The Gaslight Anthem & Cover Songs

The Show

Sunday evening I had the pleasure of seeing The Gaslight Anthem perform on Pier 26 in lower Manhattan. The setting was perfect, the music was great, the weather was shit, but that just made it more memorable.

The stage was at the end of a pier protruding out into the Hudson River, in the shadow of the new Freedom Tower, with the Jersey City and Hoboken skylines as a backdrop. As the lightning cracked across the sky, and the rain fell, I couldn’t help but feel like having New Jersey behind the band in the distance was the perfect metaphor for their success.

The Gaslight Anthem have been touring on their most recent album, 2012’s “Handwritten,” and they played the hell out of those songs, peppering in a few old favorites. The highpoint for me being, “We Come To Dance,” off of their 2007 album (and one of my all-time favorite records) “Sink or Swim.”

They have really become a tight band, and musically the only thing that I wasn’t crazy about was how loud the drums were in the mix. It may have been where I was standing (about 40 feet from the stage, dead center), but they were so disproportionately loud that at times it was kind of a joke. Nevertheless, it was an exceptional performance. I’d happily see them again.

That being said, the show did come with a bit of drama.

The Controversy

I’ve tried to find video of the following events, but no one seems to have posted any, so I will recall from memory as much detail as I can.

During the encore, frontman Brian Fallon started trying to do some kind of a call and response thing with the audience over a cover song. As close to the stage as I was, I couldn’t quite figure out what he wanted to do (and I’m a very seasoned concert-goer). Fallon was talking about how the evening before they did this with the audience on a Lady Gaga song, and he tried it again. It immediately became clear that this particular audience didn’t have Gaga’s lyrics memorized. I kind of enjoy Lady Gaga, but I sure as hell don’t have her lyrics memorized.

So Fallon launches into some tirade about how “people who know how to have a good time like Lady Gaga,” or something like that. He mentions that they have also successfully done this (whatever it is) with “Living on a Prayer,” and then calls to the audience to suggest another song. The audience immediately starts screaming “BRUCE” and Fallon just lost it. He was rambling and mumbling something like, “That’s it… you guys ruined it. I was trying to have some fun, and you guys ruined it. We’ll play our own songs.” They launch back into their own songs, play a badass encore, and close the show with a cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” (which rocked).

I left the show really happy that I saw it, but also feeling confused. Like a little kid who’s parents just yelled at him, but didn’t bother to explain why they were angry or what the kid did wrong. It was uncomfortable.

The following day, I saw that Fallon posted to their blog about this event… And I still don’t have a clue what he’s angry about.

Two paragraphs stood out to me:

“However, I feel it necessary to address that we are The Gaslight Anthem. We play Gaslight Anthem songs. We’re not the band you think we may be akin to. My name isn’t Bruce, It’s not Eddie, or Joe, or Paul either. If you’d like to hear their songs they are readily available and the former two tour quite often. You should go see them, they put on great shows. They play long sets over two hours sometimes. It’s truly amazing to watch them at their craft. But again, we’re not them. We have a different set of rules. We’re on a different course, because we aren’t them and can’t be them. We have to find our path, because that’s the only honest thing we can do. Which is where I find myself now, proud of what we’ve done, and where we’ve come from, but it’s time to find the next thing. Time to create a new sound, time to create the next Gaslight Anthem. We will always play those songs, but we will never be that band again. ”

” I’m asking openly and humbly that if anyone would like to come to a Gaslight Anthem show, please come because you want to see what we’re doing on that night. Don’t come to see Bruce, he won’t be there. Don’t come to hear a cover, it probably won’t happen. Don’t come to yell at me when I’m trying to share something with the audience to reach out to them about something I feel is moving me. For some reason I’m the one with microphone, which may be a mistake entirely. But if you want one and have something to say, please start a band, get in the van, sleep on floors, and work your butt off and maybe one day I’ll find your band and I’ll come see you play. “

