Diners, jukebox Romeos, diamond Sinatras, Elvis, Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Miles Davis, Hollywood nights, Manhattan, New Jersey, New Orleans, high top sneakers, sailor tattoos, blue jeans, white T-shirts, party dresses, ribbons, classic cars, movie screens, parking lots, pay phones, ferris wheels, old haunts, forgotten ghosts, broken dreams, wild young hearts, chain gang souls, the moonlight and the summertime are some of the things that Brian Fallon writes about in his role as guitarist and lead singer of New Brunswick’s The Gaslight Anthem. Listeners of the band’s music might gather that he’s probably read a beat-poet novel or two. Fallon’s songs romanticise 20th century America roughly up to the time the band’s parents were born, especially on its second album The ’59 Sound. The two subsequent long-players, including this year’s Handwritten, have slightly less of a feel of being set in any particular era, but the songs remain endearingly sincere, and some of the more successful ones can be exhilarating.

The sentimental longing for a past that Fallon and his band mates have never known is really just a framework for the band to sing about girls with names like Maria or Mary. Often, the songs have their own internal soundtracks, as the various events happen “with the radio on”, as is the case in the opening number tonight, ‘Mae’. Indeed, a radio playing is a recurring theme in the band’s songs. And listening to the band on record, particularly more recent stuff, is actually a bit like listening to AM radio, with everything in the mix sounding kind of squashed together, slightly fuzzy and rather flat. The overall effect is as if the albums’ raw recordings were processed by computers so many times that nothing no longer much resembles what was heard in the studio.

So for the most part I manage to enjoy the records almost in spite of a style of production that it’s fair to say is not to my taste. But tonight I’m hoping that the drums will hit harder, that the guitars will crunch louder and that Fallon’s emotive vocals will be heard in all their glory. I want a Gaslight gig to be like how it is in the band’s wonderfully exciting promo video for ‘I’da Called You Woody, Joe’, a Joe Strummer tribute song taken from the 2007 debut album. Of course, my two friends and I, positioned tonight roughly in the centre of The Apollo’s packed floor, realise that recreating the intimacy of the tiny club portrayed in the video all within this vast ex-cinema is not going to happen, but we’re ready to rock!, beat our chests and sing along. Well, I’m exaggerating here in that we’re a little old for hardcore moshing (to be fair, I speak for myself here as my friends are rather younger), but we’re certainly up for a good time.

Anyway, getting back to tonight’s actual proceedings, following ‘Mae’, the aforementioned set-opener, the band tears into an early crowd-pleaser in the form of ‘The ’59 Sound’, a tune that races along with breakneck rhythms and tells of a car accident and young boys and girls that “ain’t supposed to die on a Saturday night”. It’s a thrilling song, and for some time afterwards, the set, mostly dominated by songs from Handwritten, struggles to reach quite the same heights. The initial attention that the band garnered after starting out in the mid-2000s was primarily from punk-oriented websites and the likes of Kerrang! magazine, but following its 2008 breakthrough to more of a mainstream audience, Gaslight has arguably gravitated slightly to more of what might be called “heartland rock”, evidenced tonight. (I personally prefer my Gaslight fast and punky, yet soulful.)

Even though the band tends to be relatively static, the power of faster-paced songs like recent single ’45’, an ode to heartbreak and the simple joys of spinning a 45 rpm vinyl record, easily generates sufficient energy to induce spontaneous bouncing and fist-pumping in the crowd. And regardless of the genre of rock we try to place the band into, when Fallon sings “In the deep, dark parking lot pressed up against my car/With your hands around my neck I felt the pounding of your heart” during ‘Mulholland Drive’, there’s no doubting the passion of the words or the performance. The band ends the main set with one of its rare ballads, ‘Here’s Looking at You, Kid’, which starts many in the audience singing along, followed by the up-tempo crowd favourite ‘Great Expectations’, a song with a melody so strong it could be enjoyed if played at almost any imaginable speed.

One song into the encore, I realise at the end of the first verse that the band is performing a cover of the Bob Dylan song ‘Changing of the Guards’. I’m impressed by the band’s choice, given that it’s a relatively less-known tune and yet one of my absolute favourites from a back catalogue so obviously blessed with awesome songs. One-man opening band Dave Hause is then welcomed back to the stage to perform ‘American Slang’ with the five Gaslight guys. Hause is an engaging performer and a worthwhile addition to the song, seemingly helping to inject a shot of energy into the arms of a minority amongst the audience who, some three hours after the start of tonight’s live music, might have been in need of such a boost.

The Apollo then goes almost completely dark before a sudden burst of sound and light fills the venue, with the drums and guitars taking a severe thrashing. The band is finishing up the encore with ‘The Backseat’, an exciting way to end the evening before we all head home or to a Manchester bar. On the way out, my Gaslight-crazy friend tells me he was kinda disappointed with the show, saying he found the band “too polished, too clean”. He wanted something more raw and dirty. I immediately understand what he means, despite me having thoroughly enjoyed the end of the main set and the encore.

Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.