was dead on with the backup vocals and all. Actually I was really impressed with how they used backup vocals overall, including those of the third guitarist, Ian. Really clear balance and really retro at times, especially in “Here Comes My Man.” Love seeing simple harmony backsup in a rock band…again, retro and quite pleasing sonic-wise.
“They’ll find me beat down out in the universe
Though I’ll never forget where I’m from…”
~The Diamond Church Street Choir
The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang
Overall, they presented a really cohesive catalog, and message, and feel. Condensing four LPs into an hour and half show isn’t the easiest task, but you can tell they’ve learned what tracks from past albums have real staying power and played a role in crafting their sound as it exists today. You can tell they’re proud, and still having fun. Still in some shock at their fan base. Personally, I was unbelievably happy to hear so many songs I loved, get a better feel for where these songs are coming from in terms of both inspiration and persperation.
And of course, it just made me think about how different my life would be today if I follow different dreams, if I wound up at club after club and bar after bar night after night.
“And the only thing we know is it’s getting dark and we better go
And the only thing we say are the despairs of the day,
And if you’re too tired, go to sleep, my brothers,
And if you’re too tired, go to sleep, my brothers
I’m alright to drive”
The Gaslight Anthem, Sink or Swim
There is a lot more I could say, about these songs and how they made me feel, and how it seemed they were making a lot of other people feel — from the toe-tappers on the mezzanine in their glasses and vests … the youngish looking girl with a huge smile dancing her ass off to my left and the guy in front of me with the bald spot who kept turning around and looking at me out of the corner of his eye … to the big dude in the Menzigners shirt who kept crossing back and forth though where my friends and I were standing….and I could say a whole lot abot those people who stand so fucking still at concerts I have no idea why they’re even there….and what about those sweet amazing couples, hugging and swaying and kissing, so intimate admist all this ruckus? Quite interesting to me to the blonde girl sitting and nodding her head to the beat, (tour or venue crew?) so controlled and composed as she looked on from what I can best describe as a private fenced-off box stage right that I would’ve given a pinky toe to be sitting in. The romance, the lust, the draw, it was there in every corner no matter how disguised among the crowds of D.C.’s apparently varied population of music fans.
“Now do you blow it out come Friday night?
See if you wanna, you can find me on the hood under the moonlight
Radio, oh radio, do you believe there’s still some magic left
Somewhere inside our souls?”
The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten
There is a lot more I could say, about these songs and how they make me feel, about how many years I’ve heard this band and how that cutthroat honesty, unafraid of drama or cliche, gets me every time..a lot more I could say, but I have a sleep debt and a long, long week to shine on through. Here goes nothing, again – if there was any other takeaway from last night, it’s that truly anything is possible, no matter how frightening or far-fetched.
“I’ve never felt so strange
Standing in the pounding rain
Thinking about what my mother once said
Maybe I should call me an ambulance”
~The Patient Ferris Wheel
The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound
Sidenote: We’re going to see a lot of lists soon, it being December and all. I am a little too zonked right now (whatever that means) to process my top 10 albums of the year, but I will see that when I read quick briefs of album reviews of those I haven’t encountered, it’s really easy to make me not want to listen to the album, and that’s if you state the obvious. Lyric excerpts are too often used as crutches. Tell me why I need to listen to this and why it is better than anything else, don’t give me meeting minutes. Fuck if I know anything about music writing, though.