If you were to look back over the landscape of rock music since the turn of the millennium, then chances are you’d likely come across The Gaslight Anthem, and more specifically their second studio album The ’59 Sound. Lauded by critics at the time of release back in the summer of 2008, the record would go on to catapult the band to enormous success and arguably become their defining statement in the years that followed; bringing them huge attention from both press, as well as music legends like Bruce Springsteen who performed with the band at several festivals including Glastonbury and Hard Rock Calling. Several more albums would follow over the next few years, before the band eventually went on hiatus in 2015 and vocalist Brian Fallon began to focus on a burgeoning solo career. Now though, they’re back on the road to celebrate the record that made them heroes to so many, and we caught up with the tour at the O2 Apollo in Manchester on one of the hottest-feeling days of the year thus far to see how things would go.
After strong show-opening sets from both Matthew Ryan & The Northern Wires and Dave Hause, and with temperatures inside the Apollo already reaching furnace-level, The Gaslight Anthem (10) then arrive on stage and burst straight into a thunderous rendition of Handwritten, much to the delight of the crowd, who immediately begin bouncing once more. It’s been almost four years since Brian Fallon and co. last graced this stage, and the level of adoration for the band clearly hasn’t waned one single bit. Following up with Old Haunts and The Spirit of Jazz from the almost-as-beloved American Slang album, the New Jersey four-piece have every single person in the building eating out of the palms of their collective hands thanks to a seemingly never-ending succession of catchy choruses and hummable riffs courtesy of Fallon and fellow axeman Alex Rosamilia, before then proceeding to completely pull the rug out from underneath everyone by launching into the understated yet moving blues of Mae for the first time on this run. It’s a smart move that perfectly demonstrates the dexterity of Fallon as a vocalist, and the rest of the band in their adaptability in being able to shift gears on a dime without lessening any of their impact.
Of course though, tonight is mainly about the celebrating the 10th anniversary of The ’59 Sound – a stunning love letter of an album aimed squarely at evoking classic Americana vibes via a filter of the heartland punk of Bruce Springsteen, and arguably the record that introduced many people to The Gaslight Anthem as a band all those years ago. It’s absolutely no surprise then that when the opening notes of Great Expectations begin to ring out, things go suitably wild. A brisk heartland punk anthem for modern times, this hugely catchy track still sounds just as vital and exciting as it did all those years ago (a common theme throughout this portion of the set), and is received exactly as such. For many people, The ’59 Sound is regarded as one of the most defining rock records of its type in the 21st century, and based on tonight’s airing, it’s incredibly easy to see why. Packing in everything from huge Springsteen-aping bangers like High Lonesome and The Backseat, alongside heartfelt ballads like Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, every single moment feels vibrant and astonishingly vital. It’s also not an exaggeration to say that it appears every single one of the 3500 or so audience members in attendance tonight seem to know every last lyric from the record too, as they bellow along with Fallon to an almost deafening degree on everything from the chirpy Old White Lincoln, to the effortlessly swaggering cool of Meet Me By The River’s Edge (a track that couldn’t sound more like The Boss himself if it contained actual lyrics from Born To Run), to the lighters-in-the-air
There’s still more to come though, and the four-piece then move on to airing a further nine cuts along their remaining time, starting with the low-fi swing of Halloween and Underneath the Ground from most recent album Get Hurt alongside We Came To Dance (tonight’s sole cut from debut album Sink or Swim), before going on to encompass a healthy chunk of Handwritten material that opens with a triumphant “45”, continues with an excellent run of Howl, Too Much Blood and National Anthem, before hitting a crescendo with one final tour debut track – this time the blues-goes-stadium-rock swagger of Biloxi Parish, the sheer intensity of which eclipses its recorded version by quite a considerable margin.
Closing up on a titanic singalong of American Slang, complete with a guest appearance from main support act Dave Hause, the band then finally leave the stage having completed a mammoth 25 song set, but still clearly leaving most wanting more, such is the astonishing depth of their catalogue. Whether there’s more to come in the future from The Gaslight Anthem or not, tonight has certainly reaffirmed the band’s position as one of the most entertaining and talented of modern times, and will likely sit in the memory of those lucky enough to be in attendance tonight for a long time as a truly special show.