Review: The Gaslight Anthem @ Marathon Music Works | 3.6.13 (PHOTOS)

The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem
w/ Matrimony, Cory Branan
Marathon Music Works; Nashville, TN
Mar. 6, 2013

Review by Philip Obenschain (@pobenschain). Photos by Ellice Evins.

It’s clear that The Gaslight Anthem have an affinity for Nashville. Perhaps it’s because the band spent a month here last year, recording their career-defining major label debut album, Handwritten, at Blackbird Studios with producer Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen, The Killers, The Wallflowers). Perhaps it’s the city’s rich musical history, a melting pot of influences ripe for a band always reaching to transcend the musical scene they sprung out of. Or, perhaps The Gaslight Anthem have an affinity for Nashville, because Nashville’s clearly crazy about The Gaslight Anthem. Regardless of the reason, the band, fronted by singer-songwriter Brian Fallon, seemed especially at ease and light-spirited as they played through their generous and enthralling set at Marathon Music Works Wednesday evening. It was the band’s first appearance in Music City in nearly eight months, and the largest headlining date they’ve played in Nashville thus far. After the break, I’ve got a full rundown of their fantastic show!

I admit, I dropped the ball on catching the opening acts. I had previewed both Cory Branan and Matrimony prior to the show, and I enjoyed them both quite a bit! I managed to catch the last third or so of Matrimony (unfortunately, I completely missed Branan), so it’s not fair to critique them from only a partial performance. What I saw was spectacular, however, and I urge you to give them a listen. The way Matrimony utilizes their guy/girl vocal dichotomy is especially tasteful and engaging. Though I was disappointed to miss the openers, my excitement for The Gaslight Anthem quickly caused my disappointment to subside, and their near ninety-minute set made a one-band night feel like all I really needed.

Wednesday was my first time catching The Gaslight Anthem in a headlining club setting (I’ve caught them a handful of times in support slots, or at festivals). The first thing that caught my eye when the group took the stage, is just how minimal and no-frills their production is. As a major label band, a recent television and radio staple, and, seemingly, the go-to group for every summer festival imaginable, it’s not a stretch to think the band could spring for some elaborate lights and more intricate stage design at this point in their career. Instead, they opted for only a simple, gigantic backdrop. Even their gear is still just the bare essentials: an amp apiece, infrequent guitar changes, and more or less the same basic configuration they’ve had for years. This speaks volumes to the type of band The Gaslight Anthem have comfortably settled into being. They’re not showy because that’s not the point. They’re not rockstars, because they have no interest in it. They’re a band, and a band that just wants to mean something to the people they reach. A band driven by the bare essentials of the songs they play. Anything beyond that would start to feel insincere.

The term “heartland rock” often gets tossed around when describing TGA’s sound, and, while I don’t disagree with that classification, it still feels like a bit of a misnomer. Does the band look like a heartland rock band? Not really. More importantly, do they sound like a heartland rock band? They do. But their influences are much broader than just the Bruce Springsteen, John Mellancamp school of blue-color, no-frills rock and roll that usually carries that nomenclature. Sure, The Gaslight Anthem write emotionally charged, straightforward, unpretentious music defined more by the power of the song and emotional weight behind it, than by any high-concept, musically adventerous, or high-artistic ambitions. Sure, their Jersey roots almost guarantee a bit of The Boss’s spirit and mindset running through their blood. But, inarguably, their purely punk, Hot Water Music meets The Bouncing Souls stylistic beginnings still clings to their sound in a comfortable, confident way. The Gaslight Anthem are many things to many people and, because of that, have achieved a broader appeal than most bands from their scene. They’re anthemic and emotional, nuanced enough to appeal to snobs who frown on punk, yet unsophisticated enough to strike a cord with that blue-color crowd their “heartland rock” connotation would suggest.

The Gaslight Anthem

The band launched into their set with “Howl,” the shortest song on Handwritten and, in fact, their entire catalogue. I can’t think of a more perfect opening choice, because it serves as a sonic, condensed burst of everything that defines The Gaslight Anthem: an energetic, hook-laden thesis statement of sorts, mapping out the show to follow. The group tended to play songs in album-specific blocks, weaving between sets of emotions like chapters, allowing the tone and aesthetics of each block to seamlessly flow, then juxtaposing them against another short set of songs. Fans of the group’s debut, Sink or Swim, might have been a bit let down, as only two tracks from that album made the cut. That record is a far-shot from TGA of today, so it’s not exactly surprising that the band tends not to reach back so far. What is surprising, however, is how little attention the group paid to 2010’s American Slang. Not only is that record their most universally critically acclaimed, but the commercial turning point in their career. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed their set selections- it just struck me as strange that such a new, popular album would only see two of its songs end up in a 22-song setlist.

