Gaslight Anthem “Get Hurt” Record Release Show, 315 Bowery, 8-7-14

When I walked out of the front door of CBGB’s on October 15, 2006, I physically didn’t look back. It was a very deliberate choice, a very specific intention, a very definite goodbye. When I walked down Bowery for the first time after the inception of the John Varvatos store in that space, I didn’t realize it was there and I saw it and I reacted instinctively, flashing two middle fingers as the only conceivable reaction. From then on I made sure to walk on the east side of the street and confine my gestures to something that wasn’t quite as confrontational as that first reaction.

I got nothing against the guy, personally; he pays a lot of my favorite artists to appear in his ads and it’s not his fault that Hilly Krystal was an awful businessman. But he’s turned my “sacred ground” (to steal a thought from Jesse Malin) into a store that sells $350 sneakers. I don’t care if he left the walls intact and some stickers in place, it’s a temple to the kind of capitalist fashionista bullshit that we were all fighting against to begin with, and I vowed I would never set foot inside the joint.

This was a promise I was successfully able to keep until last night, when Gaslight Anthem played a ‘secret’ invitation-only album release show in the space, and it was time to put up or shut up. They’re one of my favorites and I wasn’t going to be able to make it to any of the regular tour dates due to schedule conflicts. When the show was first announced there was no immediate way for the great unwashed to get inside, aside from two tickets given away on one of the fan forums. That made me hate everything about it a million times more, and solidified my reserve. But then the fan club sent an email offering tickets, and 15 minutes later I had an email in my inbox telling me I was in.

The Bowery now is completely unrecognizable from the days where I sat on the sidewalk outside CBGB between sets and talked to my friends and smoked cigarettes. Standing out front on that sidewalk again, waiting to get into a show, was somewhat surreal and at the same time, felt completely normal. There were less dudes trying to bum cigarettes off you (they never asked for change because they knew we didn’t have any) and more tourists posing out front and trying to walk inside despite the CLOSED FOR A PRIVATE EVENT sign. I wonder if they are posing for photos because of the clothes or because of the music. I decide I would rather not have the answer to that question.

What wasn’t SOP, however, were the rope lines and the bouncers and women in six-inch-heels holding iPads and handing out wristbands. I am watching the beautiful people being let in ahead of us and calculating the length of the stage, based on my knowledge of the width of the room; I’d never even peeked inside so I had no idea what it looked like. I had the presence of mind to ask a friend to tell me what the room was like now, because at some point in the previous day or two I had realized that every survival strategy I had for that venue was no longer going to be valid.

That was, of course, until the doors opened and I swear to god it was actually not all that different. Instead of weaving my way past the dude trying to talk his way into the show and the idiots hanging out at the bar and the clueless not being able to find their way by the light of the neon signs, I am weaving my way past EXACTLY THE SAME PEOPLE, except they’re all trying to pose nicely for photographers and get free drinks from the sponsored makeshift bar and none of them are standing at the front of the stage, but were instead hovering in the general vicinity, only to suddenly be surrounded by a bunch of punk kids moving forward with military precision. The first five rows were filled before they knew what hit them. Score one for the good guys.

I took a minute to get my bearings. I believe the walls are actually undoctored, but the floor is even (or at least more even) and you know how you always headed RIGHT when you came in so you wouldn’t be in that passageway to the dressing rooms and bathrooms and the continual walkway of people (I still have no idea where these people were ever going)? They set up the stage flush left so now the passageway to the back is on the right. The stage is enormous, lower, and all on one level, there’s no enormous permanent speaker columns to wedge yourself against, but I believe it’s in approximately the same place. There aren’t the weird angles, it’s a clothing store they moved stuff out of to have a show, but it’s still that one big long room that’s not as narrow because everything in it was ripped out and sold or stored or hoarded or in a museum somewhere. “Armagideon Time” comes over the PA just as four women in cocktail dresses and heels try to push their way up to the front and I begin to consider that deciding to come here was, perhaps, a grave error on my part. I am not sure I can get through this, standing here.

