The Gaslight Anthem: Great Expectations

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

So there he was waiting in the wings clasping an uncharacteristic TV Yellow Les Paul Junior – Bruce Springsteen. The Boss. It’s 2009. England’s Glastonbury Festival and fresh-faced New Jersey heartland-punk quartet The Gaslight Anthem is three songs into a brief, midday set on the tented John Peel Stage, performing to a fraction of the famed festival’s 177,000-strong horde when the night’s mainstage headliner coolly strolls out for a guest appearance.

Typically, the buzzing drone of a crowd shouting BRUUUUUUUUUCE!!! en masse is the last thing a band would want to hear when opening for The Boss … unless that band is The Gaslight Anthem. Minutes later and singer Brian Fallon was trading verses and sharing the mic with Springsteen, his hero playing Little Steven to his Scooter on an electrifying version of his own song: “The ’59 Sound.”

Hours later Fallon would return the favor, joining Springsteen and the E Street Band to lend vocals to the Born In The U.S.A. classic “No Surrender” – a title Fallon notably nodded to in the lyrics to The Gaslight Anthem’s “Meet Me By The River’s Edge.” The next day the pair would repeat the collaborations at another festival in London’s Hyde Park – with “No Surrender” later immortalized on Springsteen’s London Calling: Live From Hyde Park DVD.

News and clips of the performances instantly went viral, and within days, Springsteen faithful the world over were calling themselves Gaslight Anthem fans. Three years later, when asked if an interviewer’s inevitable mention of Springsteen’s name makes his eyes roll, the 32-year-old Fallon is quick to respond. “No,” he says, “He’s definitely been the pinnacle that started the world noticing.”

The world not only noticed, it listened. On The Gaslight Anthem’s first trio of records, listeners heard lyrical and titular hat tips to Joe Strummer, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan and, of course, Springsteen. But in the band’s sonics – which are chock full of distortion-drenched bar chords and anthemic shout-along choruses, gang-sang to double-time drum patterns pounded out at breakneck tempos – the influence of Generation Y fanzine staples like Rancid and Hot Water Music was equally evident.

While Fallon and his band might at times strive to embody the stripped down sounds of ’59 to ’99, unlike other acts that channel a flair for the past through rose-colored chord progressions, lyrically he doesn’t ignore the times he’s living and writing in.

“If Elvis Presley is talkin’ about doo-wop, then I don’t know anything about doo-wop or the sock hop down the street,” he says, “because it’s 2012. But I get Elvis Presley. I totally get it. You’re aiming for timeless, rather than being bound by [the times].”

If this were, say, 2001 and The Gaslight Anthem was carving out its career, touting a sound that highlights the common denominators between punk, post-hardcore, alternative rock and roots music, the band would have probably shared stages with pop-punk teen-idols-du-jour Blink-182 instead of Bruce Springsteen. Not that Fallon would have necessarily minded.

From slicked-haired Mike Ness fashion followers to teenaged Green Day fans, Fallon’s trajectory as a punk is one shared by many in a cross-generational audience of modern American Teddy Boys. He compares his first time hearing Hot Water Music to his first time hearing The Clash – a revelation. Paul Westerberg may have taught him how to write sad-bastard stanzas about being young, but he came of age singing along to Blink-182’s dick jokes on repeat. “I still like [Blink],” Fallon admits, “I buy their records.”

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