On Friday, October 27th, New Jersey’s own The Gaslight Anthem returned after over a decade of no new music, with History Books (QRO review). They also started four straight nights at Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall (QRO venue review). Sunday night, October 30th, the band rocked with songs new & old. Musically, The Gaslight Anthem has long appealed with their powerful workingman’s emotion behind their indie-rock. But live, they’re boosted by the hilarious ramblings of frontman Brian Fallon. Both were on full display at White Eagle Hall, and more.
Usually when an act releases a new record, particularly after a long hiatus, that’s basically all they want to play, but the four-night nature of the run meant that The Gaslight Anthem could spread out History Books. Indeed, though they started with the album’s opener, “Spider Bites”, when a fan later on shouted for another new song, Fallon said that they weren’t going to play more than two from the album that evening (“Autumn”), because it sucks when bands only want to play their new songs.
Instead, the long run of shows meant that not only could those spread out, but the group could also pull out rarities. One was particularly appropriate, “Halloween” from 2014’s Get Hurt (QRO review) – not just for the late October timing, but because a fan shouted it out, Fallon responding, “That’s not the worst idea ever,” though worried that it would be tough because they hadn’t practiced it. But play it they did – and indeed it had been on the list of requests from a particularly young fan, a nine-year-old up front with a sign listing her five favorite Gaslight Anthem songs (Fallon had the whole band sign the sign and give it to her, to show her friends that she was better than them…).
And it’s not like The Gaslight Anthem didn’t also play the hits. The first big cheer & sing-along of the night was for ““45”” from 2008’s The ’59 Sound. Fallon told stories behind single “Here Comes My Man”, from feeling like an idiot for playing it live on a six-string a song that had been recorded on a twelve, to getting to have a video starring Elisha Cuthbert (but he never met her once – “That’s my life as a rock star…”). And for ‘59’s “Great Expectations, drummer Benny Horowitz’s niece Thea came up to replace him on the skins (“She’ll probably get his job…”), Horowitz noting afterwards (and after the crowd chants of “Thea!”) that right before they left to record that album, they’d seen Thea on the last day she was in her mother’s belly.
Indeed, “the youth of America” was a big theme of the night, from Alex Rosamilla playing the solo to ‘59’s “Here’s Looking At You, Kid” on his three-year-old’s guitar, to Fallon’s own seven-year-old daughter there in person (in VIP, of course…). Fallon joked that his kid “drinks too much,” and needs to stay in school and get a job, “I can’t support you forever. I don’t have that Bruce Springsteen money yet…”
Comparisons to The Boss have been made throughout Gaslight Anthem’s career (The E Street Band even replaced the late Big Man, Clarence Clemons, with his nephew Jake…), to the point where he guest-sang on the title track (QRO review) of History Books. “That Springsteen” money was invoked more than once, for Fallon not having it also meant that he couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan, like some of the fans in the crowd [note: including your correspondent, but who is also from Jersey]. Fallon makes Jersey references at any show, anywhere, but here it got deep. Most notable was with sports teams, as he admitted to liking neither The Jets (“Have sucked since 1987”) and The Giants (“Good luck being cheap”), can’t follow NJ Devils hockey, and the band is divided between Mets & Yankees fans. A number of these stances elicited boos from the otherwise enthusiastic crowd (indeed, enthusiastic in booing those who don’t like their teams – or are from Manhattan…). “When you guys were talking about sports, I was too busy having girlfriends…”
And to set the record straight, Fallon said that it’s called “Pork Roll”, not “Taylor Ham”, as the latter is the company, the former is the name printed on the wrapped food, “I know you can’t read, so it’s hard for you…” [note: your Central Jersey correspondent has never had it under any name].
It is easy to over-emphasize Fallon’s great banter – other topics this night included switching hats with a fan for a few songs because Fallon used to have that hat, Jon Bon Jovi saying that they not only sounded great but also looked great in their CBS Saturday Morning appearance, Cobra Kai, why he doesn’t introduce the band (“You don’t know their names? That’s your problem! They should introduce me – I’m the loser without them…”), a FaceTime with some friends who might have been naked, and “No refunds.” One obviously doesn’t get that on record. But the set was great in its diversity from their catalogue, sad songs like “Here’s Looking” (started with Fallon solo under a spotlight) to rocking out to the likes of “Boomboxes and Dictionaries” from 2007’s Sink or Swim. There was even a cover of Mother Love Bone’s “Chloe Dancer”, and a bit of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight”.
It’s been great to have The Gaslight Anthem back, wherever you’ve seen them – even Manhattan (QRO ’22 live review there). But there’s nothing like them celebrating a new album right home in Jersey.