Live: The Gaslight Anthem Go Bowling in Brooklyn
The night before, at Terminal 5--a more video happy crowd.
Friday, October 16
In addition to being the wonderful apotheosis of both melodic Jersey punk and cheeseball Jersey AOR, and besides having songs in spades, there is the non-ignorable fact that in person, the four handsome fellows of the Gaslight Anthem resemble nothing so much as a boyband version of the E-Street band. You will second-guess your affection for this band, watching them play live, you just will: Brian Fallon's maniacal stage-grin alone--to not even broach the subject of sudden mid-song scat breaks or beefcake bassist Alex Levine--is a thing of deep incongruity, worn as it is on the face of a guy who was grimacing in New Brunswick basements a mere three years ago. That in 2009 his band is playing an ersatz cool-dad version of a working-class New Jersey bowling alley does not help.
Of course, some queasy in-between thing defines this band: a crowd evenly split between New York Jets jackets and Converge hoodies; covers that place the Clash's "Straight to Hell" back-to-back with Pearl Jam's "State of Love and Trust," with a detour by way of "Stand By Me"; hecklers that think nothing of calling the evening's entertainment "gay" to said entertainment's face (to which Fallon will respond: "I'm gay? That's not really an insult. I do have some nice clothes on."). When your cultural references encompass both the Singles soundtrack and Lifetime's Jersey's Best Dancers, there will inevitably be a dissonant moment or three.
They are also, it should be said, a tremendous live band when things are going well, blitzing the YouTube-quality Brooklyn Bowl PA, drawing songs both up ("'59 Sound," just epic) and out ("Miles Davis & the Cool," now a ballad and maybe better for it). Like Springsteen, who is so clearly Fallon's ideal that he might as well seek formal adoption, but also like any number of heartbroken Jersey punk frontmen before him, Fallon has the ability to open his voice up at will, a kind of chorus-shock-and-awe thing that is a delight to be knocked down by. There is a geeky drama to The '59 Sound's schlockier fare--Fallon going guitarless and very, very sincere on "Old White Lincoln," say, or an engorged "The Backseat" encore--neatly balanced by how good Gaslight's better songs come off live: "Great Expectations" is a song humans cannot get wrong. The band's come a frighteningly long way in a short period of time, and so the overreaches are visible. But so are the hits, and the latter easily outnumber the former, on record and onstage. Now how about that next album?