The boiler plate for this animal is Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band (circa ’75) and The Rolling Stones (circa ’65), plus a shared love for Eddie Cochran and Otis Redding completes the package. Springsteen picked up the torch from the Stones and his rockabilly forefathers, as well as The Band, Mitch Ryder, CCR and the great soul shouters and screamers from Memphis, Muscle Shoals and Detroit. And once you’re hooked, you find that this rock-punk-soul life has got you in its sway.
Last night at The Trocadero in Philadelphia, The Gaslight Anthem proved them themselves worthy heirs to carry this tradition forward (even while constantly looking back) just like bloodbrothers-in-arms The Hold Steady, Lucero, The Felice Brothers, Philly’s own The Loved Ones, Jesse Malin, The Ike Reilly Assassination and Jersey nutjobs Titus Andronicus. Exploding onstage to “Great Expectations”, two things were immediately clear. One, that mosh pit that materialized in an instant right in front us would lend a little menace and energy to the night as it cowed some of the less hearty in the immediate area. Two, this was going to be an electric, body shakin' great rock and roll show. In 2009, great rock shows seem to be in shorter supply than newspaper sales as djs, laptop artistes, sensitive wallflowers and dinosaur cash grabs dominate the concert landscape.
Focusing mostly on their universally lauded 2008 sparkplug, The ’59 Sound, The Gaslight Anthem relied on their DIY instincts as they connected immediately with the audience, as lead singer Brian Fallon told self-deprecating stories of his experiences as a kid in Philly at Troc punk rock shows with The Dillinger Escape Plan and Saves The Day. He also offered his services as a pool painter. Highlights included a searing “I’da Called You Woody, Joe”, Fallon’s heartfelt tribute to Joe Strummer from TGA’s first album, Sink or Swim, as well as “The 59 Sound” and especially “The Patient Ferris Wheel”, with the Springsteen redux lyrics about escape and desperation and the shouted lyrics (“I’ve never felt so strange, standing in the Jersey rain / Thinking about what an old man said / Maybe I should call me an ambulance”) that are still ringing in my head this morning.
The Gaslight Anthem will not save the world. But they are part of the great rock continuum, bands of brothers that will evoke spirits of Elvis, the Stones and the brothers Ruffin and they will bring you to your knees. Go see them, not because it feels like they might save your soul, but because they are alive, and like the only that band matters, they feel like the very last gang in town.