May 19, 2010

he found the bandages inside the pen and the stitches on the radio


Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem stopped by KEXP studios last week to record acoustic versions of three songs from the band’s newest album American Slang (out June 15th on SideOneDummy Records). The new songs keep speaking to the same themes from 2008′s The ’59 Sound – the grit and callousness of everyday life, the redemption through the songs (the ones we heard as our guard came down).

American Slang
Antonia Jane (Lightning Dust cover)
Queen of Lower Chelsea

JAG139That second song is a cover of something originally by Canadian band Lightning Dust, a cousin band to Black Mountain. Originally woven in Amber Webber’s delicate croon on 2009′s Infinite Light (Jagjaguwar), Fallon reinvents it here as his own sad dirge of Americana. When I met him last year, Fallon told me he was thinking of recording a solo album. Since I love these acoustic sets, I’d be very interested in hearing that effort.

Antonia Jane – Lightning Dust

Did you ever come close to home?
riding the tide of the silver line
maybe dress them up in ribbon and bows
never fall back into the one you love

But I would give it all to you…

[image credit Eric Nowles]

December 5, 2009

I’ve been dancing on this killing floor for years

This weekend is one of my personal favorites of the year, as I review back over a year of good shows, albums, and moments in music to start work on my year-end lists for 2009. I’m prepping to record my World Cafe conversation for NPR on Tuesday morning (it’ll air January 1st), which is always a process of squeezing 12 months of marvelous aural music wonder into about twenty minutes of talking. It’s never easy, but always fun, and always a privilege.

So I was sitting here watching some of the videos of shows I’ve seen this year when I realized that my very favorite concert video of the year was something I never posted. The current 300-something views of this video on YouTube may be mostly due to me since I feel like I’ve watched it many dozens of times and still am not tired of it.

It’s a video I shot of The Gaslight Anthem from the second night of their Colorado run in April. They sold out the Gothic Theatre with almost a thousand passionate fans who sang along with their whole hearts, and that night they played “I Coulda Been A Contender” (from their 2007 album Sink or Swim) for the first time yet on that tour.

Not only is this a terrific song that captures an innocence from some other time, but it also just plain rocks live. The video has a couple of those spots of regrettably fuzzy audio (my camera doth protest too much) but captures a tightly wound, spot-on, passionate performance of a great song. The band leapt and twisted themselves around their instruments, smiling with eyes closed on the very best lyrics, while the crowd roiled and yelled along. It captures both the joy and yearning of this band.

Make sure to watch to the very end.

I Coulda Been A Contender – Gaslight Anthem

I’m broke and I’m hungry, hard up and I’m lonely
I’ve been dancing on this killing floor for years
and of the few things I am certain
I’m the captain of my burden
I’m sorry doll, I could never stop the rain.

Once you said I was your hero
you would dance with me on a dime
we could spin this world right right right round
and catch back up on the flipside
I was gonna get this real big engine
I was gonna get them Broadway stars
you were gonna be my Judy Garland
we were gonna share your Tin Man heart.

There’s a dirty wind blowing
there’s a storm front coming in
there’s an SOS on the seas tonight
steady now steady now
soldier hold fast now
it’s heads or tails on heart attacks and broken dreams tonight…

I know, right?!

June 29, 2009

If you’ve ever wondered what pure, unfettered joy looks like….

…it’s the look on Brian Fallon‘s face this weekend as he sings his song of youth and music into a microphone with Bruce Springsteen.

The ’59 Sound, live at Glastonbury (June 27, 2009) – The Gaslight Anthem with Bruce Springsteen

The ’59 Sound (with Bruce Springsteen) – Gaslight Anthem

(And yeah, hey my right side feels warmer just by association)

April 24, 2009

Ain’t supposed to die on a Saturday night…

THIS is pretty much why I see live music (from last night):

AND: Yay! (Why yes, I am a dork)

AND: News from the band — they are planning to start recording a new album in January, out Spring 2010.

Brian Fallon solo acoustic album to follow later next year.

My actual review is showing up for the Denver Post, I’ll have that processed and written soon. Once my ears stop ringing.

April 22, 2009

There was a war baby, somewhere across the sea


Tomorrow night and Friday, I am anticipating two rather blissful nights with The Gaslight Anthem. Thursday surprisingly brings them to the Black Sheep in my neck of the woods, and the chance to see this raging powderkeg of a band play in a little cinderblock club out on the strip by the pawn shops. It’s $12, and I have a feeling this will be the last time you can see them in such an intimate venue — they are rumored to be the openers on Green Day‘s upcoming megatour. Friday brings them up the highway to Denver’s Gothic Theatre and I plan to be there as well. Notable openers are the Heartless Bastards.

