As "Old White Lincoln," the second song the Gaslight Anthem
played to the 900 or so (total guess) folks at Saturday's show at the Midland, drew to a close, frontman Brian Fallon improvised a vocal tease of the Neil Young
classic, "Long May You Run." Maybe the Beach Boys have got you now / With those waves singing 'Caroline, no'
, he sang softly, as the song faded out and the lights dimmed. It was the first indication of what many of us in the crowd already knew: that this would be an evening filled with subtle, and, often, not-so-subtle, nods to the American rock canon.
The Gaslight Anthem peddles a specific brand of American nostalgia in its lyrics and sound. To my ears, its sound is increasingly less like "Springsteen punk," and more just like plain old "Springsteen." The lyrics are about cars, girls, hopes, and dreams -- but more than anything, they seem to be about how the music of the past fits alongside those cars, girls, hopes, and dreams.
Take "Old White Lincoln," a song ostensibly about a car. Its lyrics are refrigerator-word-magnet Springsteen
Americana: Saturday nights, summer dresses, high-top sneakers, sailor tattoos, parking meters, classic cars, movie screens, and, of course, redemption. There are, by my count, two Tom Waits
references ("Ol' 55" and "Cold, Cold Ground") and one Dylan
reference ("World War III Blues") in the song. And then there's Fallon's improv on Saturday: "Long May You Run" was a way of paying homage to Neil Young
, but it also namechecks the Beach Boys
. And "Long May You Run" is itself about a car
This type of rock-idol pastiche went on all night, and rarely did it feel contrived, or tired, or anything other than genuine. During "Angry Johnny and the Radio," a track from the band's first LP, Sink or Swim, Fallon broke into a few bars of "Gypsy," by Fleetwood Mac. On "Bring It On," a song from its latest, American Slang, he echoed "Please Mr. Postman" with a Wait a minute, wait a minute bridge. And the encore included a more modern tribute: a cover of Pearl Jam's "State of Love and Trust." But really, every song this band has includes some kind of hat-tip to the bands and performers who blazed its trail.
The set ran about an hour and a half, and delivered all the best songs from The '59 Sound and American Slang, plus a few older numbers that had more of a punk flavor. As the evening wore on, the similarities between many of the band's songs became more obvious; during "Bring It On," for instance, I was convinced the band had goofed and played "American Slang" twice. The Gaslight Anthem is working with a good formula, and it executes it well. But, the band should probably spend a little more time working on varying its melodies and chord progressions before the next album.
Up close to the stage, nobody seemed to care much about that, though. The crowd jumped and shouted along, fists pumped, eager for the clap-friendly breakdowns. "The '59 Sound" elicited the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening (which makes sense, because it's probably the band's best song). Fallon's stance, his throaty growl, the way he clutched his guitar: it was impossible not to think of Springsteen. He hammered away at the strings of his Les Paul and rocketed into the song's unstoppable chorus, and for a few moments there, the line between emulating rock legends and actually being rock legends blurred -- just a little.
Old White Lincoln
We Came to Dance
Diamond Church Street Choir
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Bring It On
Miles Davis and the Cool
Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?
Angry Johnny and the Radio
Blue Jeans and White Shirts
Spirit of Jazz
State of Love and Trust
Boomboxes and Dictionaries
Here's Looking at You, Kid
Later on in the evening, some of us were treated to what you might call a second encore from this guy: