The Gaslight Anthem at First Avenue, 2/28/13
The Gaslight Anthem with the Bouncing Souls and Cory Branan First Avenue Mainroom, Minneapolis Thursday, February 28, 2013
Dust off those newly collectible Nets snapbacks, gang, we had ourselves a double-header of Jersey pop-punk at the Mainroom last night. Fresh off of their major-label debut and fourth record in total back in the summer of 2012, the Garden State's lovable, tattooed world-beaters returned to our fair city to sell out the big room handily. Flogging their chart-topping new album Handwritten, this could very well have been the Gaslight Anthem's final stab at our most sacred venue before they're pressured to move up to stadiums. With their hometown heroes, the indomitable Bouncing Souls, along for a double headlining bill, the night felt like celebration of the kind of sincere, emotive songwriting both groups made the mark with, even if neither act seemed to give us 100 percent of their true powers.
See also: Slideshow: The Gaslight Anthem at First Avenue
The Bouncing Souls celebrated their 25th birthday as a band last year, making their group officially older than most of the assembled Gaslight fans. Constant touring and more than 10 studio albums definitely seem to have taken their toll on the punk-rock journeymen, but their performance contained none of the world-weary cynicism of some of the genre's other legacy acts. Supporting their new album Comet, which pairs the classic Souls' sound with some more epic subject material and the occasional acoustic guitar, Greg Attonito and company made a solid case for their band's relevancy. While their once-thrashing stage presence has definitely mellowed out since the '90s, Pete Steinkopf and Bryan Kienlan still managed to prowl the stage like a couple of long-in-the-tooth road dogs, bringing a hint of menace to the group's sunny pop anthems. Special credit should go to drummer Michael McDermott, who anchored the band with a full-armed attack on his kit and solid pocket playing that never eclipsed the Souls' trademark hooks. If anyone in the group was showing his age, it was probably Attonito himself, who seemed content to sing in place for the entirety of the set, showing off none of the endearingly goofy dance moves of his youth. As usual with these kind of sets, the best moments came during classic Bouncing Souls songs such as "True Believers," which seemed to give both the crowd and the performers a jolt of energy.
Taking the stage to the lilting synths of Van Halen's "Jump" (always a crowd pleaser), the newly-minted five-piece version of the Gaslight Anthem pantomimed along to Diamond Dave for a second before tearing in to their '59 Sound-era rocker "High Lonesome." Now sporting a three-guitar attack thanks to the addition of touring guitarist and Horrible Crowes member Ian Perkins, the band tore into what would be a lengthy set, heavy on their new material.
Early fireworks came in the form of banger "American Slang" off of the band's third album of the same name, energizing the crowd thanks to the hearty sing-along chorus. Gaslight frontman Brian Fallon dropped a seemingly off-the-cuff Westerberg reference into the song's breakdown, which was a pleasant surprise despite the band's reputation as rock geeks. It quickly became apparent that the songs from Handwritten were the most exciting for Gaslight when "Biloxi Parish" brought back the swagger after a run of a few ballads from the earlier albums made things a little sleepy. Fantastic slow burners "The Diamond Church Street Choir" and "The Queen of Lower Chelsea" from American Slang got a somewhat offhanded treatment from the group, particularly Fallon, who looked a bit bored with those songs' doo-wopy melodies.
Another new tune, the full-lunged shout-along "Howl," brought the energy crashing back, featuring a four-part gang vocal from the band to help Fallon kick the night into high gear. The new record's hit single, "45," landed soon after with a rousing hook and wallop that made it a highly effective crowd-pleaser. Other highlights from the later set included "Great Expectations," which worked as an excellent end to the night, before the inevitable encore.
Despite an admirable display of drumming prowess from Benny Horowitz, whose awesome strength and technical skill carried the show through many of its slower moments, I was left with the distinct feeling that we got maybe 70 percent of Gaslight's true powers last night. Fallon is obviously star material, with rugged good looks and a folksy charm that remained winning even after a bungled attempt to placate a noisy heckler. A bit more movement from his position at center stage could have been the cherry on top of an otherwise solid performance. The band seemed to be at their best when they got out of their own heads a bit and noticed their surroundings, and the encore provided plenty of opportunities to do just that. Another Handwritten gem, "Here Comes My Man," generated the night's most moving moment, when the Gaslight boys sat back with genuinely beaming smiles while the crowd shook the walls with the chorus.
A couple of fun, off-the-cuff covers rounded out the encore, first the always popular "Astro Zombies" by the Misfits, followed by a surprise audible from Fallon for "Baba O'Riley." The Who cover sounded stadium-ready and brought their set to an admirably bombastic conclusion, and the band attacked the admittedly outdated material with a joyful sincerity and passion that I wish had been on display all night. Still, the Gaslight Anthem were thoroughly enjoyable to witness onstage, and their combination of punk ferocity, heartfelt vulnerability, and undeniably catchy songwriting ensured that their set's impact was felt all the way into the next morning.
Critic's Bias: I've been a fair-weather fan of the Gaslight boys since their first album, Sink or Swim, but this was my first time seeing them live.
The Crowd: Mix of wet-behind-the-ears kids and some aging punks who were probably Bouncing Souls diehards. Very white.
Overheard in the Crowd: "That went... badly" from a fan who was less than impressed by Fallon's heckler-handling abilities. After a can was whipped at his head, Fallon cleverly quipped, "Better men than you have thrown things at me and missed."
Random Notebook Dump: Ian Perkins and Benny Horowitz must have made a tour-long mustache pact; both of them looked like thugs from a '70s cop movie (in the best way).
Set List: High Lonesome Handwritten American Slang Even Cowgirls get the Blues The Diamond Street Church Choir Biloxi Parish The Queen of Lower Chelsea Howl Film Noir 45 Too Much Blood We're Getting a Divorce, You Keep the Diner Mulholland Drive Keepsake Great Expectations
Here Comes My Man Astro Zombies (Misfits) Here's Looking at You Kid Baba O'Riley (The Who)
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