Show Review: The Gaslight Anthem, Murder By Death, The Loved Ones and Frank Turner at The Fillmore, 9/20/09

by Gordon Elgart on September 21, 2009

Brian Fallon's headwear was copied throughout the crowd

Brian Fallon's headwear was copied throughout the crowd

Ever since I was introduced to The Gaslight Anthem and their brilliant breakthrough album, The ’59 Sound, I’ve wanted to see them live.  I missed a couple of chances due to unsolvable conflicts, but last night I finally got the chance.  As a devoted reviewer, I got there plenty early to check out the three opening bands as well.  Four bands on one bill can be a bit much, especially for a Sunday night.  So how did it all go in the end?

The first opener was Frank Turner, someone I knew nothing about before arriving at The Fillmore, but I ran into a friend of mine who told me that he’s “like Billy Bragg.”  That’s a pretty decent assessment of him, although I’d say that Frank Turner’s lyrics run more toward the personal and less toward the political.  Either way, I was extremely impressed with him, and I was already listening to his album on the way home.  He had a pretty sizable following for the first act on the bill, with nearly 100-or-so people singing along heartily with just about every song.  He’s from the South of England, so I imagine it’s pretty rare for him to be playing in San Francisco, and his fans were definitely excited to be there.

At one point, he called out a friend of his to come up and play a harmonica solo, but his friend wasn’t there.  So he asked if anyone in the audience wanted to play one, and someone climbed up onto the stage to play a harmonica solo.  I thought his voice sounded wonderful, but he apologized for a scratchy voice because he “accidentally played three shows instead of one yesterday in LA.”  On the album I got, he does have a bright voice, but live he sounded a bit gruff, which I thought served the music well.  When he was done, I thought there was a decent chance that he was the best thing I was going to see all night.


Hoodies available in all sorts of colors

Next up was The Loved Ones, a punk band from Philadelphia.  When they came out on stage, my first thought was that I had never seen a punk band that looks like they buy their clothes at American Apparel before.  But why judge a book by its cover?  The Loved Ones are definitely a competent band, and play a very classic style of punk, but I found them to be a bit unremarkable.  They have a decent energy in their music which fed down to the audience, which was bouncy at all the right times.   I didn’t see any outpouring of support like I had seen for Frank Turner, though, and for all their effort, I didn’t feel a lot of electricity in the room during their set.

This guitar says "I am a badass."

This guitar says "I am a badass."

Murder By Death were next up, and this was a completely different style than I had just seen.  A friend described them to me as “cello emo,” which means that he has clearly never listened to them.  Murder By Death plays down and dirty music that I guess I would call “Southern Gothic.”  Their music reminds me of Nick Cave or Townes Van Zandt: dark songs about bad people.  One song was about a friend who got out of jail and stole a car on the same day.  Bad people.

There’s no doubt that Murder By Death were the sexiest band on the bill, too.  The singer, Adam Turla, sounds like a cross between Johnny Cash, Elvis and Glenn Danzig.  He even says “thank you very much” with the Elvis cadence.  There were screaming girls between songs, and I’m pretty sure they were screaming for him.  And over on the left side of the stage was Sarah Balliet who alternates between keyboard and an extremely cool looking electric cello.  She seemed to have her very own fan base, albeit one that did a lot less screaming.

Everybody loves a cello player

Everybody loves a cello player

This band is great, and they were so different from the other bands on the bill, it really stood out as a fresh performance.  Turla told a story about being in San Francisco to open for The Pogues, and how he was driving around with Shane McGowan, drinking port, and looking for a salsa bar. “Just imagine that man salsa dancing.”  Imagine, indeed.  A highlight of their set was when Turla did a solo performance of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” the oft covered Cher classic.  This was evocative mood music, and it evoked a mood of “these people are cool” throughout the whole building.

A little bit Jersey, a little bit British

A little bit Jersey, a little bit British

The Gaslight Anthem entered the stage to a recording of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” and then blasted right into their set opener, “High Lonesome.” The Gaslight Anthem are often lumped in as a punk band with a serious Springsteen influence, but I think this sells them short.  Brian Fallon, the lead singer, used to be in a band called This Charming Man, and this duality where there is love for both the lyrical style of Bruce Springsteen, and also the sound of classic British pop makes for a great combination.  You can’t listen to “Old White Lincoln” without immediately hearing The Cure.  But when he sings about America, cars, girls, and dreams, you hear the words of Springsteen’s New Jersey.

Fallon put the guitar down only for "Old White Lincoln"

Fallon put the guitar down only for "Old White Lincoln"

This is a great live band, too.  Brian Fallon stands up at the microphone, constantly grinning like a man who’s insanely happy to be on stage.  He’s a raconteur, telling stories in such a way where you’re not quite sure if they’re true but just don’t care.  Alex Rosamilia on guitar plays with a jangle that reminded me of Johnny Marr on more than one occasion; I have a feeling he’d be good with the comparison.  The rhythm section of Alex Levine and Benny Horowitz are super tight, and push the music along just right.

The Gaslight Anthem setlist for 9/20/09

High Lonesome
Casanova, Baby!
Old White Lincoln
Even Cowgirls Get the BLues
’59 Sound
We Came to Dance
Film Noir
Miles Davis and the Cool
Patient Ferris Wheel
I’da Called You Woody Joe
Angry Johnny & the Radio
Great Expectations
Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid
Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts
American Girl (Tom Petty cover)
Say I Won’t

Shaft and Bronson, together at last!

Shaft and Bronson, together at last!

As for the crowd, the room was loud with singing.  There were small groups of hat wearing guys dancing and singing every word with beers in hand, high-fiving and fist bumping other hat wearing guys with beers in hand.  This was definitely a room with a lot of people seeing their favorite band.  Sometimes you go to a show, and there are a few people who seem to be ecstatic to be there; this was one of those times where the ecstasy was infectious.  As I was wearing a hat (though not holding a beer), I ended up doing a lot of high fiving and fist bumping, too.

If we’re still in an era where a band can become “huge,” I foresee this for The Gaslight Anthem.  If there were 1,000 people there, that has to be 1,000 people who are going to make their friends go next time.


The photographs in this article were taken by Alan Ralph.  For more photos from him, check out his Flickr page.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tony Butterworth September 21, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Great review. I was not familiar with Frank Turner but he sounds like my kind of thing so I’ve checked him out and I like what I hear. I wish I lived nearer to SF (or I was 20 years younger, either would do).


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