The Gaslight Anthem

support Rival Sons
author PP date 17/08/15 venue Malmö Festival, Malmö, SWE

It's quite impressive what our neighboring city across the bridge cooks up each year during its annual festival. For a full week the city of Malmö embraces cultural happenings of all kinds for the grand total sum of zero kroner, not least of which is the music programme that allows Danes and Swedes alike to catch quality international acts on outdoor stages set up amongst the city centre. A variety of street food offerings, amusement park rides, thrill adventures, and much more is on offer in terms of the entertainment, but it's still very much the music programme that's in the driving seat. This year, relevant artists like Satanic Surfers, Gogol Bordello, Bombus, Cloudscape, and many others were on the billing, but we opted to pick the one day with both Rival Sons and The Gaslight Anthem playing back-to-back on the festival's main stage situated at the central square of Malmö. Right in between classic Scandinavian architecture, the city has set up a stage bigger than most dedicated festivals to serve the crowds showing up for free music performances, quite the setting for many bands to play, I'd imagine.

NOTE: main image is a stock photo from Malmö Festival and not from this evening as no photographer was available

Rival Sons

Psychedelic / classic rock masters Rival Sons reached their fourth album last year with "Great Western Valkyrie", and have throughout their career been one of the most critically acclaimed revivalist psychedelic rock bands out there. Tonight, they perform a power demonstration of just that, a set that requires a lengthy attention span in order to absorb all the detail of their show. As such, they open with "Electric Man", and quickly establish their presence through groovy, pedal effects-laden guitars and organ-style keyboards. There's a sense of authentic Los Angeles rock'n'roll vibe to their performance ranging from the memorabilia worn by each member of the quintet on stage, which manifests itself through classic fretwork that takes you all the way back to Led Zeppelin days, as well as via the psychedelic howls of their golden throat of a vocalist Jay Buchanan.

Still, their set didn't exactly capture the audience in the beginning, which you could tell from the loud chatter around where I was standing, and also from the less-than-stellar cheers after each song. However, as soon as the band play "Pressure & Time" from their breakthrough album carrying the same name, and start interacting with the crowd in between the songs, we're all sold. "This is the last night of our tour, so this is pretty special...I'm honored to share it with you", Buchanan says with his almost cliché-like rock star persona, before disappearing backstage while the rest of the band performs a lengthy instrumental passage. Here, the guitarist's facial expressions say it all: it looks as if he's living the feeling of every single note fully. Visible passion like that doesn't come around often and is very difficult to fake. Similarly, Buchanan practically looks like he's having very intimate relations with the microphone stand occasionally. It's small details like these that make their otherwise stand-still performance worth watching. Rock'n'roll is dead, you say? The blues godhood of a track like "Torture" or "Rich And The Poor" should be enough to convince anyone otherwise. Basically, Rival Sons are the quintessential classic rock band in 2015 - a group consisting of dominant personifications of the classic meaning of rock music, whose personality is highlighted either through quiet vocal moments, or for the rest of the band, through instrumental sessions. It's a flamboyant performance, which took a little time to get going, but by the end of the set once the obligatory drum solo is over, I'm pretty much sold.

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The Gaslight Anthem

The crowd is considerably smaller for The Gaslight Anthem than it was two hours earlier for Rival Sons, but fortunately the square fills up a decent amount to make for a good Gaslight show. Known for their charming stage presence and vocalist Brian Fallon's humorous story-telling abilities, they set most of that aside for tonight in order to play as many songs as possible during their 90-minute allocated slot. Still, that doesn't mean Fallon doesn't have time time to tell us an anecdote about a Malmö booker they've known for a long time who told them about Malmö IF football club, or to compliment the city for being beautiful and the festival for being a great experience for people for free. They start with "Handwritten" to get the show going in an upbeat manner and follow it up with an equally fast cut from "The '59 Sound" in the form of "Casanova, Baby!". They even sneak in "Wherefore Art Though, Elvis?" from their first EP prior to "Sink Or Swim", before it's time to explore the so-called nondescript material from "American Slang", "Get Hurt" and "Handwritten" for a few songs.

Now, I've said this before and I'll say it again: while "Handwritten" is a good album, both "American Slang" and especially "Get Hurt" are quite disappointing overall, and that's once again crystal clear tonight. When you sandwich the slower, more atmospheric tracks like "The Diamond Church Street Choir" and "Underneath The Ground" in between awesome tracks like "High Lonesome" and "Howl" with infectiously catchy vocals and punk-laden riffs, they're going to sound boring in comparison. Fortunately that only lasts for a brief period before it's time to go back old school to what is probably the single greatest Gaslight Anthem passage of songs I've seen to date: five songs of "Sink or Swim" and "The '59 Sound" in a row: "I Coul'da Been A Contender", "Boomboxes And Dictionaries", "Great Expectations", "Film Noir" and "1930". The rowdier vocal style, the faster rhythms, and simply put, the better melodies were sure to put up chills up older fans' back.

Right after "Great Expectations", he asks who's the most famous musician from New Jersey with an obvious reference to the Boss, but someone in the crowd shouts Bon Jovi. It launches a hilarious interaction where Fallon tells us a story about their early days a band. "We used to hang with a rougher crowd... like people with face tattoos" who'd show up at bars and never appreciate the classic rock songs of the Boss... but by the end of the song were singing along anyway. "And don't kid yourselves", he continues, "if I put on Abba right now on the mains, you'd all be singing along in a heartbeat". All of this is told with a witty, charming personality that just makes the man so easily likable.

After the awesome middle section we get a few quieter and lesser known tracks from "The B-Sides" album, which reduces the euphoria felt in the crowd a little bit, but fortunately they close things off with a strong trio of tracks: "American Slang", "45", and "The '59 Sound" leave a strong impression of the proceedings. As usual, The Gaslight Anthem are rock solid: they woo and charm the crowd through their personality, but most of all their strong back catalogue of great songs.

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Setlist:

  • 1. Handwritten
  • 2. Casanova, Baby!
  • 3. 1,000 Years
  • 4. Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?
  • 5. Old Haunts
  • 6. High Lonesome
  • 7. The Diamond Church Street Choir
  • 8. Underneath the Ground
  • 9. Howl
  • 10. I Coul'da Been a Contender
  • 11. Boomboxes and Dictionaries
  • 12. Great Expectations
  • 13. Film Noir
  • 14. 1930
  • 15. Too Much Blood
  • 16. Red at Night
  • 17. Once Upon a Time (Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise cover)
  • 18. She Loves You
  • 19. American Slang
  • 20. 45
  • 21. The '59 Sound

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