Saturday, May 09, 2009

‘Some Rest for These Tired Working Fingers’: The Gaslight Anthem Live in Towson, 5.7.09

Nearing the end of their biggest headlining tour to date, I’ll forgive The Gaslight Anthem for being a bit tired and punchy.

Thursday night’s show at the Recher Theatre in Towson, Maryland, showed a little of the wear and tear of life on the road. The performance was good and fun, but not great, lacking that certain hunger and fire I’ve seen from them before.

Much of it had to do with frontman Brian Fallon, whose voice was certainly not in tip-top shape. It usually takes a few songs for his cords to warm up, but Thursday night they stayed in neutral. For the entire 75-minute show, he rarely ventured into his upper register, taking the high notes on songs like “High Lonesome” and “Old White Lincoln” down, instead. Those highs are pure energy to the crowd, so when Fallon can’t hit them, the momentum suffers.

Fallon’s treatment of the songs was a bit sloppy, too: He sorta wandered through the lines, rather than hitting them crisply, which also added to the general ramshackle sense of the evening. He was in a playful mood, which is good in its own right, but I always prefer serious and intense to jokey and loose.

The tour ends this weekend with shows Friday and Saturday nights at the legendary Stone Pony in Gaslight’s New Jersey home, so I understand how maybe Towson was treated with a more workmanlike attitude. After seeing them six weeks ago in Philly at the beginning of this cross-country tour, to me they just looked a little worn out and ready to be going home.

So those are the complaints of an admittedly spoiled Gaslight Anthem fan who maybe suffered himself simply from seeing the same band three times in six months. All that nitpicking notwithstanding, the show was still a ton of fun. Like a select few of my other favorite live bands (Pearl Jam, namely), any Gaslight show is still better than most other bands you’ll find, period. If it had been the first time seeing them, I probably wouldn’t have noticed a thing—but when you know a band is capable of transcendence, being merely good suffers a little by comparison. The songs are so great, though, they carry the band even when it might be feeling off. Look at the set below and try to find a weak spot in that run. Let me save you the time: There isn’t one.

A few things particularly stuck out Thursday night: The intro to “Film Noir” is really extended now, almost like its own song. Very good to see them building room to breathe inside songs they’ve been playing over and over for nearly a year now. The same was true for “Navesink Banks” (cool heavier outro), “The Backseat,” and “Angry Johnny” (and probably a few other spots I can’t remember now).

“Left of the Dial,” a Replacements cover, was cool and fun, but I was dying for TGA’s killer version of Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust.” Ah well, I’ll settle for “Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?”, one of the band’s best songs which I unfortunately hadn’t heard in person yet. The two other tracks from the “Senor and the Queen” EP were highlights, too, particularly “Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts,” which is a bit more forceful in concert than on the CD. For a while they were closing the shows with “Say I Won’t,” but I like “Angry Johnny” even better; the bridge allows Fallon to vamp “Daughter”-style (Thursday night it was The Clash’s “Straight to Hell”), and that last minute is just ferocious, sending everyone out on a huge high.

So thus concludes my six-month, three-show mini-Gaslight Anthem tour. I’m so glad I went to all of them, because each had a completely different vibe. It’ll probably be awhile before I get to see them again, and much will probably change between now and then. This summer they’re hitting the festival circuit, then most likely will be in the studio this fall to prep the next album for early 2010. The next record could very well be the determining factor if The Gaslight Anthem take the next step toward rock stardom, or will forever be playing 700-person little places like Recher to a devoted and adoring fanbase. I don’t know which way I want that coin to fall, but I know for certain I’ll look back on this time—when one of my now all-time favorite bands was touring on one of my now all-time favorite albums in tiny venues—with deep fondness.

Regardless, a new batch of tracks will definitely be good for The Gaslight Anthem, allowing for more variety at the shows to keep things interesting for both the band and its audience during those long summer nights. We always love the sad, sad songs, so as long as Fallon & Co. keep ’em coming, I’ll be happy.

The Gaslight Anthem
Recher Theatre
Towson, MD
Show Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Great Expectations
High Lonesome
Old White Lincoln
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
We Came to Dance
The ’59 Sound
Film Noir
Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?
Miles Davis and the Cool
The Navesink Banks
Left of the Dial (Replacements cover)
Say I Won’t (Recognize)
Here’s Looking at You, Kid
The Backseat

Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts
Casanova, Baby!
Angry Johnny and the Radio/Straight to Hell (snippet—Clash cover)

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