The Gaslight Anthem, Former Cell Mates

Scott Telfer 03/12/2008

Nostalgia just ain't what it used to be, eh? New Jersey's The Gaslight Anthem are a perfect example, coming along with their Springsteen influences proudly on their sleeve and playing the same loud and anthemic 4/4 rock that has been eking out a living in dingy southern bars for the past five decades. Two guitars, bass and drums? Check. High quantities of ink impregnated into skin? Check. Songs about girls and cars? Check. They even called their latest album The '59 Sound, for goodness' sake. Even worse, they quote a line from The Counting Crows in one of their songs. Bloody hell. At best this band and their songs should be considered a vaguely soothing chicken soup to be fed to people looking to take some kind of retro trip.

And yet, against all odds, somehow their music manages to capture an incredible magical quality that you're always being told can be found on all those old records from the middle of the last century, even though you've never managed to find it, no matter how many times you listen. There's no way I can deny it, there's just something in these songs that keeps drawing me back time and time again. I don't want to be writing this review just now, because even just thinking about their music makes me want to go and listen to something by them, then maybe even go buy myself a leather jacket and an old motorcycle then ride off into the distance with my old high school sweetheart…

And that's probably the crux of their appeal right there. The sheer escapism that is captured in songs like Old White Lincoln somehow manages to flick a switch inside you, a switch that is normally covered by the protective layers of cynicism and sarcasm that this modern world demands. Combine this with singer and lyricist Brian Fallon's rare knack for delivering concise but descriptive imagery in his throaty drawl and the result is a heady and potent mix. Songs like Here's Looking at You, Kid gently but unstoppably drag a lump up the unsuspecting throat as they proffer lines like: But boys will be boys/and girls have those eyes/ that'll cut you to ribbons sometimes, and it's difficult not to get caught up in the moment.

Even before tonight's show there was an air of excitement and anticipation that hasn't been seen in the cheap booze-stained pseudo-venue for a long, long time. With proceedings being kicked off with Great Expectations, you can tell that there's definitely no irony in the choice. Playing an even mix of tracks from The '59 Sound and their debut, Sink or Swim, the near capacity crowd are unanimous in their appreciation, and it's refreshing to see a band seemingly so genuinely humbled by their reception. An abundance of singing and clapping along opportunities present themselves throughout the show, meaning both crowd and band are rarely given a chance to catch their breath.

And what the hell, I'll admit it: I secretly quite like the first couple of Counting Crows albums. In fact, I think that referencing a lyric from Round Here on High Lonesome is really cool. And when they go and throw in a bit of Stand by Me to preface the Joe Strummer tribute I'da Called You Woody, Joe? I think that's pretty cool too.

I'm too old to be getting this giddy over a band. It's really quite pathetic, I know, and with them having been pushed by a few big magazines and even receiving some airplay on Radio 1, all of my carefully horded indie credentials are flying out of the window to be sneered at as I write. And yet, it seems that I just couldn't care less. This review is nearly finished and in a second I'm going to go and put some of Gaslight Anthem's music on.