Review: The Gaslight Anthem w/ Against Me! Live at 930 Club

20140910_201938Attending two live shows in three days at the same venue definitely gives you a unique perspective. As I sit down to write this review, I find myself comparing the shows. This would be unfair even if the artists were similar. In this instance, they aren’t, so I am ardently to look at last night’s show in a vacuum.

Last night’s show featured two bands that share relatively similar genres…and not much else. At this point in time, Against Me! has become an elder statesman on the punk circuit. With six albums and over a decade of touring under their belts, they have built up a relatively small but diehard following. Known primarily for combining fast, punchy guitar riffs with pulsing drum beats and lyrics that are overtly political, Against Me! knows what they are good at, and they execute.

But what made last night’s performance so intriguing was the widely publicized subject of lead singer Laura Jane Grace and her gender dysphoria.  Born Tom Gable, Laura Jane Grace announced she would be transitioning to life as a woman in a powerful and extremely poignant article published in Rolling Stone in 2012. This was the second time I had seen Against Me!, but the first since 2012. I’m unashamed to admit that I was curious to see what, if anything, might be different about the band and its lead singer.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out the answer: very little had changed, and a lot had changed. Against Me! was the same in-your-face,  unapologetic whirlwind of punk that I had enjoyed as a younger version of myself, when their songs about subjects such as teenage anarchy, disenchantment with the military industrial complex, or drinking too many Guinness resonated most deeply. With their new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the whirlwind is still there, even if the subject matter has changed. With the album title setting the stage, the new Against Me! isn’t shy about attacking head on the issues that Laura Jane Grace has faced in her transition to being a woman – fear, rebellion, hatred, desire for acceptance, and many others. The album is powerful because it’s personal, and that comes through even more live. In many ways, Against Me! is as good and relevant as ever.

The headliner of the night was The Gaslight Anthem, a band that has now released five albums since 2007, the most recent being Get Hurt in early August, 2014. This show was the opening act of a tour for the aforementioned record, a tour that will take them all over North America and Europe.

20140910_214537I don’t secretly like The Gaslight Anthem – they have been one of my favorite bands for over six years. This was my second time seeing them live, while also seeing a solo acoustic show a few years back with lead singer Brian Fallon. But coming into last night, that favoritism had begun to wane. Get Hurt takes Gaslight in a new direction. Gone are the days of uber-catchy, vivid, punk-inspired, heart-broken, modern-day Springsteen tracks. In place are grungier, arena-sized rock anthems that leave a lot to be desired. And the change is just as evident live as it is on the new album. An over-the-top light show attempted to distract from the fact that they played very few songs from their previous four albums. This didn’t feel like a band wanting to proudly unleash new tracks to the world – but rather, a band that was hiding from its past. As if their fans had forgotten where they came from.

Admittedly, the show was entertaining throughout. But what it more readily accomplished was to defend my pre-conceived notions that the band had changed, and in my opinion, not for the better. No single moment better portrayed Gaslight’s attempt at transitioning to serious rock band than their choice for final song of the night – The Who’s “Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland).” This, apparently, was a page ripped directly from their primary inspiration for the new album – Pearl Jam. Unfortunately, it came across as far too contrived, and left a lot to be desired until The Gaslight Anthem (hopefully) goes back to their roots.

Set List

2014 Week of the Concert

The vast majority of my posts for Pop Heart Etc. consist of concert reviews. This week will be no different – just more of the same in a condensed period of time. Here is my concert-going schedule for the upcoming week. Reviews of each will follow shortly after.

Monday, September 8
Ryan Adams @ 930 Club in Washington, D.C. (This is an album release show for Ryan’s upcoming self-titled album)

Wednesday, September 10
The Gaslight Anthem w/ Against Me! @ 930 Club in Washington, D.C. (Gaslight is touring on their newest album, Get Hurt)

A Throwback Worth Throwing Back For

Brand New at FillmoreI have been on a bit of a losing streak recently when it comes to seeing bands from my youth some 10 years past their prime. While most of these shows – but not all – had been of the anniversary/reunion-type, they did all have another thing in common – they were extremely disappointing.

