The Gaslight Anthem: O2 Academy, Brixton, June 26 2010

The week’s gone by at such a clip, we’re nearly at the end of it and I still haven’t, I’ve just realised, written about this show, which was frankly too good to let pass without comment, however belated.

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The week’s gone by at such a clip, we’re nearly at the end of it and I still haven’t, I’ve just realised, written about this show, which was frankly too good to let pass without comment, however belated.

The Gaslight Anthem had out in a great shift the day before in Hyde Park, where they were supporting Pearl Jam. But at the Academy, in front of their own fans, they are, as you would have hoped, sensational.

The show is spectacular from the start. The Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” is blasting from the PA when the lights go down and the band come on, plug in, ready to go. As “Gimme Shelter” reaches a suitably climactic pitch it gives way in a dramatic sort of cross fade to Alex Rosamilia’s declamatory guitar introduction to TGA’s own “American Slang”, which is the title track of their new album, of course, if you’ve been on holiday or something, or otherwise distracted.

It’s a brilliant piece of theatre and the deployment here of one of the Stones’ most iconic songs gives a hint of the company The Gaslight Anthem would like eventually to see themselves in, that pantheon of what there must be a more elegant phrase than ‘acknowledged rock greats’ to which they unashamedly aspire, every show they play an addition to their burgeoning reputation, another line in the legend thy are writing about themselves.

Incredibly, it just gets better from here. The set that follows is a thrilling mix of key tracks from the new album and re-vamped crowd favourites from their back catalogue, which is already bristling with stuff you’d miss like something amputated if they didn’t play it. Thankfully, they aren’t stingy when it comes to the older material, which as fans themselves they know a lot of people will have come to hear, as excited as the bulk of the crowd are to hear the American Slang material making a bow for the first time live.

And so blistering recent songs like “Stay Lucky”, the stupendous “Bring It On”, “The Diamond Street Church Choir”, “Boxer”, “The Spirit Of Jazz” and “The Queen Of Lower Chelsea”- over half the new album – are generously interspersed with tracks from previous album The ’59 Sound. Among them: “Old White Lincoln”, “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues”, “Miles Davis & The Cool”, “The ’59 Sound”, “Great Expectations”, “Casanova, Baby!”, “Film Noir”, “Here’s Lookin’ At You, Kid” and “Backstreets”.

They even find time in a show whose breathless pace is at times staggering to re-visit a few even older songs – “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts”, from the Senor And The Queen EP, for instance, and “Last Of The Jukebox Romeos”, played as one of five encores.

It’s apparently inevitable that whenever they are written about The Gaslight Anthem end up being compared for many obvious reasons to Bruce Springsteen and he continues clearly to be an influence and inspiration. But you can hear more than echoes of The E-Street Band in what they play, which at times, especially on the call-and-response vocal exchanges of “Bring It On” and the multiple false endings of “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” resembles a full-on soul revue, Sam Cooke waiting in the wings to come on and raise the roof.

During a positively ceremonial version of “The ’59 Sound” I scribble something in my notebook to the effect that increasingly tonight it’s like listening to The Who in their absolute pomp. About five or six songs later, Brian Fallon tells a dismayed crowd there’s time for one last number, which I presume will be “The Backseat”, which if it, it then strikes me, has been given a completely new intro. It’s not, though.

What we are suddenly listening to is a stunning appropriation of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly”, a song as much as anything by Springsteen or The Clash that could have been written for TGA to play. And play it they do, as indeed they play everything. Which is to say, as if lives depended on them.


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