Guest post by Scott Castro
On Tuesday evening, Richmond’s The National laid a cornerstone to the foundation of what promises to be an unprecedented barrage of musical talent in the coming months by welcoming New Jersey punk rockers The Gaslight Anthem and friends to the River City.
Early arrivals to the venue hung around the bars and stood virtually motionless to the pop-punk sounds of The Scandals. Hailing from Bayonne, NJ (a town Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem would later deem unknown to anyone outside of the Garden State); the group ploughed through a lengthy set list of sub-three-minute songs with all the trimmings one could expect from the pop-punk mix CDs that littered our cars in the early 2000’s.
It’s not difficult to imagine the band being well received amongst fans of the genre; however, it was abundantly clear that this crowd was in search of anthems with rounder edges.
Once the requisite “oh-oh” harmonies and the wide-stance barrages of power chords ceased, Matt Good (a.k.a Northcote) and his accompanying musicians strode confidently before a noticeably larger audience.
Northcote delivered an impassioned set with an energy that eerily resembled that of the headlining act. Good willingly confessed to his unwavering admiration for The Gaslight Anthem in an aside about driving 8 hours from his hometown in Canada to see the band perform early in their career. Nonetheless, his strained vocal chords and Springsteen-esque mannerisms strengthened an already obvious comparison. One attendee whispered, “If I was just getting here now, I’d have thought Gaslight already started.”
Similarities aside, Good’s humble demeanor, diverse catalogue, and references to local musician Tim Barry proved his bona fides and made him that much easier to love. Had the headlining act turned in a sub-par performance, fans could have walked away knowing they had gotten their money’s worth at the very least.
This would not prove to be the case.
As the backdrop unfurled, emblazoned with the upside-down heart that graces the cover of group’s latest effort, “Get Hurt,” The Gaslight Anthem launched into a string of favorites from previous albums “Handwritten” and “The ’59 Sound.” It became clear very early in the 25-song set that the band’s latest LP would not be a centerpiece, but the audience didn’t seem to mind, at least initially.
There were a few noticeable dips in crowd participation, likely due to the fact that the most heavily represented album of the performance was the band’s lesser-known 2007 debut, “Sink or Swim.” The set even ended on an awkward note with the anti-climactic, “We’re Getting A Divorce, You Keep The Diner.”
Frontman Brian Fallon took a few opportunities between 4-5 song chunks of the setlist to address the hot-and-cold crowd and justly lambast those unwelcome but expected concertgoers hurling verbal requests towards the stage. He joked that his lengthy diatribes would draw the ire of local Internet journalists (not me) and playfully caricaturized an impatient crowd member, whining, “It’s a Tuesday night! I’ve got stuff to do in the morning!”
Not to be outdone by Good’s musical connection with Richmond, Fallon recalled that the band’s first-ever tour date was at the former Empire seven years ago and reminisced about the sweat-soaked stage.
Musically, songs were delivered with telltale precision and energy, though their stage presence was unexpectedly statuesque. Some newer tracks were swallowed beneath the undertow of melodic behemoths such as “Here Comes My Man” and “The Diamond Church Sweet Choir.” A down-tempo version of “Great Expectations” was a welcome surprise and “The Navesink Banks” highlighted a sprinkling of more intimate moments.
The crowd lingered as the house lights came up and begged for one more song, but the band’s rousing 105-minute had come to a close. After all, it was a Tuesday night, and we all had things to do in the morning.