Chris Farren could have been – if he’d wanted to be – a conventional singer/songwriter. It’s just that he didn’t fancy it. Instead, he does his stuff with a backing track and a big screen behind him explaining that its time for a guitar solo, amongst other things. Some of it is actually pretty funny and sends up the whole rock n roll cliché, he scrolls through every place he’s touring with Gaslight Anthem to say it’s his “favourite place”, for example. And there’s not many cliches about his music either. Oddly, for a punk musician he’s better, perhaps when he does the slower ones like “Death Don’t Wait” and “Until I Can See The Light”, although stuff like “Domain Lapse” (about packing your job in) could be a forgotten Fountains Of Wayne tune. “Where U Are” has a real punk explosion going on, and there’s actually a real moment of tenderness with “The Way I Love U Has Changed” before “Human Being”. But the ending is sensational. After first telling the crowd to “stick around for Gaslight Anthem, I know you want to get home to listen to my stuff”, he is lost in a wall of feedback before the most understated “bye” in the history of music. It suits him. He’s unique. Some people are naturally quirky and Chris Farren is one.
Almost 14 years ago I was in the old Academy 2 up the road watching a band that had my favourite album at the time. It was an emotional gig for me that one in February 2009, it was the first one I’d been to since my mother died. The Gaslight Anthem were sensational that night. That album “The 59 Sound” is still one of the best of recent decades, and perhaps it’s the reason that the Main Room at the new Academy is full now, on a Sunday night.
There is something special about that record, just as there is something special about this band. The announcement that they were touring again – with the original line-up – brought such excitement.
Credit to them, for not just doing “…Sound” all the way through, which they could’ve. It’s rather odd, though, that the gig begins in such an understated way. There’s no massive intro, and the opening tune “Have Mercy” sees the band backlit and not visible, and the song itself is a slow builder. They’ve earned the right to do what they like, of course, but it feels like it explodes into life with wonderful “Handwritten”.
But the six piece (as they are live) are in such form, and if you want to know more about them then this is where you start: “Mae”, which adds a real depth, gives way to “1000 Years”. My notes for the track simply said: “massive great power chord”. Those two are even more important than that, though. Because they show the albums that weren’t “59 Sound”. The set is peppered with brilliant songs from their career, “The Diamond Street Church Choir” from “American Slang” is a highlight as is “Woderson”, but what happens before the latter is the sort of thing that has let this show down. Only slightly, but still it needs saying, Singer Brian Fallon is not a particularly great onstage communicator, and his rather rambling style does affect the flow just a touch.
The last half hour of the gig, though, sparkles, in the main. “Howl”, “Stay Vicious” with its quasi-metal opening (as an aside, the “Get Hurt” album needs revisiting) and the incredible one-two punch of “The Backseat” and “American Slang” are as good as it gets. Any band would be proud of this canon, and even if the cover of Nick Cave’s “Straight To You” is perhaps not massively necessary, it’s still well done.
Most bands would be off at this point doing an encore. Not this one. “45” and the utterly brilliant “59 Sound” finish the show without the need for ego.
This is a wonderful rock n roll band, and its so good to see them back. Gaslight Anthem have a back catalogue to rival anyone and better most, and they’ve proved it here. What will be interesting is to see if they are back to make albums, because a band this good must surely still have something new to say.