It must be hard for The Gaslight Anthem. After all, it seems that solely on their shoulders does the future of great, anthemic rock music rest. Quite a burden. But last night in Brixton, as they always do, they made being the most important rock band in the world look easy. With a backdrop of nothing more than a few stacked amps and a banner, The Gaslight Anthem enchant the spirits of 5000 people crammed into the O2 Academy.
Somewhat unusually, the band open up with Mae – one of the slower, more brooding songs off their latest offering, Handwritten. Not only does it whet the appetite perfectly for the booming “’59 Sound” that is to follow – the lyrics introduce the previously uninitiated to the themes for the evening. Lead singer Brian Fallon cries;
“And still this city pumps its aching heart / for one more drop of blood / we work our fingers to the dust / while we wait for Kingdom come / with the radio on.”
On a wet Monday night, London is ready to bleed to rock ‘n roll. As the band charges through the "'59 Sound", now boosted with a third guitarist in the shape of Englishman Ian Perkins, the show kicks into speed with immense power. For the next hour and a half it doesn’t stop. The band power through crowd pleaser after crowd pleaser. The relentless pace of songs like “Howl” and “Boomboxes and Dictionaries” is only interrupted occasionally by some goofy on stage banter from Brian Fallon. The show also featured songs off their first record, emphasizing the punk roots of the band – roots that have given the band the kind of raw honesty that is still palpable even on a stage as grand as the famed Brixton Academy.
It's not that they're screaming for our attention – it's that their muscular riffs and soulful words leave us with no choice
Despite the band’s best efforts, one can’t help but be distracted by the crowd. That might sound like a criticism; The Gaslight Anthem don’t have a wild, wonderful laser show awing us until we’re numb. There are no pyrotechnics, no fancy screen with an arty film playing in the background. There’s certainly no pr**k with a f**king glowing mouse mask on his head. No, unlike the majority of mainstream acts my generation have come to worship, the Gaslight Anthem feel no need to use every gimmick under the sun. There’s no cynicism, no oh-so clever self-reflexive irony. It's not that they're screaming for our attention – it's that their muscular riffs and soulful words leave us with no choice.
And that’s what makes The Gaslight Anthem such an inclusive band. There is nothing to dislike. Devoid of costume and, in the shape of Brian Fallon such a warm and modest front man, Gaslight Anthem make themselves accessible to all. As someone usually into hardcore, metal and punk, that is usually far from what I’m looking for in my favourite bands. Yet last night, I shared my favourite songs – from the rousing “’Great Expectations” to the somber “National Anthem” with teary bald men twice my age, a teenage girl sporting a “I fancy the lead singer” t-shirt, countless checked shirts and a goon in a suit who danced as if he was about ten pints in at his daughter’s wedding.
A Gaslight Anthem gig is a communal experience – a collective cry for times gone by. For an age when rock music still meant something. When it still twanged away at our innermost longings. When The Clash made masses believe in rebellion. When Springsteen brought a voice to a world that had never had one before. And when Bob Dylan proved it was possible to touch millions of souls with just a guitar and gravelly voice. I was born too late for those bands. I don’t have them to call my own. Instead I have the Gaslight Anthem.
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