The Gaslight Anthem, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 5-16-12
Tonight’s Gaslight Anthem show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg was, at least in my mind, going to be an album preview, a taste of the new music to come. Alas, this was not to be. After the opening half dozen oldies but goodies, I was ready for the band to dive into the new material. Instead, we only got two new songs, the single ’45′ and “Biloxi Parish,’ which had already made its way into the intertubes by virtue of having been performed live once in Australia. I kept waiting… and waiting… and waiting… before it became obvious that this was going to be just a TGA small club show. That threw things off a bit for me emotionally, the anticipation of “Okay, will the NEXT song be a new one?” having to be replaced with “okay so I’m just going to jump around to everything I already know.” Which is not bad, by any means, just not what anyone thought it was going to be.
The energy throttled up and down tonight, from goosebumps at entry (helped along by blaring “Sabotage” over the PA, which received the appropriate response) to a few lulls at odd and unexpected points, slow songs barreling down the track while some of the rockers teetered on the brink. The entrance into “Great Expectations” was the band and audience on full throttle, with an intensity that surprised everyone, I think. “The Patient Ferris Wheel” was another off-the-charts moment, feeling more like the end of the set than the middle. It was loud and ecstatic and wonderful, but we didn’t exactly break any new ground here and that’s what I was hoping for tonight.
Brian’s voice didn’t seem at its strongest–the high notes on ’45′ were definitely missing–but the energy from the crowd made up for it, as usual. I opted for my side stage spot on the risers instead of heading straight for the front, because I am an old cranky punk lady and do not have the patience for amateur crowd surfers– but was almost sorry at that decision because it was reasonably chill; bouncy and energetic with a small circle pit about a half a dozen people back. It wasn’t perfect and it felt like we weren’t working at it, the new songs not really being new in the true sense of the word, but it was still everything you love about this band, in the kind of place they will very likely not be playing for very much longer.
The very things that make me crazy about The Gaslight Anthem are the exact same reasons I did not trust Brian Fallon or TGA at first: it seems too perfect, my interests too aligned, the influences too close. It took the personal endorsement of several young punks who assured me that they had their bona fides before I relented. Of course I was going to hop on board the minute I was cleared for takeoff. Here is a band that wholeheartedly embraces almost everything I hold dear to my rock and roll heart, whose shows are 90 minute orgies of kids both young and old screaming along at the top of their lungs to every single word, clapping, raising their arms, gleefully participating in call and response. Of course this is home sweet home. There is no irony, there is no detachment, there is a whole lot of gratitude and positivity and plain old FUCK YEAH going on. I am very much okay with all of this.
I freely admit that my interest in this band is from my own rockist prejudices, my preferences about How Things Should Be Done, my selfish desire to keep the music I grew up on alive, to keep kids listening to Who’s Next and London Calling so that the next generation of bands don’t all sound like Dave Matthews and John Mayer. And unlike the Hold Steady, with whom I would probably also share iPod playlists (and honestly like very very much), they ring home for me lyrically. Neither Craig Finn nor Brian Fallon are writing for me but I still resonate with Gaslight lyrics. (And that’s not a diss at Craig Finn, who is a brilliant lyricist, as hard as I try I just don’t click with the stories he is telling.) There have been plenty of other bands in the past who have tried to be the Clash and who I have dismissed in a flat second. I think it is just that TGA have found one particular intersection that repackages it in a way that you love or you hate; it’s not that it’s new or different, it’s just the way it’s put together this time by this particular group of people.
I have heard “Baba O’Riley” live dozens of times; if there is a song I should be burned out on it should be “Baba O’Riley,” and yet, when Brian announced it my immediate response was to make sure my phone was carefully zipped away in my pocket so I could pogo up and down like it was brand new. They play it straight but not without enthusiasm and humor, they are playing it for an audience that had likely largely dismissed the Who as their parents’ music or if not, at least as music made by dinosaurs and not relevant to them. It is all of those things and it is also just a song, just a cover, just a moment. I am sure that if I go back and watch the Livestream that I will find Brian’s voice lacking and the band not playing together in a couple of spots but that did not matter right then, what mattered was the guitars and the bass and the drums and Brian’s voice and the crowd singing along out of tune and off kilter and with love and affection. This was why, despite the show being filmed, I took out my camera and used up the last of my battery to try to capture it, put it in a bottle, give me a jolt of adrenaline the next time I need it.
I apologize in advance for the CARYN SINGS THE HITS OF THE WHO LIVE AT MHOW nature of this recording. (Brian didn’t even try for the Daltrey power screams and I didn’t even notice that I was doing it.)