The Gaslight Anthem @ Southampton Guildhall, 22/10/2010

In this current economical climate, a lot of people are beginning to struggle for the things they want or need. A lot of people are tightening their budgets and doing more things on the cheap. So it’s pretty reassuring to know that if you’re a music fan, you can still get a fantastic show for what you pay for entry nowadays! Tonight’s show at Southampton Guildhall involves an unlikely audience of all kinds of ages, all kinds of tastes and all kinds of fashions. All to see The Gaslight Anthem, the New Jersey blues-punkers who made it out of their city and have become a sensation over the last couple of years thanks to their own mix of old school sounds mixed with modern song writing and performances.

First up on tonight’s bill, though, is Sharks who appear on stage without any kind of announcement and catch the Guildhall audience a little off guard. Straight away they kick the evening off with an acapella introduction to their grimy, gritty Welsh punk with a good measure snarl to boot. Sharks are clearly new to some of the audience tonight, as they’re playing to a crowd that is still pretty thinly spread and because of this, they almost seem like a small fish in a big pond. They could all probably do with a good meal, too. But that’s not to say that Sharks aren’t any good; their fast, fists-in-the-air punk definitely doesn’t beat around the bush about who they are and what they do, but it seems more like they should be playing a greasy, run-down punk bar somewhere to a smaller, tighter audience that can appreciate them more. As such, their brash punk sounds get a little lost in the cavernous main room of Southampton Guildhall tonight, and there’s such little audience interaction from them that their set is over just as quickly as it started.

Obviously a bit better known, Chuck Ragan is able to draw more of a crowd and fill out the space of the Guildhall quite impressively. The singer of Hot Water Music tonight brings out a change of pace from the other acts and starts out by his lonesome, just him and his guitar. Whoever said that Country Bluegrass could never have edge obviously had never seen Chuck Ragan, as his impressive mix of acoustic blues and edgy punk take the audience completely by surprise. The only thing nearly as impressive as this is the beard on the face of “his friend John Gonn” who accompanies him on the violin after his first solo song. Together, they bring the Southern blues of Louisiana and the punk of New Jersey together in one awesome collaboration. Chuck Ragan plays his “country-punk” mix with such conviction and heart that even people who have never heard of him before are hanging on to every lyric, every strum and every harmonica note that comes from him. And it’s easy to see how these songs come from an emotional place when he dedicates a song to his wife back home. It’s pretty safe to say that bluegrass might not have been the coolest of music genres before, but if Chuck Ragan has anything to say about it, it will be by the time he’s done!

An almighty uproar signals the arrival of Brian Fallon, Alex Levine, Alex Rosamilia and Benny Horowitz, collectively known as The Gaslight Anthem, on stage. Without any hesitation they kick off their set with fan favourites Great Expectations, Stay Lucky and Bring It On and even get a mass chant-along started when they play The Diamond Church Street Choir.  Even though this is meant to be a tour for their latest album American Slang, it’s obvious The Gaslight Anthem know exactly who they’re playing to tonight and indulge their fans with an extended set of nearly their entire back catalogue, including many of their older songs such as Casanova Baby, Miles Davis And The Cool, I’da Called You Woody Joe, Angry Johnny And The Radio, and 1930. Brian Fallon even regales his avid onlookers tonight with a story of how he and his friends used to race cars at night while the police were busy with other things, and his car that could do 120mph before they go into Old White Lincoln. What’s perhaps most impressive about The Gaslight Anthem tonight is not just how Brian Fallon speaks to the crowd in a way that is akin to someone having a normal one-on-one conversation, but also the way that their set list rather impressively mixes all of their latest songs like Boxer and Spirit of Jazz with older, classic fan favourites like Even Cowgirls Get The Blues in a way that can make you feel such a range of feelings from one song to the next. Perhaps the best example of this is the way they end the first part of their set by playing the emotionally taught We Did It When We Were Young and The ’59 Sound next to each other before leaving the stage. After getting chanted back on again, and playing American Slang, you would think they would end their encore there but they further indulge their feverous fans with another three songs after that!

