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.