The Gaslight Anthem / Pela / Good Old War @ Asbury Park 5/9

June 23, 2009

For the second night in a row, The Gaslight Anthem played the sold out Stone Pony in Asbury Park. This would be the final date on a tour that began in March for a band that has been on the road non-stop since issuing The ’59 Sound last summer, which was in fact their second release of 2008. Needless to say, The Gaslight Anthem should look tired and fatigued–but that simply was not the case.

Good Old War's Keith Goodwin, ready to play a second standing guitar.

Good Old War's Dan Schwartz, ready to play a second standing guitar.

Opening act Good Old War took the stage at 6:30PM. Joined by the boys in The Gaslight Anthem, the Pennsylvania indie/folk trio opened with a cover of “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”. Originally penned by Woody Guthrie (but performed on Mermaid Avenue, a joint album by Wilco and Billy Bragg), the song was immediately recognizable as the basis for The Gaslight Anthem’s own “Red at Night”.

Good Old War’s remarkable voices and musical ability were immediately apparent; the band harmonized with ease, transforming good songs from 2008′s Only Way To Be Alone into great live performances. Drummer Tim Arnold kept guitarists Keith Goodwin and Dan Schwartz in perfect time, even as they switched instruments–or as Schwartz played two guitars at the same time, one of them on a special stand allowing him to do so–throughout the set.

Pela's Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson.

Pela's Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson.

Brooklyn’s Pela followed, working hard to reach the extremely high bar set by Good Old War. The band’s vastly different style (loud and fast) was a perfect segue from the more mellow Good Old War into The Gaslight Anthem. To say frontman Billy McCarthy poured his heart into the band’s performance would be an understatement; the puddles of sweat left on stage had to mean he gave more. Never still for even a moment, McCarthy ran, jumped, and fell all over the stage–all while playing guitar and delivering a strong vocal performance. Pela combined classic rock and roll with punk energy, and although Good Old War is clearly the more talented band (those harmonies!), Pela was excellent, and each band cannot be complemented enough on their live performances. Indeed, on any other night either opening act could have stolen the show from most headliners.

Still, hometown favorites The Gaslight Anthem had no trouble trumping both openers. The band cut through The ’59 Sound for most of the first half of their set, lightly sprinkling in more punk-inspired songs from Sink or Swim. Effortlessly moving between full-blown singalongs (“High Lonesome”) and quiet ballads (“Navesink Banks”), the band also covered Tom Petty (“American Girl”) by the night’s end. (Please check out my review of the band’s performance just six weeks earlier on the beginning of the tour for more details, as the songs and performance was generally the same. The previous review offers additional insight into some of the songs, as well.)

The Gaslight Anthem hardly stood still all evening.

The Gaslight Anthem hardly showed signs of touring fatigue.

Late in the band’s setlist the band touched on Senor and the Queen EP. During “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts”, as frontman Brian Fallon was about to sing about “buying..that house on Cookman”, he paused; Cookman Avenue is across the street from the Stone Pony. He acknowledged how surreal it has been to be singing songs about Asbury Park to thousands of people around the country.

The Gaslight Anthem were constantly gracious the entire night, sensing that at any minute the band wouldn’t be that small anymore, assuring everyone in the crowd that they would always remain true to their punk-rooted ideals and their fans. With critical acclaim and incredible live performances gaining mainstream attention–not to mention a spot opening for a little known artist known as Bruce Springsteen–it shouldn’t be too long until they are put in position to defend that assertion.

All photos by Bob Sanderson.


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