For some years now, the Gaslight Anthem have been steadily honing and perfecting their modern brand of Springsteen-tinged rock music, resulting in July’s release of most recent album Handwritten. To my ears, this latest release is basically perfect – they’re as anthemic yet personal as ever, and there’s not a single bad song. I wrote a review of it back in July that can’t be posted on here but can be found on the Alter the Press website, for anyone interested.
Their music is often so steeped in the Americana that inspired it that there is sometimes a wonder that their message, and with it their impact, may be slightly lost on audiences this side of the Atlantic. Anyone who has attempted a journey via the M25 will know that songs about driving for pleasure may not be as relevant as they could be, but if lead singer Brian Fallon’s musical search for redemption is going to find the ideal format for presentation, it’s in a live setting.
The band’s gig at the Brixton Academy on the 15th October sold out in a matter of minutes, and it is testament to their popularity that a second night was rapidly announced. The venue is suitably full, the crowd a blend of restless and respectful, likely a reflection of the wide range of age groups that the band can attract.
Slow-burning ‘Mae’ seems an odd choice as an opener, subdued as it is, but the beauty of the song makes up for the lack of an explosive start. Those here to bounce around aren’t left waiting too long, however, as the band immediately launch into trademark anthem ‘The ’59 Sound’, ‘Old White Lincoln’ and ‘Howl’ following closely on its heels.
Fallon is usually a talkative compere, instilling each song with yet more meaning as he fills his crowds in with stories of their inception and inspiration. Tonight, however, he keeps the between-song speech to a minimum, letting the songs speak for themselves. With an ever-burgeoning back catalogue this may be an approach that the band are forced into, trying to pack more songs into a limited period. It doesn’t matter too much either way, the quality of each track doing all the speaking needed.
Tonight’s set is largely made up of cuts from Handwritten and The ’59 Sound, but all of the band’s releases receive an airing in some form or the other. ’45’, ‘The Backseat‘ and ‘Great Expectations’ are particular highlights, perfectly capturing the passion and energy the band exude throughout.
The Brixton crowd are lucky enough to be treated for a first-ever live airing of ‘National Anthem’, one of Handwritten‘s highlights. Alone with just guitarist Alex Rosamilia, the plaintive, solemn track provides a beautiful, considered end to a perfect-as-ever set, and Fallon appears genuinely humbled at its reception.
It takes a great band to make such intrinsically American songs relevant to an audience in South-East London, and an even better band to make them care as much as this audience do. On tonight’s evidence, The Gaslight Anthem are that band.