Yes, there might be a wide mix of people at the Guildhall tonight – people dressed up for a Friday night, people bringing their dads and mums with them and people that came to perhaps remember times gone by. But there’s one thing that clearly unites everyone in the room tonight, no matter how different they are. It’s in the lyrics that get sung back at Brian; it’s in the smiles on everyone’s faces and the tears in some people’s eyes; it’s even in the homage some people have sketched into their shoes. Its passion; the kind of passion that The Gaslight Anthem gives people in order to bring them together. And that’s perhaps the biggest appeal of The Gaslight Anthem of all – the fact that they can bring people together and make them feel good about their lives, their loves and even their losses. And that’s why The Gaslight Anthem will be sticking around for a while yet!

In Memory of Guy Robertson, who would have surely been at this show if he could have.

The Gaslight Anthem – “American Slang”

Heart is something that tends to get overlooked in some modern day music. Songs about going to clubs, or driving fast cars, or worrying about how you look all lack that essential thing that makes good music completely believable. Heart is something that can make or break a band just starting out, and it is what can keep some bands going for years. One thing that The Gaslight Anthem aren’t lacking in is heart, and that’s what makes them such an interesting band.

The Gaslight Anthem have been heralded as pioneers of the blues-punk genre in their home of New Jersey, and indeed around much of the globe that they have toured. Their influences have been clear from the very start of their career – Miles Davies and many other blues legends, punk influences of all kinds, and above all Bruce Springsteen who they have been fortunate enough to share a stage with as well. Yes, it’s clear where The Gaslight Anthem get their sound from, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something unique. In fact on this, their third studio album American Slang, their own style of blending the heart and soul of blues and the honesty and drive of punk-rock is very much in the foreground.

Their last album The ’59 Sound was a huge success for Brian Fallon, Alex Rosamilia, Ben Horowitz and Alex Levine collectively known as The Gaslight Anthem and truly brought their name into the limelight for a lot of people. However, it was obvious that on The ’59 Sound they were following in the paths of a lot of their influences in their style, but American Slang shows that they are more keen to break out and create something entirely new than they would otherwise have let on.

The album starts with the first single and title track American Slang, which is a beautiful song to start with and Brian Fallon’s unmistakeable vocals bring the lyrics a sense of honesty, even though the guitar refrain sounds just a smidge like The Edge from U2. But it’s alright, because the next few songs follow suit and create a lively sense of trueness, like all the lyrics have been something each member has experienced whilst writing the album. Bring It On is probably the one song on the album where their Springsteen-esque sound comes to the foreground, but again, this is not a bad thing as it smacks of punk-style too with its lyrics mid-way through of “wait a minute, wasn’t I good to you? You don’t know what’s good for you”, blending together their love of Springsteen and the attitude of old school punk in a perfect harmony.

Most of the first lot of tracks up to The Queen of Lower Chelsea suffer the downfall of having a very similar tempo and time signature, despite how different their styles might be, which means that some of them start to become a bit samey and predictable. That all changes with Orphans, though, which mixes everything up into something a lot more bouncy and fast paced with its chorus of “And the lonesome all understand. With their choirs in my head, we were orphans before we were ever your sons of regret”. Orphans leads into the albums second single Boxer, and its story of knowing someone is better than they are shows even more of the heart that’s there behind every Gaslight Anthem song in its swinging riffs that you can’t help but stop and take notice of.

Second to last song The Spirit of Jazz is rather ironically the most punk-rock track of the album, and bursts outwards with bouncy, punchy punk riffs that truly shows more of the true-blue punk rock side of The Gaslight Anthem. Final track We Did It When We Were Young is a considerably slower end to a somewhat faster paced album, but it’s still an emotionally charged song that ends the album in a fitting way.

Yes, heart and soul is definitely something that The Gaslight Anthem have an abundance of. They know where they came from, who their influences are, and what they do best and they do it with such honesty and conviction that you don’t once feel like you’re listening to something fake or manufactured. The Gaslight Anthem have such an air of honesty about their songs because they truly believe in what they are singing about, and that is what gives them the heart behind their lyrics that you can’t help but love. If you haven’t checked out The Gaslight Anthem before, then it’s about time you did, because this album is very hard not to like!