LIVE: The Gaslight Anthem @ O2 Apollo, Manchester

By Tom Walsh

In the summer of 2008, four fresh-faced friends stepped out on to a stage in a field in Yorkshire, thousands of miles from home. Wrapped in checked shirts, faded jeans and flat caps they captivated a sparsely attended lunchtime crowd. This was their Woodstock, they looked on in amazement as members of the audience mouthed back the words to their poetic tales of Americana  and the smile could not be wiped off the face of their cherubic lead singer.

This was The Gaslight Anthem’s first taste of a British crowd and this was the UK’s first taste of Brian Fallon, Alex Rosamilia, Alex Levine and Benny Horowitz. It was a fire that was given the spark, as TGA transcended genres and went from the basement clubs to the stadiums and your mother’s CD collection.

Fallon’s infectious enthusiasm made each show feel like a gathering of old friends where he would play those songs you simply couldn’t get out of your head. Mere days before that appearance in the Leeds Festival Lock-Up Stage, TGA released a record that would catapult these humble New Jersey natives into the stratosphere and have them dubbed as the heir to Bruce Springsteen’s throne.

This was ‘The ‘59 Sound’. Twelve tracks which painted a picture of working class culture of yesteryear in a downtrodden heartland America. It was a world of gramophones, girls with sailor tattoos and watching the sunset behind the boardwalk ferris wheel. It was unlike anything to enter the mainstream conscience since Social Distortion and it resonated no more so than in the UK.

So, ten years on and playing to a packed, cavernous Manchester Apollo those same friends are going to give us their finest rendition of ‘The ‘59 Sound’. Fallon is already sporting a huge beaming smile as he welcomes his audience with an opening gambit of “well, look who’s back”.

It is TGA’s first appearance back on these shores since announcing an indefinite hiatus in 2015 and the three-year break has re-energised the quartet. There isn’t the sense of simply going through the motions that was evident towards the end of their original run. The songs feel fresh again and the opening tracks of ‘Handwritten’, ‘Old Haunts’ and the delightful ‘The Spirit of Jazz’ provide the perfect warm-up act.

From the very first strains of the riff of ‘Great Expectations’, it is quite overwhelming how much ‘The ‘59 Sound’ was adored upon its release. Voices from the audience almost drown out Fallon’s gruff tones while Rosamilia’s seducing guitar work is matched by a melodic hum. Fallon can barely contain his delight at seeing the songs he wrote on those cold Jersey evenings when he was working as a labourer in the early-2000s echo around the hall.

The title track is given a booming reception which is usually reserved for a religious awakening as everyone in attendance follows Fallon’s lead of repeating the line “and I know ‘cause we were kids and we used to hang”. Each track presents a reminder of what made the album so special from the painted imagery of late summer nights of ‘Old White Lincoln’, the painfully beautiful poetry of ‘Here’s Looking At You, Kid’, the dancing we did to ‘Casanova, Baby!’ and the huge singalongs we did to ‘The Backseat’ – it is an album that brought old memories flooding back.

While the closing section of B-sides, a rare and very much appreciated airing of ‘We Came To Dance’ and an ‘American Slang’ featuring Dave Hause did seem to end the performance on a flat note, tonight was all about ‘The ‘59 Sound’.

A lot has happened in those ten years since TGA’s finest work came to our attention. The world has changed, we have changed, TGA have changed but this evening, at least, we could be the kids that used to hang.