A Night of Wild Hearts and Revelation Youth: The Gaslight Anthem at Terminal 5
This is New Jersey at its finest, though perhaps you never thought there was anything fine about New Jersey. The small state often seems to be devoid of culture, let alone anything artsy or musical, a state riffed on legendarily by Bruce Springsteen, and continually today by bands like Titus Andronicus. No matter how many guitars march out though, the image of a culturally blighted Jersey remains. But Gaslight Anthem is different, and this is their concert. And the crowd asks you to place aside your preconceived notions for a moment, and let yourself go, in the swarming, sweating swarm of New Jersey, tonight.
Stare at Brian Fallon and admire how he can make a Hanes tee look edgy. Maybe it’s his arms and chest, covered in seething, multicolored tattoos. Or maybe it’s the look in his eyes, eyes that seems to be looking at something far off, far beyond Manhattan or his hometown of Red Bank. He’s hopeful, composed, and he utterly revels in his youth despite the heartbreak that comes with it.
Fallon is flanked on either side by Alex Rosamilia and Alex Levine, his guitarists at arms. Benny Horowitz drums behind him, shaking his long black hair to the beat of the loud, celebratory, survival rock. They’re all New Jersey bred and born. They wear blue jeans and tees, flannels, leather jackets. Their hair is slicked and jelled. They are clean and cool, and the crowd matches their attire with their own baseball caps and torn jeans, leather and gel. And the crowd loves them. They unabashedly open up their mouths to receive Fallon’s deep, belted lyrics about heartbreak in the New Brunswick rain, or desertion beneath the Edison moon. His voice is grainy and rough, but his look is smooth; his skin, despite the tattoos, is clean and unblemished. And beneath the Shrewsbury stars, California is a distant continent you can only dream of.
The band has marched out amidst burning incense; a long black tapestry with their name and logo has unfurled behind them. Fallon sweats, and the crowd sweats with him, brushing into each other in a in eager zeal for something, anything. The band formed in 2006 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Since then, they’ve released 4 albums. And tonight, as they will do tomorrow and the night after, they play to a sold out crowd at Terminal 5.
“Who here is from New Jersey?” Fallon screams between songs, and the place explodes, feeding off the wild energy of everyone else in the room. Through it all, Fallon remains calm and composed, playing on, barely dancing on stage. He stands, strums, and sings, and it’s enough. His eyes speak of a strange combination of heartbreak and hope, and the will to stand through it all, taking whatever life brings. At times, Fallon steps back, and lets the crowd sing in his place, smiling shyly. He raises his eyebrows and looks at specific members of the audience, smiles, closes his eyes, sings effortlessly, laughs at would be stage divers.
“You knew the depressing one was coming,” Fallon cautions the crowd. “But this one will cheer you up.” They begin to play the opening chords of “Here’s Looking at You Kid,” a song about writing to past lovers and explaining what went wrong (and right). The song relates specifically to places around the city from a Jersey perspective, as Fallon sings, “I heard she lives in Brooklyn with the cool,/ Goes crazy over that New York scene on 7th Avenue./ But I used to wait at the diner, a million nights without her.” The crowd’s reaction makes it clear that they relate to the lyrics, that they’re more familiar with waiting at the diner than strolling down 7th Avenue or walking the streets of Brooklyn, more familiar with the “if” than any of those lost loves actually calling.
The concert continues on; time seems eradicated. All that exists is the here and now, the inhumane way Gaslight never stops playing, barely breathing between songs, playing for hours like they were minutes. “The Backseats” gets the crowd on their feet again, jumping, shoving, reveling in having been here “one hundred times before,” squeezing into backseats like they squeeze into the venue now, jumping along for the ride and shoving forward, back, slipping on spilt beer, clamoring for more.
Mosh pits open and close; the crowd compresses, decompresses. Some people sit on the edge of the upstairs balcony, feet dangling as they watch the stage and the crowd from above; beer flies in spurts from dancing hands. The moshing gets so intense that security interrupts the concert and drags two people apart from each other. Fallon’s response: “I’ll wait for you to grow up” and before picking up the song where they left off, he remarks, “This happens all the time in practice.”
At the peak of the concert, Gaslight plays “Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts,” and Fallon, standing in similar attire, sings, “And I'll love you forever if I ever love at all/ . . .With wild hearts, blue jeans, & white t-shirts.” The song sums up the band and the concert experience they provide: despite their simple, American clothing, despite the fact that they’re from New Jersey, their hearts are wild, as are the hearts of the crowd. As the crowd leaps off their feet in a craze of noise, they send their hearts flying on stage, breathing their own life into the words and tunes.
The crowd loves it all, but they love “Great Expectations” the most. The crowd begs for it for the entire two-hour set, but it doesn’t get played until the encore. The first naked chords begin, and then the music hits, and the crowd soaks up the lyrics about abandonment. “My heart’s a wound,” explains Fallon. And the reason: “Everybody leaves, and I’d expect as much from you.” As the crowd thins out and leaves, crunching on paper cups and debris, they leave behind expectations that were exceeded, and a night of hearts gone wild.
The Gaslight Anthem is on tour through April 6. Purchase their latest album Handwritten from Amazon.com for $8.01.