The music of the Gaslight Anthem carries the urgency of youth mixed with the weight of decades past. On The ’59 Sound (one of my favorite albums of last year), sometimes it is hard to tell which generation they actually belong to. I have been enjoying this iTunes-only bonus track from the album specifically because it feels like it’s a story that’s coming to me from a long way off.

Once Upon A Time (bonus track) – The Gaslight Anthem

If my sources are correct, I think this is a cover of the band Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise from their 1996 album. Go figure.

[Thanks John! Photo credit Gaelen Harlacher. “live fast, die awesome.”]

December 27, 2008

The Gaslight Anthem finally announce headlining U.S. tour dates, cover The Band

Mar 18 La Tulipe – Montreal, Quebec %
Mar 20 The Opera House – Toronto, Ontario %
Mar 21 Call The Office – London, Ontario %
Mar 27 Webster Hall – New York, NY
Mar 28 The Trocadero – Philadelphia, PA #
Mar 29 Mr. Small’s – Pittsburgh, PA #
Apr 2 Turner Hall – Milwaukee, WI #
Apr 3 The Bottom Lounge – Chicago, IL #
Apr 4 Varsity Theater – Minneapolis, MN #
Apr 7 The Warehouse – Calgary, Alberta #
Apr 8 The Starlite Room – Edmonton, Alberta #
Apr 10 The Plaza – Vancouver, British Columbia #
Apr 15 The Boardwalk – Orangevale, CA #
Apr 16 Slim’s – San Francisco, CA #
Apr 21 The Clubhouse – Tempe, AZ #
Apr 24 Gothic Theatre – Englewood, CO #

% – with Saint Alvia Cartel from Ontario
# – with Heartless Bastards from Cincinnati

Only about half of the dates from the tour have been posted so far. Stay tuned.

LISTEN: Q101 Acoustic Set
The ’59 Sound (acoustic) – The Gaslight Anthem
Here’s Looking At You Kid (acoustic) – The Gaslight Anthem
The Weight (The Band cover) – The Gaslight Anthem

[photo credit Daniel Ackerly]

December 12, 2008

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2008

Another year packed with music has come and gone. Music is a language I can’t create myself but it does me good to know that every hour someone out there is humming a snippet of a melody, returning to their seat at the bar with a head full of lyrics that just occurred to them, or tapping out a drumbeat on their leg in the car. People everywhere are trying to get it right, to get the music out just so they can be. I am glad that they do.

2008 was full of fantastic (and varied) music from all corners of the world for me. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the quantity of music and the subjectivity that swirls around the ones that make it vs. the ones that no one ever hears. I wish I’d had more hours to listen to (and properly digest) more songs this year. As it is, these are ten albums (plus two EPs plus one carryover from last year) that affected me on a gut level in the past twelve months. These are the ones I listened to over and over, that knocked the wind out of me and made me glad I have ears.

These aren’t “the best.” These are just my favorites.


Nada Surf
I’ve been surprised by the intensity with which I’ve listened to this album in 2008. I guess it’s tapping into the introspective moments of my year as it pertains to “grown-up life,” which Caws sings is like “eating speed or flying a plane — it’s too bright.” The album cover hints perfectly at the feel of the music; the moment where it’s still warm from the sun but the gorgeous pinpricks of light are starting to shine through. I talked today about the cascades of glory on this album, a blazing meteor from this band that’s been around so long. I saw Matthew Caws perform solo last night and he said, “We feel blessed to have a second story,” (post-mid-Nineties buzz band). “It’s the story we always wanted anyways.” I’ve listened to this album a hundred times this year and it still affects me deeply, makes it okay to be fragile — and to be on a vector up.
[original review, interview]

Beautiful Beat – Nada Surf

Midnight Organ Fight
Frightened Rabbit
(Fat Cat)
Coming from Scotland with their hearts held out for the offering, these two brothers plus two bandmates have crafted an album that is not for the fainthearted, but excellent for the honest. Over gorgeous melodies and with a thick and wrenching Scottish brogue, Frightened Rabbit guttingly dissect the moments of bravery and moments of weakness that go with a relationship ending. Peter Katis (The National) produced this lilting, rocking piece of perfection — unflinching in its intimacy.
[original review, interview]

Backwards Walk – Frightened Rabbit

For Emma Forever Ago
Bon Iver
I didn’t know when I started 2008 just how much I would need this album. Justin Vernon recorded this achingly vulnerable album in the Wisconsin woods in the dead of cold winter as he recovered from a breakup. The name he adopted means “good winter” in French, and I think the name fits the music as well as that ice-encrusted window on the cover. In winter, things move a little slower, but with more crisply defined edges, and the first time I heard this something was scraped loose inside of me. His music is wrapped in a thin skin but a current thrums powerfully under the surface. This is an album that I am unable to shake.
[watch: still one of the most perfect things I’ve seen this year]

