The Gaslight Anthem at Lollapalooza 2012 | Photos and music review
"This is a good festival. I like this one," Brian Fallon said toward the end of his set. He's one of few people here who's earned the right to speak so flippantly about an opportunity like Lolla. His whole shtick is being a normal Jersey boy, a guy with problems and heartaches just like ours...and yeah, right. He's anything but normal. But just like with the Boss, he convinces us otherwise with every song. These are songs about our aspirations, our losses, and our loves. So why can't we write them, too? Good pop music always creates that feeling, like we could've written it ourselves, and that's also why cynics (speaking) are often so quick to dismiss catchy, listenable tunes like these. "Anyone can do likable shit," we say. But few can carry it from Jersey to Chi Town, and get us all to listen like this, to sing along, unembarrased and unironic, because we suddenly find it necessary.
Fallon gets a surplus of Springsteen comparisons, but they're warranted for multiple reasons. It's not just the Jersey thing. When his band cut out for a stagnated, solemn singalong of the bridge in their "Dear Chicago" cover, you'd have been a fool not to recognize a rock star onstage. During slow jam "Here's Looking at You, Kid," three girls sat up on their boyfriend's shoulders and clapped along, like something out of a Bon Jovi concert circa 1986. Fallon noticed them and smiled their way. He'd made their nights, and he'd done his job. And you thought rock was dead.
Gaslight's set was bookended by two of the most audacious moves I've seen at a rock show. The Jersey boys did a walk-on to Fugazi's original recording of "Waiting Room," a song that about three people within my field of vision seemed to recognize. Right before "I don't want the news," the band blasted into "Great Expectations," and I couldn't even remember to question the walk-on choice. Gaslight closed with hit "Backseats," and during the outro, Fallon sang the opening lines to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Yes, by U2. But Fallon pulled it off. I don't know much about his life via interviews, but like Springsteen, we feel like we're getting Fallon's memoirs with every song. We get his blues, and almost more so, we feed off his joy. This is how good rock n' roll is done.
I've been on the fence about this band for a long time, mostly because I think its records sound too polished. But as the sun set behind the Google Play stage, I found myself singing along with "The '59 Sound," a song I barely knew or loved before today, and I realized something: there are some bands you just can't dislike. The recordings are irrelevant, merely interpretations of songs that live larger than four or five megabytes on your laptop. They hit some sweet spot of power and vulnerability, of melody and presentation, and you just break under the weight of several thousand voices singing around you. Gaslight is one of those bands.