Saturday, 23 March 2013

874 THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM, Japandroids, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 21 March 2013

Now the gig year really gets into full swing! Following a quiet-ish start with 5 smallish gigs so far in 2013, here’s a run of 4 bigger ones in 8 days, starting off with a Thursday trip to Brizzle for The Gaslight Anthem! I tried to get tix for this one a couple of months back, even phoning the venue directly, but all roads led directly to a big ol’ “Sold Out” sign. That was, until last week, when, on the offchance, I checked the Academy website again, to discover a few late-released tickets available, one of which I snapped up immediately. So here’s to potentially another splendid evening in the fine company of New Jersey’s finest purveyors of blue-collar bleeding-raw angst and homespun passion, served drizzled over a fine cutlet of shiny emo-tinged punk rock. Let’s go!

Dire warnings of bad weather saw me set off earlier than planned, but the only hiccup was the normal car park entrance being shut, requiring me to circumnavigate over to the other entrance. Got in at ¼ to 8, in time for support Japandroids. A Vancouver 2-piece, they featured an imposing vocalist/ guitarist with a curly floppy fringe and effort-enhanced bulging neck-veins, which recalled El Nino’s splendid mainman Glenn Hicks. He shared some rabble-rousing call and response vocals with his hardworking drummer, over some guitar-work which often resonated as if it was coming out of a steel tunnel. “The House That Heaven Built”, a groove-along treat with some “whoa-oh” hooks, was the best of a good hard-rocking support set, although I also liked that their final number nicked the riff from the Cramps’ “I Ain’t Nothing But A Gore Hound”!

Tonight was a proper sell-out and the place was utterly old-school heaving, as I found a square inch of floorspace, stage left, in time for The Gaslight Anthem’s entrance at 9 to the strains of Van Halen’s “Jump”! Despite opening up with “High” and a couple of similarly fast numbers, they seemed subdued, feeling their way in gradually on this, the first night of the tour. This was however also reflected by the crowd, crammed in but surprisingly unresponsive. A superb “Handwritten”, 4th number in, threatened to change things, but it was the subsequent “45” which popped the cork out of the bottle with its’ powering beat and strident “whoa-oh” chorus hook, by which time I was in the melee down the front with a similarly frustrated punter, oddly enough finding more space there to move!

Despite “45” igniting the crowd to a degree, this was still a lower-key than expected performance from one of the most exciting current bands I’ve seen of late. Brian Fallon was clearly feeling uncommunicative, a comment about the band having, “a meeting about shoes today,” his first audience interaction, preceding a HHH-style waterspit and a disappointingly lumbering version of “House Of The Rising Sun”. The set proceeded in a “fast one, slow one” fashion, a manic, punky “Howl” followed by the slow-burn, almost delta bluesy “Biloxi Parish” to emphasise this. “Blue Dahlia”, another amphetamine-fast balls-to-the-wall blast, was utterly mental, raw and ragged, but the almost reggae-tinged, Costello-like “Queen Of Lower Chelsea”, next up, diffused the mood again. A raucous “Great Expectations”, sharing the same rollicking mutant rockabilly backbeat as The Woodentops’ seminal 1984 single “Plenty” (amazingly, I’d only just noticed this…), segued into a raw-boned and hard-hearted “Keepsake”, to end a 1 hour set which had great moments, but also a few too many careless, perfunctory ones, and which left me wanting some redemption.

We got it for the encore; following a late-night harmonica-fuelled ballad, a strident, anthemic “Here Comes Your Man” was excellent, the audience singalong finally eliciting a smile from taciturn (tonight, at least…) vocalist Fallon. A lovely, lovelorn “Mulholland Drive” followed, before the highlight of the night, a forthright, strident manifesto version of “American Slang”, Fallon strong-arming his guitar like a wrestler, then another punky blast through “59 Sound” to end a variable but ultimately totally worthwhile hour and a half’s rock’n’roll. First night nerves, maybe? I bet they’ll be a damn sight better after a couple of nights of this tour… Either way, I’m glad The Gaslight Anthem kicked off my end of March gig rush!

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