As far as patronages go it doesn't get much better than Bruce Springsteen lavishing praise upon you. The Boss played with The Gaslight Anthem at Glastonbury and then Hyde Park last year, lending his vocals to the stadium-sized '59 Sound - it was something of an occasion. When Bruce landed on his arse halfway through his own set yelling "help me out here, I'm a f*cking old man" it felt a little like the giant once described by Jon Landau as "the future of Rock 'n' Roll" was passing the baton on to his young charges.
It's fair to say that The Gaslight Anthem are an Everyman type of band. Their fanbase ranges from ageing punks in the Midwest to anyone who has listened to Xfm for more than 20 minutes in the last month. Even their name conjures up images of soft rock being played over a crackling AM radio. They're punk rock made for driving with the top down, which is as bizarre a notion as it sounds. But it's a beautiful concept if you roll it around your brain a little. Take the acerbic sting from punk, and mix it with the craft of Seventies mainstream rock. It's just sharp enough to cut, just friendly enough to sell.
When the Hold Steady sing, “Half the crowd is calling out for ‘Born to Run’ / The other half is calling out for ‘Born to Lose’”, they’re describing a scene of conflict, one in which two camps with competing ideals show little interest in finding a middle ground between Springsteen and Social Distortion. It’s probably a line the Hold Steady, who know a thing or two about taking anthemic rock into indie clubs, have toed more successfully than most. A growing crop of bands, though, take spiritual guidance from heartland rockers like Springsteen, even if they leave some of the sound behind in favor of their own punk energy and melodicism inspired by bands like the Clash or Thin Lizzy. Bands like the Gaslight Anthem see these seemingly at-odds influences in their record collections and their songs and think, “Where’s the problem?”
Where so many young rock bands struggle to liberate themselves from the tyranny of influence, the Gaslight Anthem simply embrace it. Every album, every song, every lyric makes some overt musical or lyrical reference to the New Jersey greasers' working-class heroes-- Bruce Springsteen, Joe Strummer, Tom Petty. And while there ain't a lick of jazz in their music, the Gaslight Anthem give their songs names like "The Spirit of Jazz" and "Miles Davis & the Cool" and "The '59 Sound" in an attempt to recapture some bygone, ineffable standard of hipness that can only be gleaned by staring at old Blue Note album covers. Like Arcade Fire before them, they've also graduated from being mere Springsteen fans to becoming the Boss' onstage duet partners, and on their new album, American Slang, the Gaslight Anthem even try their hand at reggae riddims, because, well, Joe would've wanted it that way.