Feature: The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem, and The Boss

When I was in high school, the music world was a wholly different place. There were definite lines drawn between genres, cultures, and countercultures. Music was a defining aspect in my high school, for sure. Growing up in small town Texas, although only 20 minutes west of Fort Worth, there were certain cultural barriers. I was persecuted for being a bit different, and because the music I liked made me, in their terms, not mine a “faggot”, as was so eloquently shoe polished on my windshield one night. These were good days, 1986, where listening to Depeche Mode and The Cure, who were absolutely under the radar at the time for mainstream acceptance was a bit of a rebellion against the norm. Just as punk rock had rebelled against bloated arena and stadium rock, I was rebelling too. Against the John Cougar Mellencamp’s. Against the Madonna’s. And of course against Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen was the embodiment of all that was wrong in my 16 year old mind about music. Overbloated star, with his 4 hour concerts and you could not turn on MTV during 85-86 and not get bombarded with his music. This was seriously about the most uncool thing there was at the time. “Born In The USA”? To the uneducated, as I was, this appeared to be just another ra-ra American anthem (I know a bit better now). I don’t want to hear about your middle of the road life, about the “Glory Days’ so to speak, with your largely unsexy music. Take it to Jersey and the Midwest, Bruce, I’ve heard enough.

He wasn’t only uncool, and made unsexy music, but he was old. Youth is where it was, and something different is what it was all about. He put a picture of his butt on the cover of the album, for crying out loud, how narcissistic is this guy? Red cap and all. I really loathed Springsteen. Really.

Over the 24 years since, I have mellowed a bit on The Boss. Actually mellowed so much that I cite Springsteen as one of my “Big 8” artists. I’ve come to grips and fully embrace the fact that Springsteen is one of our national treasures, especially as he ages and becomes an even more interesting artist. How could one have thought that at his peak, in 1985, that in 2010 he would still go as hard each and every night on stage, and write music that is on par and even better than his past output? The 00’s were good to Bruce after a spotty decade in the 90’s, releasing 3 albums with The E Street Band, a solo album (2005’s incomparable Devils and Dust), assembling The Seeger Sessions band to release an album of Pete Seeger covers, and touring relentlessly for all three incarnations.

He’s even go so far as to be cool with the underground now. Younger artists such as Arcade Fire and Against Me! are taking to him and his attitude in songwriting like never before, and even more notable are The Gaslight Anthem and The Hold Steady.

Hailing from the same New Jersey stomping grounds as Bruce, The Gaslight Anthem took an even further turn towards Bruce with their sophomore release, American Slang. Taking their already punk rock anthemic leanings, American Slang embraces their love of the Boardwalk to make a purely Jersey sounding album. Anthems, storytelling, and a general Jersey attitude and swagger comprise the follow-up to 2007’s debut The ’59 Sound, all while dropping some of the punch of that album. Although American Slang does progress The Gaslight Anthem’s songwriting, absent is the punk energy of “The ’59 Sound”, which seemed to have a bit more leap in its step. Standout tracks include the title track, “The Diamond Church Street Choir”, “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” and the closer, “We Did It When We Were Young”.

From just a tunnel away, The Hold Steady has never had any qualms about being associated fans of Jersey’s favorite export. The Brooklyn based quintet’s fifth studio album, Heaven Is Whenever further solidifies this notion. Craig Finn and company provide meaty meat and potatoes arena rock for the underground set, their sound large enough to fill the space in an arena or stadium, yet still relegated to the larger club, theater circuit. Standout tracks include “The Weekenders”, “A Slight Discomfort”, and “Soft In The Center”

It appears this is the dawning of a new era for arena rock, and if given the chance as support for newly crowned arena kings (pun SO unintended) Kings of Leon, we might just see even more acts come up through the ranks.

Although the Boss isn’t hanging it up anytime soon (not that anyone could replace him), someone has to step into Aerosmith’s shoes once Steven Tyler decides to quit again… right?

And a few more Springsteen’s out there couldn’t hurt, could it?

It certainly beats a having few more Green Day’s.


~ by thesynaptic on August 8, 2010.

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