Jesse Malin comes on and sings songs about Arturo Vega and covers “Rock and Roll Radio” and reminds us we are standing on holy ground. I am not sure that most of the audience realize this; I am not sure how much I care that they do. The space between the flimsy rope line and the stage is so full of photographers they literally cannot move; someone next to me asks them if they are going to be there for all of Gaslight and are told “yes”. Literally there is such a wall of photographers that the band comment later that they cannot see any actual audience. (Luckily, most of them had to file so they did leave after a few songs; the view then was blocked by special people with special wristbands taking their special photos with their iPhones, comparing the photos THEY JUST TOOK of THE THING RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM with each other, and generally pissing off everyone who spent four hours lined up in front of the club.

This was the actual first live performance of the band this year and the first performance of the new songs, all of which were played, and played well. Brian Fallon has (allegedly) quit smoking, or is trying to; I could hear it in his vocals, which were clear and strong if a bit held back—the tour hasn’t started and this was, after all, a showcase. Unfortunately there was a little bit of that feeling to the entire show; it had less cohesion and flow than a regular concert, which was unfortunate. The new material is well-rehearsed and they are comfortable with it; the only mistake all night was due to technical problems (Benny Horowitz not being able to hear Brian in his in-ear monitors). There’s nothing I hate more than seeing the first show of a tour and the band still learning the material and the flow ruined by mistake after mistake. Alex Rosamilia is (finally!) playing keyboards onstage, which is very necessary for some of the new songs; I didn’t see him sing once, which made me sad because his live harmonies are some of my favorite parts of the show.

The ghosts of the club would manifest themselves when Fallon introduced an “old” song, and the familiar chords of “The 59 Sound” rattled out of the speakers. I was hopeful that the mosh pit might be subdued, but once the band hit the chorus, all bets were off. The rope line became a fire hazard, the moms in the crowd went to the back, and security finally paid attention and waded into the crowd to try to protect the photographers, most of whom gave up and left at the end of the song. This was quite honestly some of the most worthless security I have ever seen; they were watching the band, not watching the crowd, so they didn’t catch the start of the mosh. Their approach to crowd control was to wade into the front and push the front row back, not realizing that 1) we didn’t start it and 2) that won’t help. They were clearly used to working fashion events and not rock and roll ones.

I’ve only heard the new record three times since it doesn’t come out until next week, but my favorites are also likely the ones to not survive on tour: “Red Violins” and “Dark Places” require quiet and attention from the crowd, and also care as to setlist placement in order to flourish. I wasn’t a fan of the single “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” when I first heard it, but like it in the album context just fine and love it live; it is very Gaslight. SImilarly, “Stay Vicious” is less Soundgardian and more Jersey live and sounds bigger, richer. I am strongly pro-Get Hurt so far; I think it’s a stronger and more consistent album than Handwritten although I don’t hear any blockbusters on it. I think it’s a step in the right direction and definitely a positive one for a band who almost broke up a year ago.

At the show’s conclusion—no pretense, even, of an encore—I peeled myself off of the floor and began to wend my way towards the front. Even that had similarities to the past, that long progress towards the door; it was just better lit and less of an obstacle course. But it didn’t feel the same; it wasn’t the same energy, it felt sad and empty and I knew that my initial instinct to avoid the place at all costs was right on. Brian mentioned early on that everyone in the band had played at CBGB, just not together, and that it was neat that they got to do it now and that people who never got to see a show at CBGB’s can come to the room now and see one. Except that it’s not CBGB’s and it’s not anywhere in a million fucking years like seeing a show at CBGB. I am grateful to the fan club for the entrance, but I know I will not be back here again. I guess it’s better that it’s a non-chain store with cool, expensive clothes (I stress ‘expensive’ because expensive is the only way to afford that rising rent) that has rock events than another bank or GNC, but not by all that much.

n.b.: The header of this website is a photo I took the last night of CBGB from pretty much the same place I stood last night, looking back from the stage towards the door.