The Gaslight Anthem, U Street Music Hall, Washington DC

Punters leave U Hall several pounds of sweat lighter, but with the unforgettable memories of seeing a band in their prime.

Rating: 8

What do orange-coloured candles, an action figure of Bruce Lee, a newspaper cutting of Fiona Apple and a drum kit emblazoned with the likeness of comic actor Walter Matthau all have in common? They’re all part of the stage set up for the Gaslight Anthem, who stopped in Washington DC Friday night. This date was one of the smallest capacity venues the New Jersey rockers would play on their current North American tour, designed as the first true live airings of the band’s new album ‘Handwritten’, out this week both in America and Britain. The tour was announced in late May and tickets went on sale on 1st June; all 500 allotted for the U Street Music Hall, just one block east from the famed Ben’s Chili Bowl, went in less than 5 minutes. So it should come as no surprise that the queue outside formed early and well before doors, jamming the venue downstairs once punters were let in.

The timing of the gig is odd; the band begin at the early time of 8:15pm in order to accommodate for a 10pm door time for a later dance. Singer Brian Fallon, no doubt too aware of this curfew enforced on his band, announces that in order “not to waste anyone’s time”, they would play as many of their songs as possible with minimal stoppage in between. As should be predicted, this pronouncement goes down extremely well with the fans. After all, when else would you see such a massive, 19-song set by a band in their prime in such an intimate location? Combine the sheer volume of people with the typical humidity of a DC summer, and you get bodies bumping and sweating from the first banged chords of ‘Great Expectations’ from the Gaslight Anthem’s second album ‘The ‘59 Sound’. Next up is ‘45’, the first single off ‘Handwritten’, and the high intensity performance the band delivers from the very start barely wavers until the very end.

One of the few, more tender moments is ‘Queen Of Lower Chelsea’ from 2010’s ‘American Slang’, the room becoming quiet as Fallon sings, “Nothing comes cheap / and everything has a price / everyone has a price / now nothing is free / not even me.” ‘Here Comes My Man’, another new song, provides another slower tempo highlight; the merch on offer includes t-shirts printed with the song title. But it’s with songs like ‘Old White Lincoln’ and ‘The ’59 Sound’ where you feel the full brunt of the Gaslight Anthem’s muscle, not just in the power of their music but while physically being in the crowd, getting crushed by arms, legs and bodies from all sides by the Gaslight Anthem’s overzealous fans. Thankfully, since this technically is a 9:30 Club show (the venues share promoters) just played in a different location, there’s 9:30 Club security present to keep everyone, including the ill-advised crowd surfers, safe. Punters leave U Hall several pounds of sweat lighter, but with the unforgettable memories of seeing a band in their prime.