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Hard at play: the Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Sleeveless Dreamers

By Kirsten Ferguson

The Gaslight Anthem

Northern Lights, Sept. 26

The only Boss I listen to,” read the T-shirt of an attendee at Sunday night’s Gaslight Anthem show, the slogan printed above an image of Bruce Springsteen in his scraggly-bearded “Born to Run” phase (when he looked kind of like Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara).

It wasn’t the only Springsteen T-shirt spotted in the audience, and it seems natural there would be overlapping fan bases for New Jersey’s pride-and-joy and the Gaslight Anthem—fellow Garden State rockers with white tees and blue-collar roots who sing about factory life, old cars, broken dreams, mean streets, and refusing to surrender.

There’s also the blessing bestowed on the band by the Boss himself. Springsteen joined them onstage during England’s Glastonbury Festival last year for a run though “The ’59 Sound,” the Gaslight Anthem’s biggest, well, anthem to date. He also selected Gaslight to open for him at Hyde Park in London last summer, where the band’s frontman Brian Fallon, looking gobsmacked, sang a duet with Bruce on “No Surrender.”

Two short years ago, the Gaslight Anthem (who formed in 2005) were still playing basement shows and bar gigs, including one locally at Valentine’s. Somewhere along the line, that all changed, thanks maybe to the Springsteen connection but also to lots of glowing press and two solid back-to-back albums of uplifting heartland rock—2008’s The ’59 Sound and this year’s American Slang.

Northern Lights was packed—an impressive showing for a Sunday night. There were opening sets by an emo-screamo band, Bridge and Tunnel, and the much better Fake Problems, who played a danceable and more distinct pop-punk. Recorded music from Arcade Fire and Fleetwood Mac played over the PA to warm up the crowd before the Gaslight Anthem—Fallon, guitarist Alex Rosamilia, bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz—came onstage.

The sound wasn’t great to start, marred by some feedback and an echoey din that swallowed the first few songs, including “High Lonesome,” an earnest rocker from ‘59 Sound and “Stay Lucky,” a monstrously catchy tune from American Slang. The crowd clapped along to the very E-Street shuffle of “The Diamond Church Street Choir,” while “Old White Lincoln” had a cool line about high-top sneakers and sailor tattoos, and “The ’59 Sound” and “American Slang” were fist-raising anthems with a heart-tugging, sentimental appeal.

“Facebook and me don’t get along. Every time I go on there, I find out someone’s dead,” Fallon then announced, explaining why he generally shuns social-networking sites (though he recently started a Twitter account to receive song requests before shows). “I stay away from the Internet is what I’m trying to say.” The soft-spoken Fallon had a tendency to address only the first few rows when he engaged the crowd, which made his frequent stage patter hard to hear beyond the stage, but gave it an intimate, fans-only feel. Toward the back he could barely be heard telling a story about opening up for Social Distortion, one of his “favorite bands ever.”

It’s not hard to catch the influence of Social D.’s reflective roots-rock on the Gaslight Anthem, and the latter finished their hard-working Northern Lights show with a series of heart-sleeve tunes at the crossroads of realism and idealism: “Bring It On,” “The Queen of Lower Chelsea,” “I’da Called You Woody, Joe,” “Great Expectations,” “The Backseat.”

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