The Gaslight Anthem – O2 Academy Newcastle – 18/11/10

Posted on November 23, 2010

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There are many creative and medical conditions that bands and musicians can fall victim to over the course of their lives in the music business; laryngitis, broken bones, drug problems, spontaneously combusting drummers, over bearing or under caring record companies, having an insipid advert use your track, all of these are potential pitfalls that bands have had to navigate since the first teenagers twisted and rocked to The Beetles and the ‘Stones (although neither of them managed that well at side-stepping the enormous mountains of drugs in their dressing rooms).

So far the boys in The Gaslight Anthem have done well not to succumb to these dangers, but tonight they are the victims of a musical ailment which is arguably a far worse acute musical ailment than any of the above. I speak, of course, of the dreaded ‘Academy Sound’, an acoustical ailment whereby any lyrics that you don’t know with a fanatical zeal become lost in the ether of the Academy’s high ceiling, trying desperately to creep out from behind the instrument noise. Its a phenomenon that affects at least seventy percent of gigs at Newcastle’s most popular mid-level venue and to say its frustrating would be quite the understatement. 
Both Sharks and Chuck Ragan belt out spirited performances, with Ragan and fiddle player Jon Gaunt’s (not to be confused the bigoted, pie-addict from the tabloids and radio) simple yet incendiary folk sounding very stirring musically, but lyrically, as my brother pointed out, they could have been singing about pickled eggs and hardly anyone would have noticed.

The atmosphere raises immeasurably as the Gaslight Anthem’s flag unfurls and the four New Jersey boys walk humbly onto the stage with The Spirit Of Jazz. Clearly putting their all into the performance the band have the sold-out academy eating from the palms of their hands but the academy sound system screws them over far more than their support bands. The problem is that a lot of the joy of Gaslight’s music comes from the lyrics and Brian Fallon’s gravel-throated soul delivery. You can tell by just by watching him push his lungs to bursting throughout songs like Old White Lincoln that he’s enjoying himself and proud of what the band have achieved with a bit of punk sensibility and an ear for a well referenced lyric, as he says himself he’d still be a roofer if not for the support from the fans, Its just a shame that such obvious enthusiasm fails to make it through the speakers to those who may not be as familiar with the music.

As with the band’s recorded output, the best tracks are to be found on 2008’s seminal 59 Sound album, with Great Expectations, Miles Davis And The Cool and the title track receiving the most rapturous responses. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, The Backseat and Here’s Looking At You Kid all get an airing but that particular album is so good that anyone who knows it will have been left disappointed by tracks not played.
Thankfully a good selection tracks from recent opus American Slang such as Diamond Church Street Choir and Boxer, along with a selection from early releases Sink or Swim and Señor and the Queen, help to round out a passionate set but amidst the joy of seeing a great band play well there’s a tangible feeling of missed opportunity, because frankly Gaslight were robbed tonight, stripped of the ability to make an impression on even more people simply by not being able to make their voice heard.
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