Though the lineup for the debut of the Boston Calling Festival in May 2013 left a little (okay, a lot) to be desired for the tastes of this particular writer, the concept of bringing a live, two-day music festival to the architectural cesspool that is Boston’s City Hall Plaza was a welcome one. For the non-New Englanders among us, the area is a barren, steaming brick-and-concrete turd located adjacent to a number of otherwise vibrant areas, and has been criminally under-utilized over the years, a literal eyesore for the forty-five years since it opened. So while the likes of Fun. and Of Monsters And Men and Ra Ra Riot may not have been particularly inspiring to this area native, at least it was a sign of hope that perhaps the 2014 edition might be promising.
Based on the overwhelming success of the first Boston Calling festival, the sophomore edition was announced not for 2014, but for September 7-8 of this year, a scant 3.5 months after Memorial Day weekend inception. Featuring the likes of Solange and Kendrick Lamar and something called Bearstronaut, the September lineup may have been more underwhelming to this writer than even the May edition was, though it did feature a personal favorite: The Gaslight Anthem.
The Jersey quintet (I feel like it’s fair to call Ian Perkins a member of the band at this point) took the stage during the waning, dusky, late summer sunlight that epitomizes late Summer in New England. Sandwiched in between California indie rock band Local Natives and critical darlings (and show headliners) Vampire Weekend, providing a much-needed grittier break between what seemed an alarming amount of synth and ironic mustaches.
The band’s 90-minute set, increasingly rare for an outdoor festival setting but nonetheless welcome to the legions of loyal fans that crowded the front of the stage well in advance of the 7:30 start time, was bookended by the title tracks from the last two albums: “Handwritten” to open and “American Slang” to close. The seventeen songs in between focused primarily on the last three albums (Sink Or Swim went unrepresented), with “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts,” the relatively-brand-new “Halloween” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Changing of the Guards” serving to break up a setlist that was otherwise geared toward the larger, more diverse crowd (though noticeably absent was perhaps the band’s biggest breakthrough hit, 2008’s “The ’59 Sound”).
Punk music is traditionally, or at least stereotypically, best served in sweaty basements and dive bars. While the band remain true to their roots, what is becoming more prevalent over time is just how deep and broad those roots go. The uptempo grit of the Bouncing Souls and Hot Water Music infuse the band with energy night in and night out. The bluesy soul of Petty and Orbison allow the band to take musical chances, while the the arena-honed chops of Eddie Vedder and company allow the band to translate the sound to the masses. Though still claimed as ‘one of our own’ by many who grew up in the alternative/punk crossover period of the middle-90s, The Gaslight Anthem appeared to feel right at home commanding the crowd that ran many thousands deep well into the night.
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