If you’re going to play your best and best-known song early in the show – and then pull out the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” during your encore and not actually end with it – you’d better have a deep well of other rousing songs to keep the momentum going. The Gaslight Anthem showed off how many great tunes it has last night at First Avenue. Playing to a not-quite-sold-out crowd, the New Jersey quartet barreled through a nearly two-hour set that had very few lulls. Which was somewhat surprising to those of us who find the Anthem’s new album, “American Slang,” relatively lackluster.
The band opened with the new title track and stirred things up with another one from "Slang," the gospel-ized “Diamond Church Street Choir,” which sounded way better live than on record. It was a pretty fiery start, but things really lit up when they went into “The ’59 Sound” (the aforementioned best song) and another of the favorites from the band’s breakthrough 2008 album, “Old White Lincoln.” Several songs from their less-heard debut filled in the set, including “Red in the Morning” and “Angry Johnny and the Radio.” The boys also threw in a very cool cover to kick off the encore, a steaming take on “The War” by Lucero (a good plug for the Memphis country-rockers’ Minnesota Zoo gig on Saturday with Jason Isbell). They were able to keep the “Baba O’Riley” excitement going with the energetic two-fer finale, “Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid” and “The Backseat.” Teenage wasteland, indeed.
Although I’ve generally stopped quoting comments about Prince on the First Ave stage, GA frontman Brian Fallon offered a pretty sharp and funny bit about the Purple Yoda: “He’s one of my favorite people. Not that I’ve ever met him. And not that I want to, because the image in my head is perfect.”