Heading into Thursday night’s sold-out Gaslight Anthem show at D.C.’s 9:30 Club, I wondered if the band’s amazing summer changed them at all.
This time last year they were openers for a punk tour and playing little places like Virginia Beach's Jewish Mother. But by this summer their latest album, “The ’59 Sound,” was blowing up and all of a sudden they were playing European festivals in front of thousands and Bruce Springsteen was joining them onstage.
Success of that sort—at that speed—could crush a band. How many times have we seen it happen? Thankfully, The Gaslight Anthem seem to have taken it in stride … and just gotten better. Thursday’s show was the best of the three I’ve seen this year (you can read about the others here and here).
The band displayed a new level of crispness that can only come from playing these songs a couple hundred times over the past year. And yet none of it felt forced or put on; they attacked their barnstorming set with the same ferocity as when there used to be only a couple hundred people in the audience. They had a few more lights roaming around the room, and a big banner draped along the back of the stage, but otherwise this was everything about the band I've come to know and love.
I think the 9:30 Club had a lot to do with the extra kick in Thursday's show. Frontman Brian Fallon acknowledged the history of the place and all the legendary musicians who’ve played there over the years; you could tell it meant something for him to be in a position in his life to sell the room out. And there’s a reason why bands love to play there: It’s a great venue for a concert (once you get inside, anyway). There’s not a bad view in the house (we were up in the balcony for the first time and will now ALWAYS be there from now on; awesome vantage point—especially of Benny Horowitz’s maniacal drumming), and the soundsystem is outstanding. The mix was absolutely perfect and crystal clear.
Gaslight’s been touring on “’59 Sound” for more than a year now, and the set stays basically the same—loaded with tracks from the new album, and then sprinkling in the rest of their catalog as time and space allows and the mood strikes. Thursday was no different, as we got all but one track from the new album, missing just “Meet Me By the River’s Edge” (more’s the pity). The biggest change for these fall shows is moving “High Lonesome” into the opening slot; the song’s avalanche of a drum roll is a fantastic way to kickstart a concert. I love “Great Expecations” as an opener, too, but such a great song deserves its own “moment” in the show, which now it has pushed back toward the end of the main set.
“The ’59 Sound” is a major highlight of any show. If there’s anyone still on the fence by the time this monster makes its arrival in the sixth slot, all doubts are erased. This song gets everyone in the room excited.
Every time, though, there’s a different section of the set that jumps out at me for some reason. Thursday night it was the hammering three-pack of “The Patient Ferris Wheel” (a song I always forget I like so much live until I hear it again), “Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?” (one of my Gaslight faves, which featured a slight, if charming, lyrical flub by Fallon), and “Drive.” Fallon introduced the latter as “the first song we ever wrote together”; it doesn’t get played every night, but it should—this song killed Thursday.
Fallon was certainly in good spirits (when is he not?), channeling the band’s perfect mix of upbeat intensity; somehow these guys have fun and stay focused at the same time. Prior to “Ferris Wheel” he told a rambling story about wandering around D.C. and buying Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” just because he couldn’t bear to see it lying discarded in a bargain bin; or how he had a tattoo artist come over to the club before the show to add some ink to his leg—not thinking that may not be the best idea a couple hours before playing a concert. His voice was without question in the best shape I’ve heard this year—he didn’t even need the customary two or three songs to get the frog out of his throat this time, and he consistently hit all the necessary high notes all night.
“Angry Johnny and the Radio” was back in the main set—The Clash's “Straight to Hell” bridge snippet included—but I much prefer it as a show closer. Pairing the rabble-rouser with “Expectations” was pretty awesome, though.
Thursday’s show was 10 minutes and a couple songs longer than Gaslight’s typical set, and one of the additions followed “Expectations” as Fallon audibled with “The Navesink Banks” from 2007’s “Sink or Swim.” He paired it with “Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid” for “the slow section of the show.” “Backseats” closed out the main set with its usual thunder and lightning—may it never change!
Releasing a record as great as “The ’59 Sound” means Gaslight unfortunately plays less songs off their other great record, “Sink or Swim.” The fabulous “1930” opened the encore with an explosion; it’s amazing the band’s catalog is already so deep this masterpiece isn’t an every-night staple.
The Gaslight Anthem’s cover choices are superb. I continue to carry a torch for a personal viewing of Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust,” but every cover I’ve heard them play—either in person or via bootleg—is outstanding. Thursday night they busted out a true-to-original version of Hot Water Music’s “Trusty Chords,” a fitting tribute to one of the band’s obvious predecessors and influences.
And then the show was over—all too quickly—with “Say I Won’t (Recognize),” this time featuring a snippet of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun.” Fallon promised they’d be back next year, with—most exciting to this fan—a new record in tow.
This show was incredible. It’s left me buzzing for two days now. Hope it never stops.
The Gaslight Anthem
Old White Lincoln
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
We Came to Dance
The ’59 Sound
Miles Davis & the Cool
The Patient Ferris Wheel
Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?
Angry Johnny and the Radio/Straight to Hell (snippet)
The Navesink Banks
Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid
Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts
Trusty Chords (Hot Water Music cover)
Say I Won’t (Recognize)/House of the Rising Sun (snippet)
Show Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
OPENERS: Murder by Death
The Gaslight Anthem have a tendency to bring some odd choices out with them on the road, such as last spring’s Heartless Bastards and this tour’s Murder by Death. These are not punk-show bands by any stretch of the imagination, but it shows how Gaslight are open to anything—as long as it’s good.
Murder by Death’s latest release, “Red of Tooth and Claw” is probably my favorite album of the year (even though it was released in 2008), and the band didn’t disappoint with their 40-minute set at the 9:30 Club. Frontman Adam Turla’s between-song banter was a bit annoying, but his musical performance was excellent—especially a solo cover of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” And how often do you see a cellist at a rock show? Their modern-day cowboy songs translated exceptionally well to the live setting.