Skinny Love – Bon Iver

Stay Positive
The Hold Steady
I think the thing that gets me with the Hold Steady, this year or any past year when they’ve released an album, is that they are unabashed in their belief in rock and roll. Craig Finn is a modern day prophet who flails and explodes with the force of the catharsis of these fantastic sounding songs that they must get out. The lyrics trace some of the most intelligent, evocative stories you’ll hear with characters I feel I know by now (they might as well be breathing). This is an immense album, with the pounding piano that crashes across the songs and the brass instruments slicing through. Gorgeously grand and subversively hopeful.
[original review]

Constructive Summer – The Hold Steady

The ’59 Sound
The Gaslight Anthem
(Side One Dummy)
If the Hold Steady filter their love for Springsteen through a lens of kids raised on punk and The Replacements, Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem play with an urgency and passion of a pre-Born to Run Bruce, young and hungry. Lead singer Brian Fallon grew up in a home four blocks from E Street, and this band is crafting songs that hold up as well when howled out ragged as they do stripped down to their bare acoustic bones. There’s a wisdom and sometimes a resignation beyond their years.

Great Expectations – The Gaslight Anthem

Ode To Sunshine
Delta Spirit
Delta Spirit was formed in San Diego when lead singer Matt Vasquez was busking loudly by the train tracks and he met with Brandon Young at two in the morning. The honesty and sloppiness that bleeds through at 2am is captured well on this authentic album with a vintage feel. It basks in the warmth of the surf guitars, the singalongs and handclaps and banging on trashcan lids, the tinkly last-call piano over glasses clattering.
[original review]

Trashcan – Delta Spirit

Dual Hawks
Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel
The cinematic desert beauty and chugging fuzz-rock found side-by-side on this dual album swooped in late in the year to win me over. I saw an acoustic video of Will Johnson, who helms both bands, performing “I, The Kite,” from an album I’d passed over too quickly the first time around. Both bands are Will’s and explore different dimensions of his music — Centro-matic electric like the heat in the air even as the Texas August sun has just begun to rise, whereas the more muted, spacious South San Gabriel has tones of evening and fireflies. This album was written and recorded fast and pure in a handful of days in the studio, and has a feeling of distilled essentials.

Counting The Scars – Centro-Matic

Oh! Mighty Engine
Neil Halstead
(Brushfire Records)
Taking six long years from his last solo release Sleeping On Roads, influential British musician Neil Halstead (Slowdive) comes quietly back with a humble album of acoustic folk melodies that rewards the listener for their patience. This is a slow grower for me, and I find that more hues in the songs are revealed to me the longer I sit with it — a task I am eminently willing to take on. Halstead sings about trying to get the colors right, and with these unassuming tunes I think he does.

Paint A Face – Neil Halstead

The Great Collapse
Everything Absent or Distorted
This Denver collective does things full tilt. They play with seemingly all the instruments they can find, in order to squeeze the earnest beauty out of every melody and every rhythm. They fearlessly meld incisive lyrics with a resilient hope, like on “Aquariums”: “We are aquariums — left outside, but we hold life and a bright light in our glass walls.” With eight official members (and up to 15 on stage) EAOD is a joy to watch, and that joy transmits onto this smart album of sweeping scope. Amidst banjos and casio keyboards, trumpets and pots and pans, this band is ready for a larger stage. Literally.
[original review]

A form to accommodate the mess – Everything Absent or Distorted

Little Joy
Little Joy
(Rough Trade)
It’s as simple as this: Little Joy just makes me happy. Their thirty-minute debut album is short and occasionally rough, it’s kitschy and danceable with Brazilian influences. I like the quiet Technicolor flicker of songs like the Portuguese “Evaporar” as much as the jerky fun of “How To Hang A Warhol,” and all the shades in between. Binki Shapiro’s vocal contributions on this album are especially charming, as she croons out of my stereo like an old-time Victrola.
[original review]

No One’s Better Sake – Little Joy

HONORARY TOPS (should have been on last year’s damn list):

In Rainbows (physical release)

Because I was overwhelmed and ignorant at the end of 2007, and didn’t give this my undivided attention until someone sat me down in a darkened room and made me really, really listen to it.

And come on Heather. Come on.

