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Why does one choose to become a music writer? Why does one choose to do anything? Hopefully, because they love it. Music writers are an odd breed. Some of us fell into it by chance, some of us do other things as well but some of us….some of us are just fans. Some people get so touched by one garage band or one bearded guy with a Telecaster strapped to his neck or one stupid line in a song and that’s it…we’re done. They can’t help but speak about it, write about it and just plain feel it in their bones.
The Gaslight Anthem is one of those bands. From the basements of New Brunswick, New Jersey to selling out the Trocadero, they strike a chord with so many people that it’s easy to see why they’re so beloved even though they started playing together less than three years ago. The question is, when does the band you love more than anything stop being your band? Is it something that just comes with the territory of growing up? Is it supposed to happen in the scheme of musical evolution? In few words, in most cases yes. At this point, the Gaslight Anthem is such a universal band that punk kids, hardcore kids, sorority girls and frat boys, moms dads and everyone in between can call this band something of their own. You’d think this would be disappointing to some; it would if they weren’t so damn good.
From what’s been said about the E Street Band in 1975, The Gaslight Anthem seem to be headed down that same path; a couple of guys from New Jersey make a record that connects so much with mainstream America that they’re on magazine covers and in store windows, only for TGA it’s Alternative Press and not Time Magazine. The Trocadero was filled with the congregation and the whole night was spent waiting for the main preachers to step to the podium. Good Old War opened the show and while they’re a great band, the majority of the crowd just could not get into it. A few pockets of hometown supporters littered the front rows but with half the room empty, the local boys just couldn’t get it started. Their music is some of the most interesting stuff coming from this city right now and the fact that they’re supporting such a large scale tour is great for their popularity. Keith Goodwin’s voice soared above the band, almost making them sound like a poppier version of slowcore legends Low.
With no fanfare, Heartless Bastards took the stage for the most unwelcome set of the night. By no means are they a bad band, in fact the exact opposite, but this was just not their crowd either. Songs from their critically acclaimed new album The Mountain stood out in the set but frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom just couldn’t do anything else to inspire. Heartless Bastards have some damn good chops, especially on the pedal steel guitar, but that doesn’t make up for the downtempo White Stripes sound they were going for. Too long of a set never does anything good for either party.
The sound of Tom Waits’ gravely voice blasted over the PA as Brian Fallon jumped on stage and Alex Rosamilia kicked into the first track on The ’59 Sound, “Great Expectations.” Immediately the crowd roared and pushed their way to the front, screaming along with every word Fallon sang into the microphone. The set was expectedly heavy on songs from the new record seeing as songs like “We Came to Dance” and “1930” from the band’s still stunning debut Sink or Swim were met with a lukewarm reception from the new fans who have only heard the title track of the new album on the radio. When they did play “The ’59 Sound” it was almost as if someone backstage pushed a button to send the crowd into a relative frenzy. The words echoed from people screaming from the balcony, from the front row and from Fallon himself, one of the most honest men in rock and roll today.
During a brief pause, Fallon waxed poetic about coming to Philadelphia in his younger days to see a show and get a cheese steak. The Trocadero played setting to a lineup (as he explained) of Kid Dynamite, Saves the Day, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Snapcase as one young kid from New Jersey sat in awe. “I wouldn’t be able to be up here if it wasn’t for you guys,” he said. “Thank you.”
As the set rolled on things kept that high energy but nothing compared to the band’s encore. “Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts” from their first release of 2008, Senor and the Queen, surprised some as the first song of the encore but as soon as they hit into “I’da Called You Woody, Joe” things picked back up as it seemed the whole audience wanted to hear that song. As the band usually does, “Joe” led right into one of the best songs in the band’s small catalogue, “Angry Johnny and The Radio.” During the bridge, Fallon went off on a tear singing verses from “What Becomes of The Broken Hearted?” before Alex Levine screamed a four count kicking into the awe-inspiring ending of the song.
If you’ve seen them once, twice or a hundred times, the ending of “Radio” doesn’t get old. Strangers hug strangers, friends hug friends and everyone sings along that they “don’t drive nowhere without my radio on.”
Check out this interview with TGA Drummer Benny Horowitz from their October show at the Electric Factory with Rise Against: www.phrequency.com/genres/punk/New_Jersey_and_Beyond_.html