So when your favorite band on the planet offers you free tickets to see them play a show at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, you go. So what if you got your ticket confirmation 48 hours before the concert and you live in Maryland? You go. So what if you have to take a Wednesday off in the middle of a wicked workweek and basically pull an all-nighter to make it back into the office Thursday? You go. So what if to get there you have to take four different buses, an Amtrak train, and ride in a T-top-rockin’ purple Camaro? You go.
The Gaslight Anthem had a big night Wednesday. They played the Letterman show, and then afterward took over the world-famous Sullivan (you know, The Beatles and all …) for their own hour-long concert that was broadcast live online. As a reward to the initial members of the band’s brand-new fanclub, they gave me and a couple hundred of my new friends free tickets to the show, provided we could make it on such short notice.
Gaslight is in a time of transition this summer. They’re about to release their fourth album, “Handwritten,” July 24, which marks their major-label debut. Here’s a sidenote to anyone crying “sellout!”: Opportunities like “Live on Letterman” are exactly why you sign with a major. This was a big deal, one of the band’s highest-profile gigs to date. A very, very special night. And they brought it.
This is the tightest I’ve ever heard them play—either in person or on a bootleg. Typically it takes frontman Brian Fallon a couple songs to work the frog out of his throat, but he must’ve been warming up in the back because he was right on from the first lines of opener “Great Expecations.” The setlist selections from there were perfect, given the show was about half the length of their standard set. The diehards in attendance got deep cuts from the “Senor and the Queen” EP, while the mainstream audience watching at home heard all the hits from the past two albums.
The standout for me came toward the end of the show when Fallon held the entire audience captive with the best version of “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” I’ve ever heard; the slow-burner (introduced with a smile as a song about suffering) was powerful in its minimalism and gripping in its change of pace within the otherwise blistering set.
Another highpoint was the instrumental bridge between “Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?” into “Wooderson.” Gaslight’s been playing around with these types of transitional fills for the past couple years, but never quite so effectively have they blended two songs together. To go for something this ambitious in such a high-pressure environment took real guts.
But that was the great thing about Wednesday night: Despite all the cameras and the aura of the venue and the broadcast to the entire world, it still felt like the Gaslight show the superfans in attendance have come to know, love, and expect. Fallon behaved onstage like he always does, taking time out to tell a few funny stories (like Jersey people being overwhelmed the first time they visit New York), have some back and forth with the fans, and point out how excited he is about “Handwritten” and the new fanclub: “I guess the fanclub’s working … You guys got in here, that’s good. Step 1: Complete!” he said. “It’ll get better as it goes on. I’m sure there’ll be some hiccups but check it out—it got you all the way to the Ed Sullivan Theater.”
During the first verse of “Blue Jeans,” Fallon cracked a huge smile; what you can’t hear on the recording is there were a bunch of girls who sang a background part at the exact moment it appears on the record, and that just seemed to make Brian’s night. The point being, if this is your first exposure to a Gaslight Anthem concert you couldn’t have asked for a better one.
And then there are the new songs. Just … wow. I haven’t heard the album yet, but I have a feeling the three tracks from “Handwritten” they played Wednesday night showcase the breadth of this new effort. First single “45” is a winner, a nice sequel to “The ’59 Sound” that they couldn’t quite find on the last record. “Biloxi Parish” is a step in a new direction, with a crunchy, classic-rock riff. Finally, “Here Comes My Man” made its live debut at this show and reminded me a little of Fallon’s work on last year’s side project, The Horrible Crowes; this one hints at the soul music these guys have in their collective repertoire and blends it so well with their modern punk rock foundation. I’m definitely excited for July 24.
I could go on and on because there were so many awesome moments (“Baba O’Riley” to close), but just go watch the thing already! This was my sixth Gaslight show; it’s been a different city every time, and each one’s felt unique. But I’ve never really been disappointed when I’ve traveled long distances to see bands I love. Not once. And I’ve done this a lot. For the better part of 15 years, actually.
Because as great as the shows are (and this one was great), it’s about more than that. It’s about thinking you’re gonna get stuck way up in the balcony because your train was delayed by an hour and traffic was horrible and you had to walk 20 blocks to pick up the tickets and then … and THEN … you walk into the theater and some guy says “We need more people down front!” and you walk right down to the sixth row, dead center and the whole world can see the back of your head on camera for the next hour. It’s about remembering what it’s like to be 20 even when you’re past 30.
And it’s about knowing the friend you call to go with you at the drop of a hat will say yes, even though you haven’t seen each other in two years. It’s about then spending 12 uninterrupted hours with that guy, rekindling a friendship that spans more great experiences than you can even remember right now.
Add another one to the list. Thankfully, this one came with YouTube built right in.
The Gaslight Anthem
Ed Sullivan Theater
New York City
Old White Lincoln
Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?
Here Comes My Man
The ’59 Sound
Blue Jeans & White T-shirts
Show Time: 1 hour