Even after reading his blog post, I still am confused. Fallon was calling for a cover song from the audience, across the river from NJ. At least half of the audience were serious fans of Jersey rock, and anyone there would have loved to see Gaslight do their own take on any Bruce Springsteen song. Not because we want Gaslight to be Bruce, but because we love both bands. Hell, I would love to hear Bruce do a rendition of “Red Sky Night,” or “Navesink Banks.” If I showed up to see the E-Street Band and they rocked out to a Gaslight song, I imagine I’d remember that fondly for the rest of my life. But I digress…

Above all, Fallon was asking for the audience to call for a damn cover, and the audience answered his question. With one resounding answer. “BRUCE!” He didn’t like the answer, and as objectively as I can be, he had a diva moment on stage. Was it disappointing? Absolutely. Would it keep me from going to see them again? No. That honor is reserved for the man-child, Peter Frampton.

Cover Songs

While I’m on the subject, I absolutely love an artful cover song. Some of the greatest recordings in history are cover songs. Sometimes, they’re even better than the originals.
  • Derek & the Dominos and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”
  • Gun’s N’ Roses cover of The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil”
  • Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watch Tower”
  • The Gaslight Anthem doing The Animals “House of the Rising Sun”
  • About a thousand other covers of Dylan songs

I could make one massive list of incredible cover performances, and The Gaslight Anthem, and Bruce Springsteen would make the list many times over.

There’s a lot of talent that goes into making someone else’s song your own. When it’s done right, it can be a magical experience, especially when it’s done live before an eager audience.

The Bottom-line

Gaslight clearly doesn’t mind cover songs. They’ve recorded a few amazing ones, and finished the show on “Baba O’Riley!” Would he have been pissed off if we yelled, “WHO?”

They also didn’t seem to mind comparisons to Bruce, when it helped to catapult their prominence.

They’ve worked their asses off, and deserve all of the success that has come their way. In spite of this outburst, I loved the show, but make no mistake about it. Brian Fallon yelled at his audience like we wronged him. Maybe he had a bad day. Maybe he is trying to work through something. I don’t really care. He’ll lose this fan if he pulls something like that the next time I am at one of his shows.

He is the guy with the microphone, and I don’t want my own. I just want the guy with the microphone to put on a good show and be civil to the people who gave him the damn thing.

[Update: Here’s a video of Fallon on stage. Maybe he needs to layoff the bottle a bit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbNx-Rz0l-E&feature=youtu.be Thanks to Mark for finding it]

5 thoughts on “The Gaslight Anthem & Cover Songs

  1. Very cool recap. When I first read BF’s rant (?) on his Tumbler page, I at first applauded his what seemed to be “don’t label us, we’re The Gaslight Anthem” thinking and request. But then a fuller story seemed to emerge, your eyewitness account being part of it. Now I’m wondering if it wasn’t just some diva moment as you suggest (but then he diva’ed on the stage AND online…which will live on longer?). I’m a bit confused by it all too since they seem like a pretty solid band that doesn’t do this stuff. Heck, I think my first time hearing of Brian Fallon was when he did the cover of Backstreets…then I found TGH. I do wish them more success, especially since they were born of the bar scene in New Brunwick, NJ, but let’s hope this was the exception, not the rule. Good to hear, though, that Peter Frampton still takes the loser cake. If anyone beats that, well, we’re in trouble.

    Frankly, I’m happy your crowd didn’t know the words to Lady Gaga catalog. *shudders*…

  2. Annnnnd…..here’s the exchange: http://youtu.be/DbNx-Rz0l-E

    Seems like it starts off OK, then once Bruce in invoked, Brian just gets annoyed. I did enjoy how he said “How about if we don’t play anymore? I pull an Axl Rose…”

    The whole bit just went on to long (yes, 3 minutes is too long to me.) Bringing up Vanilla Ice, doing impressions of Staten Islanders…. just odd.

    1. I don’t know about that. Fallon still shows up for all of his shows, starts them close to on-time, and to my knowledge, hasn’t started any riots…

      Axl also took 15 years and spent $13 million to produce a magnificently miserable album.

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