London Astoria 2
London is a maze. A sprawling metropolis of twisting, turning alleys and side-streets just itching to lead you astray. Tonight, it seems they have claimed Former Cell Mates as their latest victims; the Sunderland quartet reportedly having got lost on their way to the venue and arriving too late to play. A shame, as their recent debut album – ‘Who’s Dead And What’s To Pay?‘ – is a superb slice of gritty Northern folk-punk that any self-respecting Gaslight Anthem fan would enjoy.
So it’s up to The King Blues to kick things off, and they do so in fine style. Vocalist/ukulele player Itch Fox has often stated that his band’s main goal is “to unite people”, and as the majority of the crowd join in the campfire sing-along chorus of recent single ‘Let’s Hang The Landlord‘, it’s clear that The King Blues haven’t lost their ability to bring a sense of intimacy to a thousand-strong audience. Be it old favourites like ‘Mr Music Man‘ (which really should have been a MASSIVE hit) or the handful of songs from new album ‘Save The World, Lose The Girl’, this is the sound of a band with purpose and fire in the bellies; and if there’s any justice, they’ll soon be headlining (and selling out) venues of this size.
The Gaslight Anthem‘s previous (and first) visit to the UK coincided with the late-August release of their second album ‘The ’59 Sound‘, which, since then, has been deservedly showered with praise by just about every man and his dog. No surprise, then, that tonight’s show is completely sold out; but whereas their previous London show (at the smaller ULU) was attended mainly by TGA diehards, tonight there’s a significant number of curious bystanders and newcomers present. In truth, there’s nothing wrong with that, but when Brian Fallon and co run through some of their mellower moments, it’s slightly disconcerting to hear the front half of the crowd singing along whilst the back half chatter distractedly amongst themselves.
Thankfully, this doesn’t detract from The Gaslight Anthem’s stormer of a performance. Hardly any of the songs played tonight are more than a few years old, but such is the band’s everyman spirit and knack for emotional resonance, that even newer songs like opener ‘Great Expectations‘ and ‘Miles Davis And The Cool’ sound as familiar as they would if you’d known them all your life. The folks down at the front go crazy throughout – let’s not forget, some of them have been eagerly awaiting the band’s arrival on these shores since their ‘Sink Or Swim‘ debut two years ago – and the smile on Brian’s face is proof that these feelings of gratitude and excitement are mutual. Sure, these are just four Springsteen-lovin’ guys from New Jersey playing a bunch of songs. But it’s the quality of those songs, and the sincerity with which they’re delivered, that will surely propel The Gaslight Anthem to greater heights in 2009.