Sunday, October 19, 2008

‘Dance Upon the Architecture’: The Gaslight Anthem, Live in Virginia Beach, 10.18.08

In the current issue of Alternative Press, The Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon says the music he writes is intended to help lift people’s spirits in these turbulent times and remind them life is something to still be enjoyed.

Those aren’t empty words.

Saturday night Fallon and his bandmates put on an incredible live show at The Jewish Mother restaurant in Virginia Beach, the most fun I’ve had at a concert since Fallon’s musical hero, Bruce Springsteen, brought his Seeger Sessions Band to the D.C. area two years ago.

Gaslight have been the opening band of a four-act punk tour this fall headlined by Rise Against, so they used this off night in the schedule to, as Fallon put it, “get a workout” as headliners again. The Jewish Mother, a longstanding Va. Beach establishment, is the smallest place I’ve ever seen a concert—there couldn’t have been more than 150 people crammed into the tiny room (if that), and the place could barely contain the band. Seeing such an accomplished group in such a small place was a rare treat. I can’t wait to hear these guys again through a soundsystem that actually works.

One of the things that struck me the most about Saturday’s show was how much fun the bandmembers seemed to be having. Fallon, of course, was into it—he’s a terrific lead. But we were standing just off the corner of the stage next to bassist Alex Levine, and he was grinning widely the entire night; once I glanced back at drummer Benny Horowitz (who at one point flung a splintered drumstick that hit my wife—a well-earned souvenir), and he was singing along for all he was worth … and he didn’t even have a mic!

And the music … wow. The new songs are incredible, and this show cemented a notion I’d already basically acknowledged: “The ’59 Sound” is even better than the band’s 2007 debut, “Sink or Swim”—and the three tracks they didn’t play off the new album are a trio of my favorites (wherefor art thou, "Meet Me By the River's Edge"?). I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that all of the 18 songs played Saturday night were excellent; there was simply no letup the entire way as they powered through a 75-minute set. Forced to pick a favorite section, I’d definitely point to the three-fer of “We Came to Dance”/“Miles Davis and the Cool”/“The ’59 Sound.” “Dance” is my favorite track from “Sink or Swim,” and it kills live; the final minute of “Miles Davis” simply exploded off the stage; and, my goodness, “The ’59 Sound” is just … amazing—it got the strongest reaction from the crowd last night and was one of the most powerful moments of the show.

Other favorite moments include:

• Throwing a snippet of The National’s “Start a War” into the middle of “Old White Lincoln”
• “The Patient Ferris Wheel”—This might be my least favorite track on the new album (it's kinda like asking to pick your least favorite child …), but it is insanely good played in front of an audience
• Fallon’s intro to “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” was honest and unassuming (a description that could be applied to the entire night—what a refreshing change to see a band set up their gear in 10 minutes and just play); he said he spends more time than any normal person should visiting New Jersey haunts cited in Springsteen songs and trying to recreate for himself what The Boss saw in those places—this song was written for the Asbury Lanes bowling alley
• “The Backseat” is a brilliant set closer, the final minute building to a perfect climax for both the record and the concert.

And then there’s “Senor and the Queen.” At just two minutes long, this song comes and goes so quickly it’s easy to miss what a finely written lyric it offers; Fallon’s vocals were very clear during this one last night, and the second stanza stood out as particularly brilliant:

And in every sad, sad country song
Is there a little bitty piece of ’em still hanging on?
You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine, my dear
Then we’ll bury these old ghosts here

No better summary could there be of what The Gaslight Anthem are all about, both on record and in concert. Saturday night was just pure, authentic, unadulterated … joy.

The Gaslight Anthem
The Jewish Mother
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Great Expectations
Casanova, Baby!
Old White Lincoln/Start a War (snippet)
We Came to Dance
Miles Davis and the Cool
The ’59 Sound
High Lonesome
Angry Johnny and the Radio/What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (snippet)
Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts
Senor and the Queen
I Coulda Been a Contender
The Backseat

The Patient Ferris Wheel
Here’s Looking at You, Kid
Say I Won’t (Recognize)

***On a final note: Fallon hung around outside the venue for a little while after the show, chatting with friends and fans. The guy could not have been nicer or more down to earth; talking to him, you’d never know he’s fronting one of the hottest bands in the country right now. We talked for five minutes or so and he was just, you know, a regular guy. Again, refreshing.

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