Saturday, July 21, 2012

gas on the fire

I'm a big fan of Gaslight Anthem. I hadn't seen them live and figured the chances of seeing them live - outside of a festival, or a 20,000-seat amphitheatre - seemed unlikely. Their success is such that even a venue like the 9:30 Club here in D.C. is probably too small to hold the real 'tour' crowd. The impending release of their fourth album Handwritten  has apparently driven them out on the road for a short tour of smaller venues; shaking off the rust? Getting back to roots? Brian Fallon admitted about mid-set that they'd be back in town later this year so we can assume it'll be a venue holding 40-50 times as many fans.

Last night they played the relatively new U St. Music Hall in NW, a place that holds a cool 500 - think biggish, underground bar. It was my first foray to the music hall and it was well worth it - its size is reminiscent of the Fine Line in The Cities, where they also played, and Slim's in SF. This (early) show - there was a DJ set/partly later in the evening - blasted out of the blocks at 7:30 with Dave Hause ripping through a 35-minute solo journey, a set that was simply fantastic. I didn't know Hause before the show, I can't know them all, but his CD was in hand at the end of the show. He immediately reminded me of seeing Bob Mould solo: power guitar, strong vocals, great songs. I couldn't be happier to have come upon Hause and his music.

Gaslight Anthem followed quickly on the heels of a somewhat hilarious 15 minutes soundcheck on stage. I have no idea why I found it so funny, and I know they were in Baltimore earlier in the day for an in-store, so I can only guess there wasn't a load of time to get everything in order in the afternoon. The lights dropped, the band stepped on stage, and the next 90 minutes was packed with great songs blasting into the faces of a hypnotized crowd. It's a rare occurrence, even in a smaller venue, that you get 500 people acting as one - it can seem strange at first, but eventually the sweat, pogo-ing, and arms in the air will overtake everyone. You don't get that with a festival crowd, or even at a 1,000+ venue: those don't give you the distilled mayhem of a 500-person crowd - all there for the exact same thing.

The band managed to hit every high mark in their discography over the 90 minutes. As an aside, Fallon pointed out early in the show that with the planned 10pm DJ show they weren't going to waste our time - one set, no breaks, no encores; when it was over, we were all done. Not only is that the way I love my shows, it really opened up the crowd because there wasn't any worry about holding out some energy in reserve for the 'encore'. Open up the throttle and let it go - no off switch. If you know all the Gaslight's songs then you have only a few real favorites and the rest are near-favorites. What you don't do during the show - or what I didn't do - was wonder about when they'd play x or y song because they'll get to them all before you stumble out happy and complete. The current five-piece was perfectly balanced on the very small stage and the sound was overpowering - I'd guess that Gaslight fans don't go to the shows wanting a quiet evening, and they weren't disappointed.

At about mid-show I knew that was experiencing a show that I'd choose to make anyone else's only concert of the year, or years. There's no substitute for a bar a bar. You'll never get the same feeling in a huge venue, and it's hard to bring someone to a Slobberbone show (my all-time favorite band) if they don't know the songs. That's not the case with Gaslight Anthem because the songs - a tight, pure mix of punk, pop, and rock - are strong enough to carry any person willing to open up and enjoy. They truly put on a show that could be the benchmark for most to say it was the best show they ever saw. For the fans that didn't manage to squeeze into the small joint, I almost want to apologize. And, for the jackasses on Craigslist asking $175 for tickets? Fuck you.

One last award: the 9:30 Club (who booked the show) sent over the big security guy to work the front of the stage, and he was busy. This guy is so big that as the body surfers periodically tumbled towards the stage, he simply stepped to his left, caught some random 220-lb guy in his arms like a baby, and set him to the side. Over and over with nothing but a straight face.

A show that gives me the security of knowing I'll never need to see them again. It won't get any better. Sort of what music is suppose to do to people.

ps The band did a live one-hour online show at the Ed Sullivan Theater last month - they sounded great, but the venue isn't good and the crowd was a bunch of stiffs, probably for security reasons, who knows. Trust me, not even close to the same vibe. Not close.

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