Word by: Alex Nief | Images by: JC McIlwaine
The Gaslight Anthem :: 10.15.09 :: Terminal 5 : New York, NY
Upon first hearing The Gaslight Anthem's 2008 release The '59 Sound, questions were forming so rapidly in my head that I found it hard to even focus on the music. Who were these guys? Had Bruce Springsteen sued them yet? Why did their lyrics call on references from sources as varied as the Counting Crows and Charles Dickens? Why was this classified as "punk"? The questions remained, but they became less and less important as I found myself listening to the album on repeat for about three months. I was surprised to later read that not only had Springsteen not sued the band but that he had played with them and invited frontman Brian Fallon onstage - not once, but twice - during festival appearances in the U.K.
Skip ahead to a Thursday at Terminal 5 where The Gaslight Anthem was headlining.
Terminal 5 is a sprawling 40,000 square foot venue, the design of which is less modern concert venue than right-angled, industrial opera house. The vertical orientation of the room creates awesome sight lines from the two wrap-around mezzanines, which put concertgoers practically on top of the stage. Even at capacity (3,000), Terminal 5 is one of the most comfortable of the major Bowery Presents venues.
The first of three opening acts was the Oregon-based punk trio Broadway Calls, followed by former D Generation frontman Jesse Malin, whose ego completely eclipsed his band's performance (I lost count of the number of times that he reminded the crowd that he was, indeed, Jesse Malin). The third and final supporting act was Murder By Death, a quartet out of Indiana with a sound that falls somewhere between the Misfits and Johnny Cash. Murder By Death's set was by far the highlight of the somewhat protracted opening portion of the show.
As the stage was being cleared following Murder By Death, a giant black and white tapestry was raised behind the drum riser depicting an old ship in rough waters with "THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM" scrawled on its port side. This elicited a roar from the crowd and soon the floor was completely packed, while at higher altitudes, fans lined the rails of the balconies. The energy was palpable. A few minutes later the house music cut out and the room fell dark. As has become customary, the band took the stage to Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
|The Gaslight Anthem :: 10.15 :: New York|
A wave and a smile from Fallon and they were off with "High Lonesome," a foot stomping, high-energy, post-punk song that sent most of the packed house off the rails. By the time they reached the first chorus the Terminal 5 security staff were busy catching the bodies of crowd surfers at a rate of about one every seven seconds (to their credit, they were well prepared for the audience and seemed only to be concerned with peoples' safe return to the floor). Gaslight followed with "Casanova, Baby," a romantically reflective rockabilly anthem. The band played their most recent album in its entirety with the exception of "Meet Me by the River's Edge," which has not been a staple of recent shows.
From the opening drum roll of "High Lonesome," the sell-out audience danced with reckless abandon. One of the most astonishing aspects of a Gaslight Anthem live show is that it seems as if every single body in the room is moving and every mouth open and singing from start to finish. The artist-audience relationship was not one of blind worship but rather one of mutual respect and passion. There is a nostalgic urgency to this music, which is reflected both sonically and lyrically. Fallon's stage presence can best be described as humble and gracious. At one point, he stared out at the crowd and looked pleasantly baffled. Leaning into the mic, he said with a tone of surprise, "Look at all you people." For all of his band's many successes - not to mention tireless touring - Fallon still appears to truly enjoy every second he has to share with his audience.
The first of the band's four encores was a song from their first album, Sink Or Swim, called "Blue Jeans And White T-Shirts." If there was a single song that defined the saturated sentimentality of youth this was it. Fallon manages to evoke romantic imagery we can all call on. When he sings, "Call every girl we ever met Maria/ But I only love Virginia's heart", you know these Marias and Virginias - they are our first loves and heartbreaks, our mistakes and regrets, our family, friends, and enemies.
|The Gaslight Anthem :: 10.15 :: New York|
As the show neared its end it didn't wind down, but in fact reached a crescendo. The ever-expanding pit in the center of the floor grew so large for the final encore that from the balcony all one could see was an undulating mass. It was beautiful. It should be noted that while proper pit-etiquette (i.e. people pick each other up off the ground and don't try to injure others) may seem all but dead at most shows that warrant this sort of response, it was alive and well on this night.
For their final encore, the band returned to their first album and their punk roots with "We're Getting A Divorce, You Keep The Diner." At song's end, the entire crowd chanted the final refrain over dissipating distortion and summed up what could easily be the mission statement of The Gaslight Anthem: "Stay hungry, stay free, and do the best you can."
Continue reading for more images of The Gaslight Anthem in New York...