Gaslight Anthem - live in New Brunswick (Cover Artwork)

Gaslight Anthem

live in New Brunswick (2008)

live show

After bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Garden State Parkway, getting lost on the Rutgers campus and stepping into a puddle that was a foot deep, I made it to the show with literally 30 seconds to spare. This wasn't a typical Gaslight Anthem show -- it was semi-under wraps and I'm sure many Rutgers students were there just because some type of rock show was going on. The crowd was sterile during their opening number, "Great Expectations," but came alive during the next song, "Wooderson."

Playing three-fourths of their three major releases, TGA, for lack of a better term, killed. No mistakes were recorded by my ears, and the cafeteria acoustics of this non-musical venue room actually ended up working to their advantage, making the guitars seem more atmospheric. The front-and-center crowd, including yours truly, were singing along enthusiastically to every song, but the more punk songs off Sink or Swim and Señor and the Queen got the crowd moving the most. One comic event was the crowd opening up and moshing for the anticipated end of "Angry Johnny and the Radio," only to be awkwardly thwarted by a minute-long buildup to the gang vocal chorus. Another funny, charming thing to happen was a police radio going off during the pause of "Say I Won't (Recognize)" making the band crack up before they could continue.

The Gaslight Anthem are best appreciated live, though it helps to know their songs. While many people wouldn't consider them "just" a punk band, they have a few things going for them that most live punk bands don't: adding riffs and solos that flow very naturally in and out of the song that aren't on the recorded versions ("I'da Called You Woody, Joe" has a memorable solo stuck in after the first chorus) and the interloping of other lyrics/melodies into bridges (they played a good minute of the quite appropriate "Sweet Soul Music" during "Say I Won't (Recognize)").

But one has to remember they're a relatively new band and have a few edges to smooth out. They haven't quite mastered the Bruce Springsteen signature of taking the instrument volume down while he sings quietly -- many times lead singer Brian Fallon tried to do so and the rest of the band played at the same loudness. Also, Brian needs to stick with his banter that's truthful, honest and funny ("Up the pugs," "Hey, don't boo me for being a Bears fan, it's not like we're winning nothin'" -- classic). Though it was rare, anytime he tried to go into dreamy, Tom Waits territory ("We bought a cat in Albuquerque... named Lester... with three eyes... and seven legs"), it stuck out in an odd way, peeling away the working class humanization they're loved for. Minor kinks, but should be taken into consideration.

Anyway, the all-encompassing "The Backseat" was a great way to end the first set, while the encore-starting "The Patient Ferris Wheel" was perfectly complete because of the Dicky Barrett imitations for the "Fight about it!" parts of the pre-chorus. A nice change of pace, "The Navesink Banks" was given the full band treatment, but the undeniable climax was "I Coulda Been a Contender." An impeccable way to end the night, I completely forgot about the song by that point. The crowd went twice as berserk as they did all night, and the show couldn't have ended on a higher note. What a great send off to their home state, not knowing when they'll return, here's lookin' at you guys.

Set list:

  1. Great Expectations
  2. Wooderson
  3. Casanova, Baby!
  4. We Came to Dance
  5. I'da Called You Woody, Joe
  6. Angry Johnny and the Radio
  7. The ‘59 Sound
  8. Film Noir
  9. Señor and the Queen
  10. Old White Lincoln
  11. Miles Davis & the Cool
  12. Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts
  13. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
  14. 1930
  15. Say I Won't (Recognize)
  16. The Backseat
  17. The Patient Ferris Wheel
  18. The Navesink Banks
  19. Drive
  20. I Coulda Been a Contender