The Gaslight Anthem, Hammersmith Apollo, London — in thrall to the mythology of rock’n’roll
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Perhaps there is a word for it in German: a feeling of nostalgia for a time unlived and a place unvisited. Whatever the word is, it describes part of the appeal — in the UK, at least — of New Jersey band The Gaslight Anthem, who were greeted in London by a crowd who at times were louder than the band, 5,000 people singing their songs back to them as if they were following the catechism. It was extraordinary.
After a three-year hiatus, The Gaslight Anthem had returned not to play new songs, but to revisit their breakthrough album, The ’59 Sound, on its 10th anniversary — they played it in full, sandwiched between 13 other songs. It’s an album in thrall to the mythology of rock’n’roll, particularly to Bruce Springsteen: “Meet Me by the River’s Edge” managed to refer to not one but two songs from Born in the USA in quick succession: “No surrender, my Bobby Jean.” Frontman Brian Fallon has grown tired of the comparison with Springsteen, but he should have thought about that before he started telling girls called Bobby Jean not to surrender.
There was no doubting, though, how much the songs meant to an audience almost certainly lacking in people who have cruised through town with the top rolled down while wearing high-top sneakers (“Old White Lincoln”). The America of Fallon’s lyrics is one of signifiers, constructed from pop culture, cut and pasted from old songs and old movies, and it’s so instantly recognisable — and sometimes so shamelessly on-the-nose — that hearing 25 songs in succession felt like going down a YouTube rabbit hole after searching “American clichés”. However, it’s hard not to respond to them, if American pop culture has been part of your life.
The Gaslight Anthem don’t have Springsteen’s charisma, and as the songs rushed past at punk velocity but without its power, it was easy to spot the ruthless efficiency of their structure: so many had breakdowns for the crowd to clap along to, or “Whoa-oh!” refrains to be shouted out.
The band’s great gift, in fact, might be their willingness to put themselves at the service of their crowd: the volume was lower than normal at a rock show, perhaps to enable the crowd’s singing to be heard, and to make them as much part of the event as the group. Five stars for the crowd, then, and to the band for enabling that response. But for the music itself? Sorry, no.
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