The Gaslight Anthem have returned to concert stages for the first time in four years. When the band went on hiatus back in 2015, I was not sure I would see them again. Brian Fallon made a few excellent solo albums and appeared to be settled into the life of a solo artist and yet on the stage, the four members of the Gaslight Anthem (Brian Fallon on lead vocals/ rhythm guitar, guitarist Alex Rosamilia, bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz) congealed their years of musicianship into a commanding set. Watching them in Chicago, the band performed a terse and thrilling 100-minute set. What was evident by the end of the performance was the band's dedication to not just the fans, but to their catalog and most importantly each other. Most surprisingly, the set featured a wide variety of songs from their entire career including their 2014 album Get Hurt. The title track, "Stay Vicious," "Sweet Morphine" and the bonus cut "Have Mercy" all found a home in the set. Get Hurt is not the first album you think of when you hear the name the Gaslight Anthem, but to their credit, they delivered these songs with all the passion and purpose of their earlier material, so much so that it makes one hear these songs in a new way. The brooding opener "Have Mercy" set the tone for the evening as the band sprawled their entire discography.
"Old White Lincoln," "Biloxi Parish" and "Mae" continued the set with an uncompromising manner, with the band feeding off the energy of the crowd. Horowitz and Levine built the sturdy foundation for Fallon's expressions to soar and Rosamilia's riffs to hit the audience square in the heart. Material from The 59 Sound, American Slang and Handwritten were perfectly placed in the setlist and provided the audience with necessary jolts in between quieter moments. The band wears their classic rock influences on their shirts, but make no mistake, this current tour is an experience that ebbs and flows. Fallon sits down every night and creates a new setlist from scratch. It is inevitable you may not see the show you want, but you will walk away having seen the show you need.
The Gaslight Anthem could have taken a quite different approach focusing on their most successful albums but the distinctive setlists that keep the audience guessing every night is what makes the show so refreshing. The Gaslight Anthem are continuing to evolve and their setlist reflected this by dusting off songs that needed to be played again, delivering fan favorites and even some choice covers. In Chicago, Brian Fallon brought out someone from the Chicago Music Exchange. He appeared onstage with his guitar and delicately played an elegant riff that felt familiar but was not immediately identifiable. When Brian came to the microphone and sang "Hey little girl is your daddy home..." it became clear they were performing "I'm on Fire" from Bruce Springsteen's mammoth Born in the USA album. The crowd sang along to every word and stood in rapt attention as the most spectacular of covers gently made its way through the hearts of the crowd. Not to be outdone, the band retook the stage for searing performances of "Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts," "American Slang," "45" and the show closer, "The '59 Sound" which shook the walls of the theater.
You could feel the emotions running high in the audience as Fallon, Rosamilia, Levine, and Horowitz came to terms with their past and showed the audience the road they are paving for the future. So much of rock criticism is tied to the youthful abandon it promotes but I found something comforting to see four men embrace the path forward. This tour is a rededication of the band, a recommitment to who they are and what they do. There are more stories to be told and while the pain and ache of youth will shift into chapters not yet written.
As I watched these four friends share their music onstage inside the Riviera, I was reminded of the Bruce Springsteen song "Blood Brothers" which he recorded for his 1995 Greatest Hits album with the E Street Band after a significant hiatus. In my youth, I could not appreciate the lyric, "We lose ourselves in work to do, work to do and bills to pay" because at the time I could never imagine a world where the bonds I had created in my youth would not be there for all-time. With every passing year, that lyric stings a little more; we live to work and work to live and along the way, relationships become strained and often dissipate. Aging does more than change your appearance but can harden your heart. It is not intentional; it is not planned and yet at times it feels inevitable. One secret our parents kept from us was the friendships we built for years would be impossible to maintain, which is why the music of the Gaslight Anthem permeates so strongly. The triumph, heartache and unanswered questions often remind us of a version of ourselves we miss. Watching Brian Fallon, Alex Rosamilia, Alex Levine, and Benny Horowitz perform together was more than mere entertainment or nostalgia, but a rewarding experience because as they tore through these songs, you could feel their blood of their friendship pour out onto the concert stage. It is easy to find friends to take on the world when you are young, but to sustain those relationships as you age is near impossible. I cannot pretend to know any of the members of the Gaslight Anthem but watching them stirred memory banks I had not opened in a long time. They are not just back; they are showing us how to age gracefully in rock n' roll and into adulthood.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He has seen over 1,000 concerts in his life, has far too many CD's and DVD's. He can be followed on Twitter
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