August 10, 2009

The Gaslight Anthem @ Double Door 8/8/09

Out in a sea of Gaslight Anthem fans – especially those at the Double Door Saturday evening – there’s a meshing of two very distinct types of music fans.

In one corner, there’s the punk rock fans – kids who get their kicks from groups like Alkaline Trio, Against Me!, and the Lawrence Arms. Those bands are scruffier, edgier versions of their pop-punk counterparts that probably spent more time with the first three Clash records than the three hit Blink-182 albums.

In the other corner, there’s the always mercurial indie rock fans, who have been won over by the band’s roots-rock Americana and cinematic lyrics. The band’s working class image is the in rock-and-roll trend right now – it’s a template that they follow like their counterparts Lucero, the Drive-By Truckers, and The Hold Steady. There’s a simple reason for that: it never gets old.

The Gaslight Anthem took the stage shortly after midnight. By then, the club had turned into a sweatbox. Any hopes of recycling a pair of pants or t-shirt for the next day were dashed. Those in the first few rows were dripping from head to toe – it was overwhelmingly soggy.

For a band with as much positive buzz as The Gaslight Anthem, it’s hard to believe that they’d be anything but a sure-thing live act. In that category, they disappoint.

Rock and roll to me, comes from the interactivity. I enjoy watching frontmen like Eddie Argos of Art Brut treat his songs as if they were his own personal theater, jumping into the crowd, faux-sulking while sitting on a monitor, and acting as if his band members are just some second-rate session musicians carrying out his bidding.

So, it’s was a bit maddening as a concertgoer to watch The Gaslight Anthem with a such a short range of motion. Strumming the guitar and occasionally playing to the drummer caused my mind to wander more than I hoped. There’s a barometer I carry to measure my enjoyment level at a show: my cell phone. If it’s out, and I’m texting someone, the performer’s lost me. If you don’t see it, we’ll, let’s just say, I make myself seen.

Despite the glaring shortcomings, the heroic chords of “High Lonesome” were an inspiring open to the set, supercharging the crowd worn out by the heat. “And Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand/I always kind of sort of wished I looked like Elvis”, vocalist/guitarist Brian Fallon sang. It’s funny, because it’s true.

On stage, he and bassist Alex Levine are a study in contrast to their counterparts, guitarist Alex Rosamilia and drummer Benny Horowitz. Fallon and Levine have adopted a nu-greaser look – short, high and tight haircuts and white tees and Dickies – while the other two deliberately eschew it for more modern stylings.


Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem

The set was culled heavily from the band’s breakout disc, last year’s The ’59 Sound, and a generous heaping of songs from the band’s more aggressive debut disc, 2007’s Sink or Swim. The reason for this, explained Fallon, that after 50 festival shows, the band was excited to be playing another club show.

Despite the band’s lingering greenness, there were moments of brilliance. “The ’59 Sound”, propulsive guitars, huge chorus and all made standing in the heat worth it. The mixture of the stage lights, pumping fists and the room screaming at the top of it’s lungs was a classic rock show moment. Ditto for “Great Expectations”, which produced a similar, equally passionate response.

Then came the lasting image of the evening. The set closing tune “The Backseat” (which Fallon called ‘Backseats’ – Springsteen nod?). As a crowd surfer made his way towards the front, the song climaxed at the chorus, the surfer rose on his hands and knees, mere feet from Fallon, screaming along the words: “In the backseats/we just try to find some room to breathe”.

For those fleeting moments, The Gaslight Anthem’s deficiences were forgotten. Both fan and artist were just two people sharing the same experience: The pure, infectious energy of rock and roll.

Exactly how it should be.