The Gaslight Anthem @ Troxy, London, 29/3/13
When it comes to compiling a setlist, The Gaslight Anthem must do so with a sense of trepidation. Rarely have the band played a show that has managed to keep all of their fans happy. In the aftermath of every gig, their Facebook and Twitter pages are filled with fans entreating that they ‘should have played such-and-such?’ or ‘why didn’t you do so-and-so?’ or ‘you didn’t play many songs off the first record…you must’ve forgotten your roots’. In this internet age where fans can express their views directly to the band members, they so rarely pass up the opportunity.
The vast majority of this criticism is unwarranted, however. Rarely are two shows similar, let alone the same. This is a band that decides what they’re going to play in the dressing room, not in a rehearsal room a month before the tour starts, trotting through the same tunes in the same order every night, no doubt to their own tedium. Equally, the fact that they are now four albums into their career means that they have a deal more material to choose from and may simply enjoy playing the newer stuff. You’ll never be able to please all of the people all of the time, but if you play with passion and skill, you’ll satisfy the majority.
Last night’s set would have got the purists in a froth. Chosen almost entirely from ‘The ’59 Sound’, ‘American Slang’ and most recent collection ‘Handwritten’, there are only two forays into their very earliest work. I imagine Brian Fallon’s Twitter is aflame with ‘You didn’t do any obscure B-sides that only I own!’ or ‘Where were the cover versions?’ He must dread post-gig mornings. And yet he needn’t, because he and his band represent one of the single best live experiences I’ve ever had. They’ve built their fanbase the old-fashioned way, by playing anywhere and everywhere and basically being on the road all the time, taking their blue-collar tales of Americana to a public who repay them with devotion. We meet people who’ve been following them for years, people who’ve travelled 8 hours to be at the show and everyone but everyone appears to know all the words.
They blast on to the stage to ‘The Spirit Of Jazz’, the crowd erupting into a snaking, sweaty mass. Fallon has the room in the palm of his hand and keeps it there with lusty versions of ‘American Slang’, ‘Orphans’ and ‘Old Haunts’. The pace is relentless until we get a chilled version of ‘The Navesink Banks’, with the preceding ‘Wooderson’ the only representations of first album ‘Sink or Swim’. The respite doesn’t last, though and they’re soon back into it, delivering electrifying versions of ’45’, ‘Great Expectations’ and a bluesy ‘Queen of Lower Chelsea’.
I should point out that the relentless pace is both of a blessing and a curse. While I loved being part of that sweaty mass, arms round friends, forcing my creaking frame into more exercise than it’s experienced in years, arms aloft, near tears with the sheer beautiful unity of it all, my wife was left rather non-plussed. She would have liked, she explained, a little more texture, a little more quiet and slow to go with the quick and loud. Fallon writes beautiful fractured ballads and it would have been nice to hear more of them. So, as I said, you can’t please everyone…
By the time they do play one of those fractured ballads it’s penultimate encore ‘Here’s Looking At You, Kid’ and it’s a delight. It brings things down a touch, gives both crowd and band time to breathe and to move and means that when they lurch into a squalling, pummeling version of ‘The Backseat’ the effect is akin to being bludgeoned about the head. Steam rises off the crowd as the band shuffle off the stage, Fallon in particular looking pleased with his night’s work, if a little bemused by the hero-worship that comes his way.
As we file into the chill Good Friday night, there is a collective sense that we have all borne witness to something significant. A band who stand right upon the cusp of something genuinely special, with the songs, the sound and the swagger to really make a difference. As Joe Strummer said, the future is unwritten, but the Gaslight Anthem’s future is certainly bright.
Credits to owner for use of images.