– The Ataris’ “So Long Astoria” 10 year anniversary tour earlier this year, of which Ryan posted about in March (I saw them in DC, and my review would not have been as kind as Ryan’s)

– Thursday’s “Full Collapse” 10 year anniversary tour back in 2010

– Jealous Sound’s “Kill Them With Kindness” 10 year anniversary tour in 2013

So much so that I had begun to question a couple things. Yes, whether they were worth my time and money. But more importantly, whether they were harming the memories from my youth of seeing the same bands. There is something unsettling about seeing someone on their last leg trying for one last gasp, whether it be a musician, athlete, politician, etc.

So I was necessarily skeptical about seeing my all-time favorite band – Brand New – at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD. Would this just be a repeat – a band from my youth trying their best to stay relevant, despite evidence to the contrary?

No, this was not an anniversary show. But Brand New has been one of the most enigmatic bands of the last decade and a half – touring when/where they want, going silent for long stretches of time and reappearing without any new material, refusing to give interviews, being detached and cold with audiences and fans. So it was anybody’s guess what to expect.

They did not disappoint. This was the 5th time that I had seen Brand New live, and their performance end up trailing only a 2003 show at the House of Blue Sunset Strip in Hollywood, CA.

Touring without new material is often a hit for audiences – you are assured to hear songs from whatever your favorite album may be, rather than half the setlist being compiled of tracks nobody knows. That was the case here. Brand New played a well-rounded mix from 3 of their 4 studio albums, with debut album “Your Favorite Weapon” being the odd man out.

See below for a setlist.

This river’s bigger than I am

Phosphorescent is Matthew Houck, and Matthe Houck is Phosphorescent. Any doubt that was the case was quickly quelled as Houck took the 930 Club stage in an all-white, gold-trimmed cowboy suite – complete with 5 gallon hat and gold glitter boots – in front of 5 band members dressed as inconspicuously as one can be.

There was a certain level of egotism involved in how Houck demanded the spotlight as he strolled onto the stage with Sun, Arise (An Invocation, An Introduction) playing in the background. But any semblance of narcissism vanished as quickly as Houck picked up his guitar and started on track #2 – The Quotidian Beasts.

You see, what makes Phosphorescent’s music great is that it’s melodically transcendent and lyrically relatable. As you listen to various tracks, you can’t help but feel like Houck is talking about you – the lyrics describe a moment or a feeling or a circumstance that everyone knows all too well.

What made this show great was that transcendence and relatability manifesting itself in a live performance. At no time was that more apparent than during the first song following a transition from full band to solo set – Muchacho’s Tune. Muchacho’s Tune is the title track for Phosphorescent’s most recent album (my 2013 Album of the Year) and the first track written following an emotional breakdown that led Houck to a week of seclusion in Mexico that resulted in his best work to-date.

Muchacho’s Tune is simple and soulful. It speaks to redemption – a theme that flows throughout the album but is never more clear than on the title track – but more importantly that redemption doesn’t just occur – it takes time, work, and understanding. “See I was slow to understand/ This river’s bigger than I am/ It’s running faster than I can, though lord I tried.”

Who can’t relate to Muchaco – and who hasn’t sung his Tune.

Underappreciation, Transformative Style, Old Age, Etc.

Earlier this week, the wife and I attended a show at the 9:30 Club – both of our favorite music venue (at least I think I’m pretty sure it’s hers too). We received the tickets as part of our wedding gift from two good friends. That’s what a good friend who stands up for you at your wedding does – gets you a personal gift that reflects something that made you great friends in the first place – the gift of live music.

Anyways, the show included three acts – Matthew Ryan, Laura Stevenson and the Cans, and the Gaslight Anthem.

Five observations from the show:

  1. Matthew Ryan is incredibly underrated. With a career spanning the better part of two decades and over a dozen albums, Ryan is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our generation, yet can barely draw 200 people when performing as the opening act for a sold-out show. This is unfortunate.
  2. I am getting too old for a mosh pit. I think my neck and back agree.
  3. Laura Stevenson and the Cans are not terribly appealing. Despite only 2 EPs and 2 LPs, limited-to-no commercial success, and a real lack of originality, they had an unsettling an aura of pretentiousness about them on stage. Not my favorite.
  4. However, fun fact about Laura Stevenson – her grandfather composed ”The Little Drummer Boy” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
  5. The Gaslight Anthem really has something going. They’ve been able to tap into a variety of musical genres and appeal to a wide array of social subcultures – rockabillies, hipsters, punks, jocks, etc. I even saw a few card-carrying members of the AARP in attendance. A style this transformative is a recipe for both critical acclaim and commercial success.