The Gaslight Anthem / Heartless Bastards @ NYC 3/27

April 27, 2009

Arriving late to Webster Hall, I regrettably missed opening act Good Old War. I did arrive in time, however, to catch Ohio’s Heartless Bastards. The band is fronted by Erika Wennerstrom, handling the vocal and guitar duties. The band showed hints of promise during their last few songs, but the band’s redundant melodies and droning vocals bled together for most of the set–one best described as boring and uneventful.

In complete contrast, The Gaslight Anthem masterfully combined engaging melodies and roaring vocals. Beginning with “Great Expectations” and moving into “High Lonesome”, the band’s influences were quite clear from the start, borrowing from Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Counting Crows; by the third song, “Old White Lincoln”, they even touched on early Bob Dylan’s “Talkin’ World War III Blues”.

Also evident almost immediately is guitarist Alex Rosamilia’s tight technical ability, with intricate licks over Alex Levine’s rocksteady bassline. Rosamilia, whose primary influence is The Cure, lends an ’80s guitar mentality to a band dominated by traditional rock and roll progressions; the end result is a collection of songs that are deceptively simple in composition but are loaded with intricacies that keep things interesting underneath Brian Fallon’s vocals.

The band plowed through 2008’s The ’59 Sound, including the title track, for most of the first half of their set list. The band stopped briefly to reflect on their longtime desire to play Webster Hall, with Fallon proudly proclaiming “We showed ’em [that we could do it]!”

The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon.

The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon

Midway through the set the band took things back to their preteen years with a cover of Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust” from Singles, the 1992 Seattle-based grunge-rock film starring Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, and Matt Dillon. Classics from James Brown (“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”) and Ben E. King (“Stand By Me”) also received brief treatment, as did the recent song “Geraldine” by Scottland’s Glasvegas.

The second half of the set featured selections from the band’s debut Sink or Swim (five total throughout the night), including the haunting “Navesink Banks” and more punk-influenced cuts such as “Boomboxes and Dictionaries”. The full setlist:

Great Expectations
High Lonesome
Old White Lincoln
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
We Came To Dance
The ’59 Sound
Film Noir
Cassanova Baby
Wherefore Art Thou Elvis?
Miles Davis and the Cool
State Of Love and Trust (Pearl Jam cover)
Navesink Banks
Boomboxes and Dictionaries
Meet Me By the River’s Edge
Here’s Looking At You, Kid
The Backseat
Blue Jeans & White T-shirts
I’da Called You Woody, Joe
Angry Johnny and the Radio
Say I Won’t (Recognize)

The ’59 Sound‘s closer, “The Backseat”, was the band’s last track before a four song encore that split two tracks from Sink or Swim and two tracks from SeƱor and the Queen EP, the latter of which is home to the band’s final song of the evening, “Say I Won’t (Recognize)”. Drummer Benny Horowitz moves the song along at its various tempos, with the sing-a-long chorus invoking Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party” and involving the entire crowd: “We’re having a party, everybody’s swinging / Tonight won’t you come down / Don’t make me dance all night alone!”

With international praise (including a cover feature in Kerrang!, despite the magazine never once mentioning the band beforehand–a first in the magazine’s thirty year history), three radio singles, a feature on ESPN, and an opening spot for Bruce Springsteen, it’s hard to imagine The Gaslight Anthem remaining a backpocket band for long. Deservedly so.

The Gaslight Anthem's setlist

The Gaslight Anthem's twenty-song setlist, including a Pearl Jam cover.