Tuesday 3 March 2009

The Gaslight Anthem, Rock City

Tonight's gig was advertised as being in the basement at Rock City but the Gaslight Anthem's rapid rise to fame seems to have put paid to that. When we arrive people are queuing down the street to pay on the door. Turns out we're not in the basement at all but in the main hall and it's just about full.

The Gaslight Anthem's take on Americana is eighties-ish and unashamedly Springsteen. They are perhaps what the E Street band would have sounded like had they not had a few hits and crossed over to the dark side of the mainstream.

Once inside, we get a good vantage point for fellow New Yorkers, the Polar Bear club. Whose sound is most definitely veering towards punk and they even have an appropriately hyperactive front man. They possibly remind me of Enter Shikari but without the electronics. I think that's a bit flattering to Enter Shikari. I'm afraid I'm not much of a fan of theirs. Like Enter Shikari though, you get the impression that if the Polar Bear Club tidied up their sound they'd be onto something.

Somebody who clearly is on to something is Frank Turner. He's incredibly popular tonight, in fact a lot of the crowd seem to have come mainly to see him and justifiably so. His set is a massive contrast in style to the punk of the Polar Bear club. Although perhaps not that dissimilar as Frank was in the hardcore band Million Dead before he pursued a solo career in what is basically folk music.

Tonight Frank, with just his voice, an acoustic guitar, and some impressively simple melodies is excellent. He's also very funny and entertaining as he banters with the crowd before launching into one heartfelt lament after another. His lyrics are personal, about lost loves, betrayals and killing his ex-girlfriend. Frank seems pretty miffed about the hand life has dealt him. He plays a mixture of old songs to which the crowd eagerly sing along to and also throws in a few from his forthcoming but as yet unrecorded new album. ‘Long live the Queen’, ‘Worse things happen at sea’ and ‘Photosynthesis’, among others, are all impressive.

He says he's back and headlining in October, I could well be there. Whether his usual full band can live up to this acoustic performance remains to be seen.

It's the Polar Bear Club's last night on the tour and they keep bring drinks out to Frank, who appears to be sipping a cultured glass of white wine, whereas they bring him what looks like a huge shot of Jack Daniels, followed by the bottle. Still, it's good again to see three bands on tour together that bond so well.

It's not just Springsteen, whom they will support at Hyde Park in the summer, who influences the Gaslight Anthem and as if to emphasises the point they take the stage to the accompaniment of Tom Waits' gravelly vocals before starting things off with 'Great Expectations', the opening track of last year's 'The 59 Sound'.

They go for it at a quite a pace, tearing through the first five songs, the first four all upbeat numbers from the latest album with additional guitar work from the Polar Bear Club on 'High Lonesome' and the crowd sing along to every word.

Finally the band call a temporary halt to proceedings, after an oldie, 'We Came To Dance' from 2007's 'Sink or Swim'. As he pauses for breath, the heavily tattooed Brian Fallon beams at the crowd and expresses his gratitude simply for being here. Then they burst into the '59 Sound's lively title track.

True, some of their stuff is all a bit samey. The ‘59 Sound’ is more or less several versions of the same song and all pretty much in the same key but I thought the live experience was a step up, rawer and faster than on the record. They play every song as if it is their last. They also mixed it up well with the older stuff, which is markedly different, and who a surprisingly large number of people also knew.

In fact, the diehards down the front seemed to be influencing things and getting requests. We get the first appearance on the tour of 'Navesink Banks' and I also feel this is the first time they've played '1930' because they seemed to have a big debate among themselves, presumably rewriting the set list before agreeing to play it.

Along the way they slip in tributes to some other influences, dropping in short bursts of Ben E King's 'Stand by Me' and James Brown's 'It's a Man's Man's Man's World'. Miles Davis is clearly another influence, as is Joe Strummer, who is the ‘Joe’ of ‘I'da Called You Woody, Joe’.

I also liked the way they loaded most of their best known stuff at the start of the set, leaving people wondering what was to come later and in the encore. No saving the ‘big hit’ to the end here. They even play three tracks from their slightly obscure ‘SeƱor and the Queen’ EP, which pre-dates the '59 Sound’ but hasn’t even been released over here yet.

After ending the set with a rousing 'The Backseat', they return for a three song encore but regrettably no cover of ‘New England’ with Frank Turner tonight (Norwich got it last night though) but I think they simply ran out of time and perhaps energy. Instead we get Turner and the Polar Club all joining them on the stage in their underwear!

The Gaslight Anthem are hardly a life-changing experience but it's a good gig and they're definitely a fun band to see.

Set List was something like this...

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