Sunday, 6 February 2011

791 THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM, Talking Atlantic, Oxford Academy, Tuesday 29 June 2010

Rach and I had a problematic journey for this one; a slowish drive along the A421 due to traffic and roadside crowds waiting for a military cortege, then a long queue to get into Oxford city centre, and finally a totally rammed Tesco car park requiring us to park down a dodgy looking side street. But hey, at least it was better than my last attempt to get to a Gaslight Anthem gig; on that occasion, last February, I didn't even get to set off to Bristol thanks to heavy snow and impassable roads!

So we hit the venue over an hour after setting off, getting into the impossibly crammed venue as the main support were exhuming the ghost of clumsy shouty Emo. I copped some flak from Rach by complaining they were loud; "you're at a gig, what d'you expect?" But hey, I know what I meant; loud as in clumsily riffy and shouty, and not sounding good at all. Whiled away their interminable set watching World Cup footy on the TVs behind the bar, and trying to establish a small bit of space near the back by the mixing desk.

If anything, the already-heaving venue became fuller still for the entrance of the Gaslight Anthem, a little late at 9.25. Four black-clad tattooed New Jersey oiks who are riding high on a wave of Springsteen-endorsed press approval and a strident new CD "American Slang", which encapsulates their vision and ambition. On record, they're the missing link between the Hold Steady's vignettes of angst-ridden American Teenhood set to joyous bar room blues rock, and Jimmy Eat World's shiny and heart-tuggingly memorable Emo pop. However they really come alive onstage, with a cracking, strident and kinetic performance filled with commitment and passion. Opener "American Slang" set the tone for this set, which was packed with big, expansive, driving with the top down on a wide open highway radio rock, and emotive, arms and lighters/ mobile phones aloft, stadium anthems in waiting. "Old White Lincoln" featured a pregnant pause (one of many such excellent devices scattered throughout), and the opening section, drawn heavily from the new CD, also featured devotional sing-alongs from the frenzied crowd reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional's all-inclusive events. A brilliant "59 Sound" was followed by a preamble from vocalist Brian Fallon about an "Onion" article detailing the "other side" of the blues, "blues-man's ex wife claims, "I am not a mean-hearted woman and I did not do him wrong!"" A blistering "Boxer" followed, all power and passion, but that was topped by a superb sing-along "Great Expectations", catchy as flu and amphetamine-fast, and for me the highlight of the set, which was closed out perfectly by another communal sing-along, this time to the slow-burn-to-crescendo "When We Were Young", a U2 "With Or Without You" sound-alike and surely a Wembley show closer of the future. Brilliant stuff.

Then, to prove it is possible to have too much of a good thing, The Gaslight Anthem stretched their encore to about 8 or 9 more numbers, throwing in stripped back acoustic stuff as well as a smattering from their punkier early "Sink Or Swim" material, punctuated by Fallon, achingly sincere and clearly in his element, underlining their DIY ethic ("we stuck our own labels on our records; those are the bands you connect with because we're just like you!") and offering Russell Brand out for a fight! Good stuff but a little unnecessary, and paling in comparison to the preceding set. So, a 1 hour 40 minute total performance which was great, but would have been untouchable at 1 hour 15, saw us leaving after 11, sweaty but nevertheless enthused. Here's a band that matter, and are hopefully going places in a hurry!

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