Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Wonder Which Songs They're Gonna Play When We Go...

The '59 Sound, the breakthrough album from Jersey punks the Gaslight Anthem, completely snuck up on me last year; I don't recall hearing anything about the band before they started appearing on year-end best-of lists. And it's the rare album that actually lives up to the hype, an almost maddeningly consistent group of songs in what is possibly my favorite sub-genre: frequently anthemic rock music with smart, allusive lyrics (see also: the Hold Steady, Drive-By Truckers).

Seeing them live, though, offered a reminder that this was first and foremost punk music (and also a reminder that in all my years, I had never been to an actual punk show). At the sound of the first chord, the crowd around me pressed forward and the limbs of a crowdsurfer nearly knocked the glasses off of my face, and I decided to beat a hasty retreat further back from the stage. Even that wasn't entirely safe, though, as I was only a couple of yards from a circle of moshers. This was a far cry from the way I had previously experienced the band's music: through headphones, with the lyrics booklet in my hand. Under the circumstances, I preferred the slower, quieter numbers, since I could focus on the show and worry less about some dude knocking me over. The highlight of the evening was a hushed, singalong rendition of "Here's Looking at You Kid," although the album-closing "Backseats" and a cover of Tom Petty's "Refugee" were close runners-up.

The Gaslight Anthem most likely have pomade on their tour rider.
They also have the most bad-ass kick drum you're likely to see: that's John Shaft and Charles Bronson.

Considering that they share a name with a mystery spoof written by Neil Simon, I kind of assumed Murder by Death would be a fairly lighthearted opening act. Imagine my surprise, then, when the lead singer turned out to have mutton chops and a Nick Cave baritone, singing songs about, well, murder and death (words like "dust" and "whiskey" are liable to pop up in the lyrics) and whose backing band included a cello player. There were some die-hard fans in the audience; the guys on either side of me seemed to know every word, and both seemed to think that the only proper way to sing along was with their hands extended towards the heavens and head thrown back like a howling wolf.

Murder by Death's choice of cover song: Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)". What's that, Wikipedia? You say that song was originally recorded by Cher? Thanks, Wikipedia! You're the best!
The Loved Ones are local kids, and as such they were received enthusiastically by the hometown crowd. I'd be lying if I said I remembered any of their songs, though they did play a version of Conor Oberst's "I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)." A lucky audience member guessed the song before they played it, and was thus rewarded with a swig of the Jack Daniels bottle that the frontman kept nearby.

Later that week, and closer to the other end of the musical spectrum, I went to see St. Vincent and Andrew Bird. During the show, I came to the somewhat disappointing realization that, while I don't dislike either of those artists' musical output, I don't love a great deal of it either. It was fun, though, to see the virtuosic Bird effortlessly switch between violin (often creating on-the-fly tape loops to accompany himself), xylophone, guitar, vocals, and whistling. His stage setup was also impressive, with stacks of vintage-looking amps and oversized gramophone horns, including one two-headed monster of a Victrola that spun around during certain songs.

Oh, and if the guy to my right who kept shouting "Fake Palindromes!" between songs happens to be reading this: Try not to be such an asshole in the future, OK?"

No comments: