The Gaslight Anthem returned for their first show in nearly three years on Sunday night. The band kicked off their latest tour - part reunion, part celebration of the band's seminal 2008 record The '59 Sound - with a return to form full of all the fan favorites and shout-along choruses. Washington, D.C.'s famed 9:30 Club hosted the show, as well as a follow-up date on Memorial Day.
The New Jersey-based quartet jumped in with both feet, starting things off with "Stay Vicious." The song opens The Gaslight Anthem's most recent album, 2014's critically divisive Get Hurt. It shifts dramatically between punch-you-in-the-face verses and melodic choruses. The experience is jarring, but played tightly and bouncing off the pent-up energy of the room the choice made sense.
The band then threw out three more songs, including "Handwritten," the title track from their 2012 LP. Opening with a series of "woahs" and featuring warm guitar parts, it's a beloved song for Gaslight fans. The album as a whole has a special place for anyone who has followed the group, perhaps only second to the main event.
We've witnessed many nostalgia tours from here at BSL. None have measured up to what The Gaslight Anthem are doing with The '59 Sound.
The source material has aged phenomenally. From the frantic opening notes on "Great Expectations" to the drum fills on "The Backseat," it's a poignant record with equal parts mass appeal and genuine emotion. The best part is that the group collectively recreated that experience live without feeling rote.
The whole band is on point: a non-fan would have a hard time believing these guys are coming off of a hiatus. Some of that comes from frequent collaborations, like lead singer and rhythm guitarist Brian Fallon bringing along collaborator and touring guitarist Ian Perkins on his recent run of solo shows. Some of that is drive to just get things right.
Guitarist Alex Rosamilia and bassist Alex Levine provide solid backing vocals. Haunting, layered backing vocals are such a vital part of The '59 Sound that it would be a crime if either skipped out on them. Rosamilia in particular does an excellent job keeping up with this; lesser bands have seen backing vocals go by the wayside as instruments take the lead. Levine has a stage presence few other bassists can match.
Drummer Benny Horowitz shines in particular. Those drum fills are not restricted to the album closer. His timing is the backbone that keeps the hard stops and starts on "Old White Lincoln" and "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues." Both are integral deep cuts to the experience of the album, and the audience caught a chilling moment on the latter. As Fallon stepped back from the mic at the tail end of the bridge, the crowd filled in the words for him. The band let the moment breathe, before thundering back into the tail end of the track.
(Photo: Thomas Joseph)
It would have been enough if the band had ended then and there. A lengthy break before the tender "Here's Looking At You, Kid," gave Fallon a chance to banter with the audience.
"I don't have a favorite diner! They're all equally terrible," Fallon said laughing. For all of their references to diners and classic cars, that's the life these guys grew up with.
That's what carries the day for this record, and this band as a whole. You don't have to have seen a Steve McQueen film while growing up in New Jersey to understand the idea of wanting to star in an action movie.
Every word of "The Backseat" makes you want to well up for the times when you asked you friend for a ride because you were too young for a license, or didn't have a car, or you were short on gas money. And "1930" works because we've all buried a loved one who hung on too long. "Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts" works because it's the closest thing in the rock music cannon to getting hammered, wrapping your arm around your best friend's shoulder, and saying, 'I love you, man.'
And "We're Getting a Divorce, You Keep The Diner" works because, well, after saying that to your best friend, letting out a big old "woah" with a crowd is the only way to end the night.
There's no sign of new work coming from The Gaslight Anthem. They made it through 25 tracks on Sunday night and a dozen interviews before the tour without even hinting at it. If this is the end for this band, it's one hell of going away party. The '59 Sound Anniversary tour spans the Eastern Seaboard, Canada, and every festival Europe has to offer. Catch 'em if you can; you won't be disappointed.