A cold, windy and rainy evening on the shore in the Gaslight Anthem’s hometown of Asbury Park, N.J. made for a perfect setting for a homecoming holiday benefit at the intimate Asbury Park Convention Hall. The boardwalk was empty, the ferris wheel wasn’t turning, and Cookman Avenue was dead. Aside from the Asbury Park Convention Hall being lit up in holiday décor, this small seaside community was a ghost town. Even the Wonder Bar wasn’t packed. It seemed the only movement on that cold evening was the souls lucky enough to have scored a ticket to Gaslight Anthem.
This show was as much a “victory lap” for their first three albums (2007’s “Sink or Swim,” 2008’s “The ’59 Sound,” & 2010’s “American Slang”) as it was a “coming out party” for the band’s signing with the major label, Mercury, in 2011. In 2012, their first major-label release which was produced by Brendan O’Brien (Of Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam fame) entitled “Handwritten” was released and it was easily the best rock record of that particular year.
It was apparent that the sold-out crowd at Asbury Park Convention Hall was in a good mood and ready for something special as they were singing along to Pearl Jam’s “Ten” which was playing as background music during set-up in between bands and even singing along to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” when it rang out as the intro music for the Gaslight Anthem coming on stage.
The opening song, which is also the opening track of their album “The ’59 Sound,” was “Great Expectations.” With the crowd chanting the lyrics “I saw tail lights last in a dream about my first wife” as loud as the band itself coupled with immediate crowd surfing, the stage was set for a monumental show in this band’s already successful career. As the last chord of “Great Expectations” came to a close, the downbeat of the “Friday I’m In Love” sounding “Old White Lincoln” belted out through the Convention Hall. The Gaslight Anthem has learned how to connect with audiences in a way that a band like Pearl Jam does. They make the concert about everyone there and the shared experience instead of the concert being just about the spectacle of the band. After the bridge of “Old White Lincoln,” the band stopped and the crowd continued the song by themselves “You and your high-top sneakers and your sailor tattoos; got your old 55 that you drove through the roof. Of the sky up above, the glimmering stars; where you just kept coming apart, straight in my arms.” The band jumped back in at the perfect moment, making the circle complete. Bands out there touring take note; this is how to connect with an audience.
As the band continued into the songs “The Diamond Church Street Choir,” “Wooderson,” & “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” the crowd continued to sing along every lyric with enthusiasm that the band gave back to the crowd three-fold. The first roared frenzy came with the opening riff of the Gaslight Anthem’s breakout single “The ’59 Sound.” “I wonder which song is gonna play when we go. I hope it’s something quiet, and minor, and peaceful, and slow” thundered from the crowd back to the band who were all smiles. In such an intimate venue in their hometown, it was absolutely crystal clear how much fun the band was having. You can see it here.
The extremely robust set list continued with a mix of their entire catalog with songs such as “The Spirit of Jazz,” “The Patient Ferris Wheel,” “Boomboxes & Dictionaries,” & “Miles Davis & the Cool.” As the lights dimmed and Brian Fallon addressed the crowd to acknowledge that the concert was a benefit for those less fortunate, he dedicated “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” to those. As lighters came to the sky and the crowd sang along “We sing with our heroes 33 rounds per minute,” turning back and looking into the crowd was one of those surreal moments rarely seen at a modern concert. There was no sea of iPhones, no psychotically screaming teenage girls, and no sweaty hairy guys trying to start a mosh pit. It was a room full of people connecting again and again to a song they already knew and heard a million times before. “Blue Jeans” is one of those songs any guy who wasn’t born with a trust fund or a silver spoon can connect with on a grand scale. It’s everything you want to be and promising that one day you will be despite of your surroundings. Your heroes on wax will inspire you to get to the place you want to be. The simplest songs always turn out to be the most meaningful (remember that if you are reading this and are an aspiring songwriter, keep it simple).
The Gaslight Anthem has always been a band that has paid homage to their influences and heroes. In between songs, lead singer Brian Fallon told a story of his experience of riding the school bus as a kid. “It was educational. Kids would beat you up and girls would turn you down.” What he said was really true. Where do kids learn a great deal of their interpersonal and social skills? That big yellow hell-trap called a school bus. What kept his sanity on the school bus was the “Singles” movie soundtrack on cassette and a song on the soundtrack by Pearl Jam. At that moment, the Gaslight Anthem tore into Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust” like an exploding time bomb. They not only did the song justice, but they elevated it in a way that would make Eddie Vedder proud. Little did they know that less than a year later, they would have Vedder on the stage with them in Pensacola, Fla. singing it with them.
The greatest moment of the night was yet to come. It was Christmastime after all. In that spirit, the band gave the crowd a Christmas present they wouldn’t soon forget when they welcomed “The Boss” himself, Bruce Springsteen, to the stage. The roar of the crowd was deafening as Bruce came onto the stage, plugged in his guitar, and said “Merry Christmas” to the audience. As the opening notes to “American Slang” began to play, it was barely audible over the noise of the crowd. Brian Fallon and Bruce Springsteen duetted “American Slang,” sometimes sharing the same microphone as if they were in the same band or had practiced it a million times. It was one of those moments that doesn’t happen often in music. It’s one of those moments that people will talk about years down the road sitting around campfires with their friends saying the words “I was there.” It was nothing less than spectacular.
The concert could have ended there and every ticket holder would have been more than happy with what they saw. However, this was a hometown throw down. Asbury Park is a ghost town in the wintertime. It’s not like playing longer was going to disturb the peace. This crowd wouldn’t mind a longer set. The Gaslight Anthem continued into “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” and on to an unreleased song entitled “Our Father’s Sons.”
In the spirit of paying homage to more of their heroes, it was fitting that the sixteenth notes to open The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” set the Asbury Park Convention Hall off into a riot of people jumping up and down. “Don’t cry. Don’t raise your eye. It’s only teenage wasteland” is a fitting way to close a concert on a high note.
The entire set list went as follows:
Old White Lincoln
The Diamond Street Church Choir
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
The ’59 Sound
We Came to Dance
The Patient Ferris Wheel
Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?
The Spirit of Jazz
Boomboxes & Dictionaries
Angry Johnny & the Radio
Miles Davis & the Cool
Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts
State of Love and Trust
Senor & the Queen
The Queen of Lower Chelsea
Here’s Looking at You, Kid
Our Father’s Sons
The Navesink Banks
She Loves You
The Gaslight Anthem is a band that has always been heavily influenced by their heroes and idols. From Robert Smith, to Tom Waits, to The Bouncing Souls, to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, to Pearl Jam and beyond, the listener gets a little bit of them all combined into one with the Gaslight Anthem. From Brian Fallon leaning back and looking to the sky like Eddie Vedder, to borrowing lyrics from Tom Waits such as “the heart of Saturday night,” December 9th 2011 will be one of those days this band remembers as a transformation into their own shoes and stepping out on their own to leave a permanent footprint in rock n’ roll.