Gaslight Anthem, the latest Jukebox Romeos

Gaslight Anthem, the latest Jukebox Romeos

The Comfort Festival is a unique case in the Italian summer panorama. Regulated prices, livable spaces, artists who usually do not come to our country and who here find the space they deserve. At the price with which you usually buy a ticket for an autumn concert in a club, in Ferrara you can see seven bands, all with excellent sounds and without any technical hitches. A small miracle, which in its third edition changes home and settles in the Nuova Darsena park, in what in the hopes and intentions of Barley Arts will be the home of the event for the next hundred summers.

The Blues of Yesterday and Today

The day is very full and after a beautiful afternoon in the company of the Lovesick, by Hardwicke Circus and Savana Funkhere comes the first real gem of the day, with the legendary Southside Johnny and his The Asbury Jukes. His show in Rome was canceled a few weeks ago due to advance ticket sales that were well below expectations, so the Ferrara date is also the only good opportunity to see the historic rock blues band from New Jersey in Italy. Needless to say, Southside Johnny’s is a party from another era, which certainly entertains the old guard present at the Nuova Darsena more, but which does not fail to tell the younger ones how things were done in the best Seventies, in the company of Steve Van Zandt in Asbury Park.

Then it’s up to the Rival Sonswhich are the closest thing to a guarantee that a hard rock concert can offer, for the past fifteen years. With the blues remaining the common thread of the day, Jay Buchanan and his friends raise the bar a bit and do without too much fuss what groups like Greta Van Fleet fill arenas around the world for, only they do it better, even without the glam quota. Scott Holiday, with his look halfway between Brian Molko and Johnny Depp in Hollywood Vampires mode, is a spectacle within the spectacle. His guitars seem to animate and come to life like the Creature under Dr. Frankenstein’s knife, while our modern Prometheus classily supports his frontman, who shows off his American rocker pedigree: thick, untamed hair, ringing voice and hypnotic movements.

Before the grand finale there is still time for a lesson in style from someone who for many years had to live with the burden of a title: the savior of the Blues. Headliners aside, Gary Clark Jr. is the most prestigious name of the third edition of the Comfort Festival and despite suffering a bit from the change of pace of the Rival Sons, he is so skilled at composing a setlist that leads the audience hand in hand into his world, from the dirty sound of his guitar distorted by fuzz to the warmth of his soul voice. Virtuosity, of course, but also great intensity for an emotional journey of just one hour that would be enough to close this edition of the Comfort Festival in satiety. But no, because the dulcis is where it should be, namely at the end, so at 10:30 pm the stage belongs to one of the best American rock bands among those born from a rib of Bruce Springsteen and arrived when rock was already another story: The Gaslight Anthem.

The New Era of Gaslight

They had been missing from Italy for ten long, very long years. Not just any ten years, but those that create a gap and mark the passage from one era to another. Today’s Gaslight in fact seem at least two generations distant from those of the previous Italian date. It’s touching to think that the front rows of that last concert at the Alcatraz in Milan in full promotion of “Get Hurt” – the album that in the minds of the record companies should have made Gaslight the new Pearl Jam and that instead made them even more of a band truly understood by a few, but good ones – were made up of very combative twenty-year-olds who a decade later find themselves today, thirty-year-olds, sharing the same meters under the stage. The city changes, the era changes, but the faces are always the same. All around there is a fabric of old rock sailors without a port to return to, attracted by one of the few remaining lighthouses.

In these years the band has improved, a lot. Ian Perkins has stopped being a man behind the scenes, the session musician who kept the show going, and is now an official and indispensable member. Brian has taken lessons, has become a much better guitarist and has regained that confidence that has allowed him to overcome his enormous impostor syndrome. Now he is also the singer he was destined to be, with that rough voice that gives you goosebumps or every slightest deviation from the path traced in the studio. Finally Brian sings without the anxiety of displeasing anyone and he does it in such a genuine, fun and heartfelt way that confirms that that long break mistaken for a breakup, followed by a short but magnificent solo career, was a blessing. Even if “History Books”, the new album by Gaslight, perhaps has not had the same impact as the previous ones, the state of well-being of the group and its new music is lifeblood, for fans and lovers of alternative rock.

The choice of songs is strange. Although for the first time in many years of world tours, the Gaslight have tried to standardize the tour setlists, varying very little from one date to another, the Ferrara one deviates a bit and leaves out some apparently essential songs like “Get Hurt”, “History Books” and “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts”. However, Brian, amidst general hilarity, accepts a couple of requests from the audience by adding songs on the fly, without sacrificing others. Thus, the Gaslight give us an unexpected Halloween and the milestone 1930, perhaps the most explosive song of the show. Not his best moment though, because that one needs to bring up the history of music and Brian Fallon’s boundless love for it.

Why it’s always worth it

“This is a song I used to listen to on the bus going to school, every day. I thought about this girl named Erin Gallagher, Irish. She married someone else but that’s okay, because I married these guys” – he says pointing to his companions, visibly amused. “But it’s from this band called Mother Love Bone, which later gave birth to Pearl Jam. It’s called Chloe Dancer”. And from then on Brian takes off the outsized clothes of the frontman, the rock star, and becomes one of us again. He takes his love for grunge by the hand and sings with his heart in his hand, miming those hermetic verses as if he were rewinding the tape. He shows off a bittersweet smile, like the memories associated with the song. “Dreams like this must die” is the final verdict of this regal gem, which moves, and in this emotional evening it connects so many dots that it creates wonderful frescoes on the cracked walls of a ruin called rock and roll.

The entire imagery linked to the unmistakable poetics of The Gaslight Anthem comes to life again, ten years later, song after song. There are the old American cars of hitchhiking, of drive-ins, of the long highways that were the stage of the Beat Generation. There are Ferris wheels, fireworks, old radios, faded tattoos, handwritten letters and impossible loves, remembered at the counter of a bar that resonates with an old Jukebox for broken hearts. In this atmosphere of other times the final pogo on “Backseat” and “The 59 Sound” does not simply open, but blossoms. The call to arms of the last romantics gathers few voluntary adhesions, but enough to put a solemn seal on the return to Italy of The Gaslight Anthem and convince them that even if this is not their large American audience, or even just English or German, it is still worth it.