The Manchester Apollo originally served as a cinema following its construction in 1938 before the demands of the 1970’s called on it to focus its resources on the increasing desire for variety shows and music concerts. The new millennium has seen the venue rebranded under the O2 name, like many iconic venues of the era.
The Gaslight Anthem have drawn their influences from the silver screen greats of the 30’s and 40’s, referencing Judy Garland and the Wizard of Oz in several songs, as well as the music of 70’s and 80’s rock stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Jon Bon Jovi. Their recent album Handwritten was the first to be released under their deal with record label conglomerate Mercury.
With that historical backdrop it was fitting that The Gaslight Anthem should play the O2 Apollo Manchester, with its red walls and flooring still distinctive of the days as a variety hall. The band’s performance on the stage too echoed memories of a distant era as they produce an all-out rock show the likes of which are hard to find in 2012.
That new Mercury released record Handwritten formed the core of the show, with at least eight of the nights twenty-two songs coming from it. Mae was a gentle opener into a gig which would become much louder, recent singles Here Comes My Man and Handwritten pleased any newcomers to the band while Biloxi Parish and Mulholland Drive were raw and edgy, the latter packing a particular punch.
Handwritten may be the band’s best selling album, but The ‘59 Sound still provides the best live material. Great Expectations brought the main set to a racing, raging climax while The Backseat proved a popular number to end the encore.
This is a band that wears its influences on its sleeves. Tom Petty is at the centre of young romance in Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, which also namechecks many Springsteen characters, and Dylan’s Changing Of The Guards was given a makeover in the encore. The influence and importance of the radio, which is present in so many Gaslight songs, was highlighted by Brian Fallon before ’45’ as he thanked Radio 1, XFM and the audience for ensuring that it was the band’s first song to receive prolonged airplay. It’s clearly something he’s proud of, and you can feel it in the gusto of his performance.
Charismatic frontman Brian Fallon claimed in the encore that he sometimes doesn’t know how to handle the recognition which is now being given to the band, but their confident performance belies that humbleness. His statement here was one of few pauses for conversation; this is a relentless rock show where three, sometimes four, songs follow one after the other like a torrent of punches.
The Gaslight Anthem strive to offer something different, promising not to fall into the trap of other established acts who play “the same old shit every night”. Times have changed and while the world is now a place where O2 and Mercury are king, The Gaslight Anthem are also throwback to the sweat and beer soaked variety hall of the 1970’s.