The Gaslight Anthem

support Japandroids
author AP date 03/04/13 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

2013 has boded many a show which I have eagerly anticipated, and which have delivered to the fullest. One of these has been the long-awaited return of The Gaslight Anthem to play a headlining show in Denmark (something that I last experienced at Roskilde Festival '09), as over the years this quartet has grown to be one of my all-time favorites. No use ranting about it any further though; instead, read on to find out what I thought about it all:

Photos by Tom Spray and Jill Weitmann Decome

Brian King of Japandroids

Japandroids

Japandroids are a rather curious proposition, consisting of only two members. They look especially curious, ill-fitting even on this large stage, and I must admit that while on their most recent album "Celebration Rock" I found their music to be thoroughly enjoyable, I find myself struggling to enjoy any of it now - particularly so during the first five tracks which sound eerily similar to one another. Their show is a lesson in constancy, with the chords, tone and even style of playing of Brian King coming across as a neverending torrent of the same uplifting melody delivered at breakneck speed. Perhaps it is that the stage is too big for this duo, or the fact that their nearly one-hour set of monotony places a huge strain on my patience, but I well and truly fail to appreciate what all the fuss is about. Japandroids sound pretty decent on record, but as I suspected, there is only so much you can do with two instruments in the live setting, especially when you don't make use of pedals and looping. King and his colleague, drummer David Prowse have an immense reservoir of energy to dispense to be sure, and were it not for King's enthusiastic antics during the frequent explosions of instrumental noise intrinsic to the band's music, I fear Japandroids would be an entirely forgettable feat.

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Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem

Given their meteoric rise to mainstream stardom, one could be forgiven for thinking the fame and fortune has risen to Brian Fallon and his three compatriots' heads (four if you count touring guitarist Ian Perkins). But one look at the beaming smile on Fallon's face when he mans the mic on a stage he likens to an iceskating rink is enough to defuse such fears: The Gaslight Anthem remain as down-to-earth as ever; four suburban songsmiths with an uncanny knack for writing bittersweet, great American rock music. Small wonder they've been consistently compared to Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band. Indeed, one would have to look far and wide to find lyricism more poetic than Fallon's. His ability to tell simple stories with an eloquence that defies his (still) young years is what made me fall in love with The Gaslight Anthem in the first place, when "Sink Or Swim" was released, and it has only grown better since.

It has been too long since the last time I had the pleasure of experiencing this quartet live, and although our editor-in-chief's opinion of them in the live setting has never stretched above the solid but not fantastic, my expectations for tonight's performance are one with the clouds above. Thankfully Fallon has picked the occasion to be one which sees him at the absolute summit of his abilities as a musician, performing artist and singer. His misty, strained voice is nothing short of breathtaking tonight, surpassing even the initially muddy sound mix during the gorgeous 2008 trio "High Lonesome", "Old White Lincoln" and "The '59 Sound" that sparks the show into motion. And the audience, it seems, has done well in studying the by now rather extensive treasure chest of retrospective anthems and ballads that is The Gaslight Anthem discography, for there are times when even the voice of Fallon himself is drowned out by the booming collective power of the crowd's voices.

Cue the soul wrenching "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and "Biloxi Parish" and even as a newcomer to their music you'd need to be a fool not to detect the potency of this band; Fallon's brooding lows and shrilling highs resonating with such character I'm sure a few grown men must be shedding a tear or two to go with the chills running down their skins. The only other contemporary band with an ability to write and deliver live ballads of this quality is Graveyard, and I soon find myself with the same heightened sensation I did on March 7th when those Swedes guested Denmark.

The Gaslight Anthem are nearing the end of this tour, and as they allegedly mentioned to my colleagues in an interview before the show, they'd sooner be back home writing their next album. As such it is perhaps unsurprising that tonight's setlist is not one bursting with singles, and that Fallon and his colleagues Alex Rosamilia (lead guitar), Alex Levine (bass) and Benny Horowitz (drums) are in a mood to experiment. It's a divisive choice to be sure, but nonetheless one which offers stern clues as to what direction the band hope to pursue on their next album, when Fallon heartily asks us if we enjoyed the 90s and then leads his musicians into successive covers of Nirvana's "Sliver", Stone Temple Pilots' "Interstate Love Song" and Pearl Jam's "State of Love and Trust" - much to my own satisfaction, at least. Covers have the dualistic quality of replacing more original songs the band could have played of course, but in this case, with The Gaslight Anthem breathing life into an array of grunge classics and Fallon in particular delivering them in near-perfect faith, cementing the breadth of his vocal spectrum once and for all.

Brian Fallon & Alex Rosamilia of The Gaslight Anthem

There are still plenty of Gaslight Anthem songs to be enjoyed in the 24-song set, which draws heavily from last year's "Handwritten" and the breakthrough "'59 Sound", with the title track, "The Patient Ferris Wheel", "Mae" and "45" from the former and "Great Expectations" from the latter in particular sounding every bit as emotive as they do on the album. Highlights though they may be alongside "Great Expectations", "Mulholland Drive" and "Here's Looking at You, Kid", the entire set is packed with such quality renditions of the band's studio songs that it is nigh impossible to find momements of weakness in between. To close the encore with a cover of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" might seem pointless to some, but to me it is a testimony to the fact that these days, The Gaslight Anthem could play any song and make it their own without sacrifice.

Much praise must also be offered to Fallon for his interaction with the audience, calling the usual requests and rowdy yells out with interest, and responding with storied humor to create a feeling of intimacy not often witnessed in the huge confines of Vega's large hall. And so it is with a feeling of euphoria that I leave Vega tonight, having experienced one of the best shows 2013 has had to offer yet. Here's hoping for a chance to see them again in the very near future.

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Setlist:

  • High Lonesome
  • Old White Lincoln
  • The '59 Sound
  • Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
  • American Slang
  • Biloxi Parish
  • Angry Johnny and the Radio (with a snippet of Bon Iver's "Blood Bank")
  • Red in the Morning
  • Howl
  • Handwritten
  • The Queen of Lower Chelsea
  • The Patient Ferris Wheel
  • Sliver (Nirvana cover)
  • Interstate Love Song (Stone Temple Pilots cover)
  • State of Love and Trust (Pearl Jam cover)
  • Mae
  • 45
  • Great Expectations
  • Keepsake

--Encore--

  • She Loves You
  • Mulholland Drive
  • Desire
  • Here's Looking at You, Kid
  • Baba O'Riley (The Who cover)

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