From a sonic standpoint, Gaslight sounded nearly flawless. Almost better than a band should reasonably be able to sound in a warehouse-type room like Marathon, in fact. The addition of touring guitarist Ian Perkins (as of 2010) has really allowed the band to fully flesh out each and every track, and though their songs are pretty straightforward, it’s still great to hear them recreated live with the same intensity and clarity of each record. Brian Fallon is a powerhouse of a singer, able to channel gut-wrenchingly earnest lyrics is a simultaneously intense and confidently subdued fashion. He clearly looks up to Springsteen, but has no aspirations of being Springsteen. Where Bruce treads a line of remaining the everyman while transcending this presence as a performer, Brian Fallon prefers to let the songs do the heavy-lifting over showmanship. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad performer; he’s quite fantastic. He’s just not one to work a club like a stadium stage (and, perhaps he’s adjusting his performance to meet the room he’s presented). Regardless, their performance was not only top-notch, exciting, and perfectly executed, but it also captivated the crowd from the first note to the end of their four-song encore.

Despite the American Slang snub, Gaslight’s setlist couldn’t have been more perfectly selected. The band played nearly every track from sophomore album, The ’59 Sound, and it was a real treat to hear those road-seasoned songs performed with equal ferver and the same honesty the’ve possessed for years. If I had any complaint, it would perhaps be that the performance didn’t entirely capture the “hugeness” of my expectations. And that’s not to say Gaslight failed to deliver so much as their own fame hasn’t quite caught up with their output of giant, stadium-primed songs that just beg to have 10,000 people singing along. I’ll hopefully get that experience someday, when I catch the band on a much larger stage, but I’m also quite thankful to have caught them in a more intimate setting one more time, before that inevitable gradation. Gaslight are definitely a band you either get or you don’t- if their songs don’t emotionally land the way they’re intended, I can understand why, on a superficial level, you’d wonder what all the fuss is about. If you’re like me though, and The Gaslight Anthem are a band whose influences so perfectly connect and resound with ever fiber of your being, then do yourself a favor and catch them live every chance that you get.

[Note: In an earlier version of this article, I stated that The Gaslight Anthem would be appearing at Bonnaroo this summer. Though they were recently announced for the festival, it was brought to my attention that they have since backed out.]

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Setlist:

Howl
Casanova, Baby!
Old White Lincoln
Film Noir
45
I’da Called You Woody, Joe
Our Father’s Sons
Blue Dahlia
Biloxi Parish
Mulholland Drive
Too Much Blood
The Queen of Lower Chelsea
Wooderson
Meet Me by the River’s Edge
Here Comes My Man
The ’59 Sound
Here’s Looking at You, Kid
The Backseat

American Slang
The Patient Ferris Wheel
Mae
Great Expectations

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Click on the photos to enlarge.

2 comments

  1. Very nice review! I must say though, I found it strange that you referenced American Slang as their most critically-acclaimed album. While many people do love that album, I have always been under the impression that ’59 Sound is far and away their defining album. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a Gaslight fan who holds American Slang above ’59 Sound, Sink or Swim, and Handwritten. Great album but it is always the one I’ve seen fans overlook.

    Reply
    • Thanks Nick! When I say critically acclaimed, I do literally mean the most ubiquitously praised by critics. The ’59 Sound saw the start of the band’s transition into more mainstream attention, but it was American Slang that most broadly landed them on the radar of musical press across the board, and on many publications’ end of year lists. I believe this attention, though it didn’t do much for their core fanbase, enabled the band’s growth in show caliber and subsequently allowed Handwritten to reach a larger audience. Handwritten achieved a lot of attention as well, but American Slang still stands marginally higher in acclaim (you can take a quick look at Metacritic for an easy way to see many of the reviews collected). That said, I agree with you that American Slang is perhaps not a fan favorite by comparison. I’d still say The ’59 Sound is Gaslight’s seminal record in balancing their core sound with their broader musical aspirations and emotionally landing the strongest with core fans.

      Reply

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