The title of this post is the second Smith’s reference I’ve made of late, which should probably tell you something, but as Brian Fallon and the boys pull the plug for the foreseeable future on the best live band of the past decade I feel a certain amount of melancholy is justified.
A capacity crowd jammed into what is arguably London’s’ best and worst concert venue (depending on which level you end up on) to see the final headline gig of New Jersey’s finest export since some guy called Bruce Springsteen turned up at the Hammersmith Odeon in ’75. I arrived fashionably late and on my own, rocking up halfway through the set of the night’s only support act, Against Me. Neither my lateness nor my lack of company had me in the best frame of mind to enjoy the evening, but 20 minutes or so chain sawing riffs and reverb turned out to be just what I needed. To be honest Against Me are not really my thing. Their brand of punk is too hard and heavy for me to enjoy in the comfort of my own home, but playing live they are a glorious crowd surfing mess of feedback-ridden angst and while they didn’t quite manage to convert me there is no denying the fact that they rock.Next came a protracted interval while the crew set up the stage for the main event. For me this time was spent nursing an overpriced beer and joining the majority of the other patrons in a period of phone staring. Having recently returned from America, and Tennessee in particular I was struck once again by how insular and aloof we Brits tend to be when shoved into a room with strangers. Had this gig been in Nashville I don’t doubt that I would have known the entire life story of the guy next to me and he mine by the time the house lights dimmed again. But eventually they did dim and Gaslight Anthem took to the stage, kicking off with ‘Handwritten’, which was quickly followed by two more crowd pleasers ‘Rollin & Tumblin’ and the superb ‘Old White Lincoln’.
The band were undeniably tight, the sound superb and Brian’s vocals right on point as they mined their back catalogue, uncovering gems like ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Diamonds of The Church Street Choir’. Even so I couldn’t help thinking something was missing, (not least my usual companion as that last track is her favorite) and even a surprise appearance by Frank Turner on the slowed down version of ‘Great Expectations’ that is preferred live these days couldn’t shake the feeling that I was indeed witnessing the end of something. If the rest of the crowd sensed it too they did their best not to show it as the set built inexorably towards its climax with back-to-back classics in the shape of ‘American Slang’ and ‘45’ before the house was well and truly brought down by ’The '59 sound’.
There was nothing you could describe as an encore, Gaslight Anthem don’t really go in for that and before the raucous cheering had even begun to die down they launched headlong into their final song of the night. The usual closer ‘Backseats’ was replaced by ‘Diner,’ a standard at live shows for nearly 10 years now and a fitting way to end things. The audience joining in and their chants perhaps sending a message, both to each other and the band themselves as they head off on their uncertain hiatus.
“It’s alright man, I’m only bleeding man, stay hungry, stay free and do the best you can.”
I very nearly didn’t go to this gig, but if this is to be the end of the road for The Gaslight Anthem then I’m glad I was there to see them go out on a high. If nothing else at least I can now answer the question posed by the lyrics of ’59 sound’ and say that, yes I did get to hear my favorite song one last time.