This weekend couldn't have been going better by the time we arrived to The Commodore Ballroom. Maybe it was because of good vibes at school earlier that morning; maybe it was the weather; or the enjoyable interview with Benny from the Gaslight Anthem earlier that afternoon; or maybe it was feeling near-perfect health amongst it all. Maybe. Or, was it my anticipation to see what was sure to be another blue-ribbon performance from Jersey’s finest modern-rock export?
With them, the Gaslight Anthem brought along acts to unfold tonight’s program: Fake Problems and the Menzingers. The former group had been recommended personally and at 9:00 P.M. sharp, they began, right on time. Immediately they fit the bill. A young four-piece emanating heartfelt vocals center and bluesy, melodic guitar from the left. I've seen this before. Much like our headliners, they drew just as much influence from classic rock, roots and even folk as they did punk rock. They played an impressively tight set, gradually gaining more and more interest from the crowd. I expect that growing amount of pot smoke in the air was synonymous with Chris Farren’s tale about a woman’s taking in the habit after chastising him for years, before he himself butt-out.
It looks like Florida can add another exciting act to their roster. Their new album, Real Ghosts Caught on Tape, comes out September 21, 2010, but as is the case often these days, it was offered at two-thirds of the retail price for any fans in attendance, prior to the release date. Why do bands do this? Well, you might as well offer it at a good price for those who paid to see your concert; otherwise, they’ll be downloading it for free when they get home. Or, maybe they already have, but you've given them a unique upper hand. It’s about competing with piracy rather than resisting it.
The Menzingers’ task at hand was to continue the momentum as the packed house awaited our final act. Starting with a cool tom intro--clearly borrowed from the Ramones--was semi-intriguing until the band kicked in, played a couple bars then shifted the song entirely to one of their own. Theirs didn't sound too bad as it had hints of Insomniac-era Green Day; however, Greg Barnett’s vocals were, as Billie Joe himself put it, “like an Englishman impersonating an American impersonating an Englishman.” Alternatively, in his more melodic attempts he sounded like too many other boring--and excuse me--whiny pop-punk vocalists du jour. Despite any classic sounds of influence (which could also include more recent acts like American Steel), they mostly still failed to captivate. When the pint-sized Tom Kay took over the mic, he surely added some grit to the mix, which made for good variety in an otherwise mundane set. Mind you, as did Greg’s solo vocal/guitar introduction to one of the more dynamic offerings. The band certainly played well enough and I couldn't complain about how the contrived material played out. Maybe it was just myself (and those around me) but I felt a lull in the night’s agenda and couldn't have been more ready for Gaslight.
Unlike their first Commodore Ballroom appearance, where the all-ages show ended by 9:00 P.M. (two hours earlier than Vancouver’s unique, bullshit curfew of 11:00 P.M. for minors), this time, at 11:15 P.M. the main act was only moments away from starting. T-Rex’s “Bang a Gong” played in the background as we waited.
The crew came out; Alex Levine in his signature white V-neck; Brian front and centre with a dark, short-sleeve shirt and black-and-white tee beneath it; Alex Rosamilia’s mysterious shrine of religious figurines and other collectibles on his amp; and Benny’s background beats introduced the title track and lead single from American Slang. Their second single, “Boxer” played next without pause, followed by the title track from 2008's Señor and the Queen EP. Personally, I find opening the set with not one, but two current singles a little trite, but from what I understand, the set has been changing throughout the Canadian tour.
“Third time’s a charm at The Commodore Ballroom,” declared Brian. Although he was surely referring to their third stop, he could have very well been commenting on the sound engineering being perfected by the third song tonight. His vocals now poignant, it allowed for his “live-only” growl to shine through the final verse on “The Diamond Church Street Choir.”
The sold-out crowd in unison sung the words “young girls” after he sang “young boys” back and forth during their "'59 Sound” hit. “Old White Lincoln” followed, as it does on the album, stopping halfway through with an elongated breakdown as they always do in concert. This poppy, new wave-influenced gem always strikes a chord lyrically. I've learned that one must be careful listening to an album repeatedly during a period of life because--for better or for worse--it will forever remind you of that time. A beautiful, unknown verse introduced “Drive” with soul. It was among other older faves such as “I’da Called You Woody, Joe,” “Angry Johnny and the Radio” and “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts,” all welcomed as much as newer fare. Segueing into tunes from old cover songs or incorporating bits of them into breakdowns are always a Gaslight staple (e.g., “House of the Rising Sun”) and they were heard and scattered throughout.
Benny’s drum sound was as fantastic as it was enormous during “The Queen of Lower Chelsea,” where both Brian and Alex’s vocal harmonies made the newer song sound even stronger. Though at other points a little too boomy, the crowd added some treble resistance by clapping in time during the final moments of “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts”--one of many personal faves. “Wooderson” soon followed, drawing the set to its close.
The Jersey gents returned for a seven-course encore: two parts cover tune and five parts Gaslight. No encore could be complete without “Here’s Lookin’ at You Kid,” a tune so sweet even the bros in the crowd felt lightness in their chests beneath the tablecloth outfits. While Tom Petty’s “American Girl” was a treat indeed, I’m never overly fond of hearing the Who's “Baba O'Riley” (especially as an evening closer). Somehow, I think I was mostly alone on that one. Twenty-four songs later, all boys and girls put their Saturday night rock party to an end. Our figurative keg had been tapped dry.
- American Slang
- Señor and the Queen
- The Diamond Church Street Choir
- The '59 Sound
- Old White Lincoln
- Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
- I'da Called You Woody, Joe
- Angry Johnny and the Radio
- Miles Davis and the Cool
- Bring It On
- The Queen of Lower Chelsea
- Say I Won't (Recognize)
- Film Noir
- Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts
- Stay Lucky
- Casanova, Baby!
- American Girl
- She Loves You
- We Came to Dance
- Here's Lookin' at You, Kid
- The Backseat
- Baba O'Riley