Since the release of their sophomore full-length,The ’59 Sound, I’ve been looking to see The Gaslight Anthem perform live–and what better place than in their New Brunswick hometown? Fellow North Jersey punks Let Me Run and New York City’s The King Left supported; Polar Bear Club, on the bill, canceled last minute due to van troubles.
Let Me Run opened the evening at Rutgers University’s Cook Campus Center. The band’s songs were brightly accented by a winding lead guitar, cutting through and overpowering the band’s otherwise simple progressions and rhythms. Strong vocals and big hooks add to the punch, and it’s hard not to recommend checking the band out live. The same can’t be said for their demo EP, handed out for free after their set; in the studio, they unfortunately don’t come off with the same aggression and tight sound, and it’s instantly forgettable. Hopefully their upcoming album on XOXO Records (former home of The Gaslight Anthem) is well-focused and potent, because the four-piece certainly shows talent and unexplored potential.
The King Left took the stage soon after, their sound quite different from that of Let Me Run. Inspired by the latest wave of throwback British indie bands, The King Left showcased musical talent and ability but ultimately proved to be too boring. Exciting songs suffered from excessive repetition without introducing anything worthwhile during the drawn out instrumentals. The band has toured with the likes of We Are Scientists, Secret Machines, and Tokyo Police Club; certainly their sound is comparable, but it is ultimately much less refined and not as appealing. Like Let Me Run, however, the band is young and shows much promise.
Introduced to the blue-collar punk-rock quartet last New Year’s Eve, I had the greatest expectations for The Gaslight Anthem. In a thus far docile crowd lurked at least fifty-dedicated Gaslight fans; they came to dance, ready to sing every one of frontman Brian Fallon’s lyrics. “Mary, this station is playing every sad song, I remember like we were alive” were his first words (from The ’59 Sound‘s first track, “Great Expectations”), and the crowd was immediately hooked.
The band wears their New Jersey influences proud, drawing from Bruce Springsteen to The Bouncing Souls, with stops on board with other influential artists across the map (and century) including Alkaline Trio and Otis Redding. The integration and synergy between rock legends and underground punk has never sounded so authentic, meaningful, or pure. By the time the band begins “Miles Davis and the Cool” (a nod to yet another of the band’s influences), a glance around the audience reveals a unifying thought on the minds of every new listener:
There’s something reassuringly familiar about The Gaslight Anthem, but at the same time it is incredibly new and exciting. No one dared look away during the band’s near two hour performance that spanned across their three release discography. The band played extremely well, with tight guitars and a solid rhythm section holding the band’s sound in place while Fallon sang his heart out. The vocals were mixed a bit low, and the room’s sound left much to be desired, but it hardly detracted from a band that clicked so well through their twenty song set:
We Came to Dance
I’da Call You Woody, Joe
Angry Johnny On the Radio
The ‘59 Sound
Señor and the Queen
Old White Lincoln
Miles Davis & the Cool
Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Say I Won’t (Recognize)
The Patient Ferris Wheel
The Navesink Banks
I Coulda Been a Contender
Throughout the set Fallon told tales of the band’s recent trip to Australia, describing a fortune-teller who would tell the band fortunes for a nominal fee–but not the band’s fortunes, merely the fortunes of strangers in other parts of the country. Anecdotes like these filled the evening, the band joking with the crowd like the room was filled with old friends.
The band will open for Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, and Thrice for a fall tour, completing what could possibly be the best four-band lineup of 2008. If their performance at Rutgers is any indication, expect the band to hold their own on that monster bill of proven veterans.