Latitude 2009

Hola From Latitude (4): The Gaslight Anthem

Michael Bonner

I’d been telling anyone who’d listen over the last few weeks and more in the build-up to Latitude that New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem in the right circumstances might be the surprise hit of the festival, especially after headline-grabbing sets at Glastonbury and Hyde Park, where they were joined onstage by Bruce Springsteen, who in turn had Anthem frontman Brian Fallon share the spotlight with him and the E Street Band on “No Surrender”.

I’d imagined Gaslight Anthem coming on against a nuclear sunset, the sky aflame and an audience blown away, the next 45 minutes talked about by many for years to come.

Of course, it doesn’t happen according to my pre-written script. It’s absolutely bucketing down when they come on. There’s basically only me and my friend Helen and a few score hardcore fans in front of the stage, most of them hooded against the rain and looking like members of a sinister religious cult or the roadies on Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps tour and things frankly don’t look all that promising in terms of the moment of festival transcendence I’ve been cheerfully predicting.

Then they kick into “High Lonesome” from break-out album The '59 Sound and things start to brighten, the sense of a moment being seized about to be taken and already there are more people around us that there were a couple of minutes ago, people as they will always be drawn to the sound of great music, which is what we are listening to.

The Gaslight Anthem, broadly speaking, share the same mythographical universe as The Hold Steady, a world in which rock’n’roll as played by the people who believe like they do that it can heal the most wounded and forlorn among us will save the fucking day. Their musical template is as thankfully as uncomplicated as their faith in the noise we love, lots of Springtsteen and as much Clash, London Calling as much an influence as Born To Run. Which makes for an increasingly inflammatory set, “Casanova Baby!” now drawing even more people into the Obelisk Arena, the place filling up like a pub at closing time, the bell about to go and everyone thirsty for more.

“He’s got a great voice for a little fellah,” Helen, who’s never heard them before, tells me half way through the next number, “Old White Lincoln”, whose chorus the growing crowd are now tempted with some gusto to sing along with, even though I doubt many of them have heard it before. And so it goes, song after song, as unfamiliar as each may be to the many more people who by the moment who are joining us, making the world by the minute a better place to be, “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” now blowing the clouds away, the sun coming out, Helen dancing, and everyone else too, the joint, as it were, jumping, and no one wanting this to come too quickly to an end, even as that that end is looming, the band now playing a version of “Great Expectations” you know is setting up a roaring climax that comes with a sweeping “Here’s Looking At You, Kid” and the great “The Backseat”.

Allan Jones


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