The Gaslight Anthem shows their age in Pittsburgh

By Vincent Smith / Staff Writer

The Gaslight Anthem has entered a new phase in its career. 

With four full-length albums under its belt, coupled with a large and growing fan base, The Gaslight Anthem can no longer be looked at as a heartland rock revivalist group. After their performance Thursday night at Mr. Small’s Theatre in Millvale, it is clear that they have started paving their own way.

Dressed in a Sun Records T-shirt and a jean jacket, lead singer Brian Fallon took the stage as an older and wiser musician than he did in years past. Succinct in his banter between songs, the band’s frontman was both nostalgic and a tad reserved. The crowd hung on his words, but he didn’t spout life lessons. He simply talked about the differences between playing music now and when he was young. 

The set was a constant stream of songs from their discography, played one after another with no breaks. Some of the songs began to mesh together, but the band’s dedication to play as much as possible given their allotted time was admirable. The band — which has added a third guitar player to the mix — played many of their New Jersey-influenced anthems about girls, growing up and the hardships of life in the city.

For the members of the The Gaslight Anthem, who grew up during a period when the punk scene lacked the substance of its predecessors, the new feel was palpable. Fallon — a musician who lived through that musical whirlwind and has plenty of tattoos and grit to prove it — seemed less like a misanthropic musician and more like a wise rock ’n’ roller. He was quick to silence hecklers and wore a grave face when singing the hooks of slower songs. 

The crowd that night displayed the different factions of fans that The Gaslight Anthem has reached over the years. There was the older, beer-drinking crowd, pressed together in the back watching the performance, and there was also the rowdy, high-energy moshers, who were more apt to pump their fists to the lyrics of their favorite songs. To the delight of all, the band played a majority of its most memorable tunes, including “American Slang” and “Great Expectations.”

The band behind Fallon had undergone a similar transformation — trading in some of the energy for more of a professional, polished appearance. The sound benefitted — each song sounded tight and on time. The lead guitarist hit every note, the bass lines were thick and full and the drums were as good as on the records. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the drummer’s bass drum cover featured a picture of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Roger Murdock from the film “Airplane!”

The performance also featured a refreshing lack of instrument changes and technical difficulties. The longest preparation was the 10 seconds that Fallon needed to put a capo on his Les Paul Classic. Moreover, no one switched instruments or wasted time with excessive tuning and sound checks. 

The fast-paced nature of the show and the even-keeled band could have rubbed a few fans the wrong way. What some might have perceived as a seasoned band playing through another show could have seemed to others to be an apathetic performance. Also, with such relentless pacings, it was understandable for some to get bored — especially if some of the songs were unfamiliar.

But it would be hard to knock the overall sound quality of The Gaslight Anthem that night, which was as good as Mr. Small’s can produce. The show revealed a band that is aging well and shows maturity beyond its years.