Last Flowers To The Hospital (bonus track) – Radiohead


Second Gleam EP
The Avett Brothers
(Ramseur Records)
Scaling back from their potently explosive live show of punk bluegrass, the Avetts showed again this year that they can also craft devastatingly simple ballads relying solely on acoustic guitar, strings, and their pure voices that blend and compete as only brothers can. [original review]

Murder In The City – The Avett Brothers

The Confiscation EP, A Musical Novella
Samantha Crain
(Ramseur Records)
Also from the excellent Ramseur label, 22-year-old Oklahoman Samantha Crain has Choctaw Indian roots and a dusky earnestness to her alto voice. The five songs here tell a cohesive story (a musical novella indeed) with shimmering, unvarnished truth.
[original review]

In Smithereens, The Search For Affinity – Samantha Crain

LISTEN: Once again this year, I’ll be appearing on NPR’s World Cafe with David Dye on January 1st to talk about stuff from this list! We have a lot of fun. You should listen (online, or via your local station that carries the show), and tell your mom to listen too. I know mine will be.

[top image credit tim!]

December 9, 2008

The Gaslight Anthem on Conan Tuesday night

“Did you hear the old gospel choir when they came to carry you over?”

November 9, 2008

as heard by my wild young heart, like directions on a cold dark night

They are called The Gaslight Anthem, they’re from New Jersey (natch) and they have struck chords of urgency and passion inside of me something fierce. Lead singer Brian Fallon grew up in a home four blocks from E Street (yes, that one) and their music pays a nod to urgent elements of Springsteen, the Hold Steady and Lucero. Bringing a punk aesthetic to the music of their idols, they embody an audacious belief that music can still be heard “like a shot through my skull to my brain.”

I’ve been listening to this acoustic set all afternoon, and identifying so strongly with the high-resolution magnification of emotions laid bare in these lines. There is a resignation that becomes razor-sharp when all the punk defiance in the ragged yell of the album version is stripped away. The way Fallon sings in “Great Expectations” about seeing tail lights last night in dreams about his old life, and the baldfaced lineeverybody left me, Mary, why wouldn’t you?” just absolutely kills me.

Not that it needed it (their album The ’59 Sound is easily one of my tops this year), but these acoustic versions completely reinvent their music in sepia shades of Nebraska.

Great Expectations (live at Alternative Press) **highest rec**
The ’59 Sound (live at Alternative Press)
The Backseat (live at Alternative Press)
Here’s Lookin At You Kid (live on FNX Radio)
High Lonesome (live on FNX Radio)
The ’59 Sound (live on FNX Radio)


And two bonus tracks from Berlin this summer –

Stand By Me –> I’da Called You Woody, Joe
I’m On Fire (Springsteen cover)

[header photo credit]

October 21, 2008

Ben Nichols (of Lucero) and The Gaslight Anthem cover Johnny Cash

Today marks the release of All Aboard: A Tribute To Johnny Cash, featuring The Gaslight Anthem and Ben Nichols of Lucero in a one-two punch, along with artists like Chuck Ragan, Dresden Dolls (featuring Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady) and a variety of other punk/indie/Americana bands. Some artists I’ve not previously heard of, but they do the songs an interesting turn. Aside from a few missteps, in general the rough edges of this collection suit the songs well.


1. Man In Black – The Bouncing Souls
2. Country Boy – Fallen From The Sky
3. Wreck Of The Old ’97 – Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music)
4. Let The Train Whistle Blow – Joe McMahon (Smoke or Fire)
5. Delia’s Gone – Ben Nichols (Lucero)
6. God’s Gonna Cut You Down – The Gaslight Anthem
7. Cocaine Blues – The Loved Ones
8. Give My Love To Rose – OnGuard (feat. Jason Shevchuk of Kid Dynamite and None More Black)
9. I Still Miss Someone – Casey James Prestwood (Hot Rod Circuit)
10. Hey Porter – MxPx
11. Cry, Cry, Cry – The Flatliners
12. Ballad of a Teenage Queen – The Dresden Dolls feat. Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady
13. Folsom Prison Blues – Chon Travis (Love = Death)
14. There You Go – The Sainte Catherines
15. I Walk The Line – Russ Rankin (Good Riddance, Only Crime)

Bonus Track/Vinyl only: Delia’s Gone (Alternate Version) – Ben Nichols (Lucero)

All proceeds benefit the Syrentha Savio Endowment for underprivileged breast cancer patients; we can all rock for breasts. That seems like a pretty unifying and worthy cause. Buy the album for ten bucks on Anchorless Records.

Also, good neighbors take note: Ben Nichols and Chuck Ragan are playing (along with Tim Barry, Jon Snodgrass and Austin Lucas) tomorrow and Thursday nights in Colorado as part of this “Revival Tour.” Hallelujah.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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