The Gaslight Anthem at First Avenue, 7/26/10

Categories: Last Night
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Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen
The Gaslight Anthem
July 26, 2010
First Ave Mainroom


If it wasn't sold out, it was damn close.  The last time the Gaslight Anthem came to town, the Cabooze played host, and there was no doubt that it was packed to capacity.  Someone figured (rightly) that the band needed a larger place to play, and the jump to First Ave provided a little extra room for fans that weren't able to snap up tickets for last October's show.  Bodies had barely any room to move around as they voluntarily packed in on the checkerboard dancefloor, not wanting to give up the little spaces they had claimed.  But, hey, it's a busy night at First Ave--you're going to rub against strangers and get a drink spilled on you at some point.

After a straightforward set from Tim Barry (best known as the former frontman for punk upstarts Avail) to kick off the night, Indiana outfit Chamberlain took the stage, hoping to warm up the swelling crowd.  It's been a while since anyone had heard from them; Chamberlain haven't issued a full album since 2002, but are currently touring behind a new EP that seems to be their first recorded material in 8 years.  An odd choice for an opener, the set from Chamberlain was tepid, filled with songs that had a strong 90's alternative flavor (but somehow checking all the anger at the door).  It was well-mannered enough that it almost smacked of Christian rock, not at all a complement to the rough-around-the-edges sound of either Tim Barry or the Gaslight Anthem.  Even an appearance from Gaslight lead Brian Fallon did little to raise interest--the hooks just weren't enough to latch onto.  The songs were competently performed (hanging mostly on singer David Moore's clear, impressive voice), but unfortunately, were also largely uninteresting.  By mid-set, 2009 tourmates Murder By Death were sorely missed.

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Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen
After the opening acts and a few minutes of the requisite First Ave projector screen filler, headliners the Gaslight Anthem walked onstage accompanied by hip hop beats (yeah, you read that right) before tearing through three songs off of recent album American Slang.  There was no slow build to a climax, just a kickoff full of fireworks, jumping straight into some of the most upbeat material on the new record.  Oddly, only the front half of the crowd seemed to be moving at all; patrons in the back were content to cross their arms and nod along.  Even after a tune as rousing as "The '59 Sound," the back half of the crowd remained stationary.  If it weren't for the huge applause in every break between songs, you might have thought some of them weren't enjoying themselves.  But, we're not at the weekend yet--it's a Monday night.  Cutting a little slack is in order.

Frontman Brian Fallon was more talkative than during past concerts.  Where before he mumbled and remained mostly quiet in between songs, this time around he seemed fully engaged, feeding off the energy of a full room and allowing a huge grin to make an appearance from time to time.  Jovial, Fallon made the obligatory Prince reference and joked about hanging out with Jay-Z before moving though material from the group's older albums.  Even with all the fan-pleasing early songs, the most memorable moments came from more recent works, with set centerpiece "Bring It On" providing a real spine-tingling moment.  If you got shivers when the whole group shouted that "everybody's cold," you weren't the only one.

The main set admirably bounced between every Gaslight album to date, even going so far as to include B-side "Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts," but it was the scorching encore that made the concert truly special.  After playing most of the new album in the main set, the band was free to roam around their own back catalog, but opened the encore with a cover of Lucero's "The War."  The band was joined onstage by Tim Barry, who traded verses with Fallon and added quite nicely to the dynamic of the song.  However, the real showstopper didn't make an appearance until a fan in the front row made a suggestion.  After spitting out a disclaimer that they were probably going to butcher it, the Jersey boys launched into an impromptu cover of the Who's "Baba O'Riley," complete with Townshend-style guitar windmills and jumping splits.  The whole band got behind it and pulled off a surprising, impressive cover, stunning the First Ave crowd and inviting rapturous applause.

Even with a lackluster opener, the crowd got their money's worth.  The Gaslight Anthem played for no less than an hour and forty minutes, taking a tiny 3 minute break after the main set.  The band packed 24 songs into the entirety of their performance, and gave a solid representation of their work as they packed in songs from each of their three albums and beyond.  Brian Fallon started to stretch out his ragged vocals during the most demanding bits, and every member of the band was sweating profusely by the end of the show.  Maybe when you make your name as a blue-collar band, the hard work comes naturally--but rarely with payoffs this large.

Personal bias:  Last year, I stood in the pouring rain to see Gaslight at Lollapalooza, and didn't regret a moment of it.
The crowd:  Diverse; appreciative but largely stoic (save for the moshers in front). Mostly youthful, but with noticeable flecks of gray.
Overheard in the crowd: "Oh no...it's that guy from work. Hide me."
Random notebook dump:  An accountant-looking woman next to me knew all of the lyrics to little-heard debut album Sink or Swim, but almost nothing else.

Setlist: 
1. American Slang
2. Boxer
3. The Diamond Church Street Choir
4. The '59 Sound
5. Old White Lincoln
6. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
7. Bring It On
8. Miles Davis & The Cool
9. Red In The Morning
10. Spirit of Jazz
11. Angry Johnny And The Radio
12. Orphans
13. Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts
14. Film Noir
15. Stay Lucky
16. The Queen of Lower Chelsea
17. Great Expectations

Encore
1. The War (Lucero cover)
2. Boomboxes and Dictionaries
3. We Came To Dance
4. Baba O'Riley (The Who cover)
5. We're Getting a Divorce, You Keep the Diner
6. Here's Looking At You, Kid
7. Backseats
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