The Gaslight Anthem might be on tour to promote last year’s fifth full-length, ‘Get Hurt’, but for the vast majority of tonight’s (relatively) intimate gig it’s almost as if the New Jersey band have forgotten it exists. In fact, they play just four songs from that record, giving the night a strange sense of being trapped in the past, or at least in the memory of it.
The band kick off with what’s probably still their best-known song, the title track of 2008’s breakthrough second record, The ‘59 Sound, its chorus soaring into the ornate balconies that overlook the stage on either side. After that, there’s barely room to pause for a while – an impassioned rendition of 1930, a song from 2007’s debut album Sink Or Swim about frontman Brian Fallon’s grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, is quickly followed by High Lonesome and then Handwritten, the title track from 2012’s fourth record, before a one-two punch of Old White Lincoln and Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. That’s four songs in six from The ’59 Sound, and the assured, convincing way in which the band dispense with them almost make it feel like it’s 2008 again. Certainly, the power and pull of those songs hasn’t diminished over time in the slightest – if anything, they sound as vital as ever, and serve as a powerful reminder of both how and why the band received the attention and acclaim they did upon the release of that record.
At the same time, tonight is also a wonderful demonstration of how they’ve grown, and how they’re able to infuse the past with the experience they’ve gained since. Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?, from their early 2008 EP Señor And The Queen, is slowed down and delivered with an extra, poignant dose of nostalgia, while Great Expectations is similarly reduced in pace, its semi-acoustic incarnation nevertheless causing voices to break throughout the packed crowd. Say I Won’t (Recognize) is a jubilant celebration of life and good times, The Diamond Church Street Choir swings and sparkles with pizazz, and both 45 and Howl burn with the kind of urgent vitality that has always defined the very essence of Gaslight’s earnest existence. And while there aren’t many of them tonight, it’s present in the new songs, too – the wounded defiance of Helter Skeleton and the easy-going, laid-back melancholy of Sweet Morphine might be a world away from the blistering, breakneck pace of Wooderson, but they feel just as vital, just as real, just as sincere.
Interestingly, for a band long plagued – and pissed off – by Springsteen comparisons, they infuse Red At Night, Sink Or Swim’s acoustic finale, with the Boss’ I’m On Fire, to devastating effect. There’s no encore, because – as Fallon explains – they can play more songs if they don’t leave the stage. Instead, they follow that semi-cover with the gentle, wistful lilt of Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts and a rousing version of The Backseat. The entire place erupts in a throat-tearing sing-a-long, ending the night with a surge of desperate emotion and an overwhelming affirmation, if any were needed, that this band are as good as they ever were.