The three B’s of the Jersey shore: beer, bowling and Bruce Springsteen.
Add in a fourth B – Brooklyn – and you’ve got the ingredients of Friday night’s Gaslight Anthem show. The up-and-coming punk revivalists played a packed set at the Brooklyn Bowl while lager flowed, pins tumbled, and hipsters said the hell with ironic distance, crowd surfing, fist pumping, and uninhibitedly yelling along.
Oregon’s Broadway Calls kicked things off with a fast-paced set that largely provided mood music for a crowd busy checking out the merch, watching the Yankees game and getting pleasantly buzzed. The Bowl is right next-door to the Brooklyn Brewery, so instead of cheap plastic cups of Bud Light, hearty pints of Brooklyn Lager circulated freely (often becoming broken glass covering the dance floor).
Jesse Malin of Queens pushed the throttle one gear higher, touring behind his 2008 covers album On Your Sleeve. Sadly, he ignored many of the disc’s best tracks, including Tom Waits and the Hold Steady tunes, instead focusing on his back catalogue of original material. The sideways paper-boy cap came off a bit pretty-boy Joe Strummer, but the Mick Jagger swagger of his step screamed rock and roll authenticity. A tight three-piece band pounded out the riffs behind him, culminating in the first Bruce reference of the night when he closed with “Broken Radio,” his 2007 Boss duet. You can catch the video here, but the slow-burn arrangement of the record pales next to the guitar attack it becomes live.
The angry woodsman gutter-punk of Murder By Death finally drew the majority of attendees to the stage as mutton-chopped Adam Turla yelped out his Johnny Cash baritone over songs about whiskey, low-down women, and the devil. The set focused largely on the quartet’s latest Red of Tooth and Claw, kicking off with the steel-driving “Ball & Chain” and rapping up forty-five minutes later with the Inglorious Basterds-approved “Comin’ Home.” Cellist Sarah Balliet added extra grit and grind on the low end.
“We are the last of the jukebox Romeos,” the Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon sang halfway through their set. I couldn’t put it any better. These four New Jersey boys wear their hearts and influences on their sleeves, singing the sort of unashamed rock and roll you didn’t think anyone made anymore. Within the set’s first three songs – “High Lonesome,” “Casanova, Baby!” and “Old White Lincoln” – they’d already quoted Springsteen four times, Tom Waits twice, with some Wilson Pickett, Gary “U.S.” Bonds and Tom Petty in for good measure.
The music came just as unabashedly referential as the lyrics, focusing largely on material from the band’s 2008 break-through The ’59 Sound. With no time for slow songs, Fallon led the boys through one high-energy basher after the next, hitting crowd favorites like “Great Expectations,” “The Backseat” and the title track with the passion of a band with a lot to prove. This is what it must have felt like seeing an early ‘70s Springsteen show at the Stone Pony.
A generous helping of covers kept the throw-back vibe running strong, with everything from Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” weaving in and out of the originals. Whether shouting out Gainesville buddies’ Hot Water Music with a “Trusty Chords” cover or remembering a favorite childhood soundtrack with Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust,” these rockers used the old songs to claim their place up there with the legends. It won’t be long before these bands start covering their songs.
A New Yorker might well wonder how this would go over with a Williamsburg crowd. Brooklyn has the reputation of a bunch of cooler-than-thou hipsters standing around at concerts, arms folded, trying to out-scene each other. The Gaslight Anthem weren’t having any of that. Circle pits moshed, bottles smashed, and fights broke out on the packed floor while a crowd seemingly starved of good rock and roll tried to out-yell each other.
The show did have one heckler, but Fallon shut him down with curt humor. “You like pizza?” he exclaimed in response to some inane shout. “I like pizza too! We should hang out all the time!!!” Needless to say, he was promptly accused of being gay from said audience member, which just provided more fodder for him. “I don’t see that as an insult,” Fallon protested. “Hey Alex,” he called to his bassist, “you’re looking handsome tonight! Apparently I’m gay. So…whaddya say? Interested?” More than just the girls there would have taken him up on the offer.
Almost two hours after they began, the Southside Johnny-aping “Say I Won’t (Recognize)” closed things out in epic fashion. Again, Fallon summed up the mood better than any reviewer could. “We’re having a party,” he sang. “Everybody’s swinging. Tonight won’t you come down out of your tower, don’t make me dance alone!”
He needn’t have worried.
Old White Lincoln
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Wherefore Are Though, Elvis?
The ’59 Sound
We Came to Dance
Miles Davis & The Cool
The Patient Ferris Wheel
Stand By Me (Ben E. King cover) / I’da Called You Woody, Joe
Angry Johnny and the Radio / Straight to Hell (The Clash cover)
State of Love and Trust (Pearl Jam cover)
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Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts
Trusty Chords (Hot Water Music cover)
Meet Me By the River's Edge
Say I Won’t (Recognize)