Against Me! and Branan hog the spotlight from Gaslight


What Gaslight Anthem lacked in individuality Friday night at Stage AE, it painfully made up with an overactive light show and an arduously long 26-song set. 

It was the end to the band’s fall U.S. tour, roughly one year after the group visited Pittsburgh to play at Mr. Small’s. The band has since claimed more popularity, and it managed to sell out the show, along with openers Cory Branan and Against Me!, who both played considerably better than the headlining act. 

Branan, a singer/songwriter from Mississippi, sounded somewhere between a piss-drunk trucker, a homegrown choirboy and a Seattle anarchist.

It was delightful and original. Yet, he might not agree with the former description. 

Branan told the audience that he asked Gaslight Anthem if they knew he is “not really punk, right?” when they asked him to join their tour. 

However Branan wants to describe himself, Rolling Stone already graced him with an epithet in “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know: Fall 2014.” He’s also aging smoothly into his rougher punk/country/folk sound. At age 39, Branan’s voice now allows for some snarl and rasp with its tenor notes, which adds a raw power that his earlier performances in the 2000’s lacked.

He varied Friday between upbeat lust songs such as “Prettiest Waitress in Memphis” and lonely lines such as “While she sleeps, I trace the places that your tattoos used to be.” He delivered these emotions through with intensity  that threatened to snap his guitar strings.

Against Me! front woman Laura Jane Grace describes herself in her Twitter bio as a “True Tran Soul Rebel,” a title she asserted Friday. Grace dedicated the band’s performance of the 2014 album’s title track, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” to a fan who was fired after coming out as transgender. 

“Everyone deserves the right to live and be treated like a human,” Grace said. 

Grace, formerly Tom Gabel, revealed she was transgender in 2012. Her wife, band and fanbase enthusiastically embraced her transition. Grace now tours in the body she feels at home and speaks publicly about transgender issues, specifically in the music community.

Against Me! played six of the 15 songs from Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the album inspired by Grace’s transition. But the band opened with a classic: “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” from their 2001 EP, Against ME! Is Reinventing Axl Rose. 

Although you couldn’t see Grace’s face for the majority of the show because of her flowing, ever-growing and sweat-drenched locks, you could occasionally catch a Cheshire Cat-grin underneath. The audience mirrored it, particularly when the band got down to “Thrash Unreal,” the climax in its high-energy set. Guitarist James Bowman was grasshopper-like, high-kicking and doing split jumps at every appropriate drumbeat. Grace, who is known for close fan interaction, seemed a little restrained but was still passionate in the larger venue. 

Like Gaslight Anthem, Against Me! began its U.S. tour in Pittsburgh last year and ended it on Friday. Its next stop is the United Kingdom, as the group begins a separate international leg. 

Branan and Against Me! had the crowd amped up aplenty by the time Gaslight Anthem began. This made it all the more confusing to why the band pumped its bass levels through the roof and brought as much lights as your average EDM show. 

The New Jersey boys are doing well for themselves these days and shouldn’t need to hide behind these distractions. The band’s latest album, Get Hurt, debuted at No. 2 on BillBoard’s Top Rock Albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan, despite a couple of negative reviews. 

When band member Alex Rosamilia wasn’t on keyboard, there were sometimes four guitarists on stage, all usually in great sync. Despite the effort, the songs melded into one another. Besides a few moments of almost funny banter, the band seemed scripted and glued to their spots on stage. 

The band members dug out some depth later on in their set and took risks by covering Pittsburgh indie artist Matthew Ryan’s “I Can’t Steal You.” They closed their encore with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” a nice touch that went over well but not as well as the crowd’s reaction to their well-known tracks “45” and “The ’59 Sound.” 

One cover, “Sultans of Swing” was a strong attempt at first that fizzled out after a few seconds, because the band had to stop and reconsider how to play it before launching into its own track, “Too Much Blood,” from its 2012 album, Handwritten

It was an odd slip into incoordination, as the band was tightly synchronized the rest of the night. Additionally, the group had apt control with slowing things down in its songs to allow them to dramatically pick things up.

Gaslight Anthem’s fans happily consumed the slip-up and the rest of the show. Judging by the crowd’s enthusiasm throughout the night, it won’t be long until Gaslight Anthem returns to sell out a Pittsburgh venue once again. Let’s hope the next show trades the strobe lights for light heartedness and the 26-song melt for a focus on indescribable moments.