Beyond the Court Tavern
Jersey Roots to the ’59 Sound with The Gaslight Anthem

Words by Alex Napoliello

New Brunswick, NJ — When you walk through The Court Tavern in Downtown New Brunswick, N.J., you can’t help but notice the history embedded in the gloomy walls. Newly added punk show flyers and stickers serve as a fresh coat of paint. When a new act comes through, it’s customary to leave your mark. The local dive bar, which sits on the corner of Church Street and Spring Street, is a staple in the New Brunswick music scene and has been for decades.

The Court Tavern is the Stone Pony of New Brunswick. Upon first entering the bar, a wave of sweat and humidity smack you in the face. A rotten stench that resembles the body odor of a punk kid who’s attended multiple shows without a shower lingers under your nose until you become accustomed to it. And if it were 15 years ago, a cloud of cigarette smoke would emerge as well. A 70’s era pinball machine sits in a corner across the infamous jukebox, which the Court Tavern describes as, ‘The best jukebox in New Jersey’. It is also the only jukebox in the state that has The Gaslight Anthem’s second full length, The ’59 Sound, in its collection.

If your not catching my drift, The Gaslight Anthem is a punk rock foursome from New Brunswick whose successful career was built out of the basement of the Court Tavern. The band consists of frontman Brian Fallon, bassist Alex Levine, lead guitarist Alex Rosamilia, and Benny Horowitz on drums. The Waster caught up with Alex Levine from his home in northern New Jersey.

“Me (Levine) and Brian lived up north. We started playing together. Jay from XOXO Records knew Benny – Benny’s from New Brunswick. Him and Alex (Rosamilia) lived in New Brunswick, so that’s really how things got started. We just started playing together, no one went to Rutgers University”, Levine recalls, “New Brunswick has pumped out a lot of great bands.”

In 2005, the band began touring the basement show circuit and released their debut LP Sink or Swim through XOXO Records. The record garnished the support of the locals, but the stardom didn’t compare to the impending storm that was about to hit. Levine reminisces, “It was a weird feeling for sure (referring to the instant success), but the music business has a quick turnover. Everything can really explode in seconds, throw you back in the basement real fast [laughs]. So, I guess we haven’t really realized that yet.”

A year after Sink or Swim, The Gaslight Anthem teamed up with SideOneDummy Records to release The ’59 Sound. The latter is the album that grabbed the Anthem out of the dumps of New Brunswick and placed them in the national and international spotlight. “It’s a dream come true. What we’ve been able to accomplish the last couple years, especially the last year. It’s been incredible. Playing with certain people, traveling, and just doing different things in general. It’s really a dream come true”, says Levine.

“He really just came up to us ten minutes before we went on stage. He came up, introduced himself, ‘Hey man, how are you doing? Can I play a song with you guys? That’s really it. You’re not going to turn Bruce Springsteen down” [laughs].”
– Alex Levine of The Gaslight Anthem

The ’59 Sound is a punk rock album with a subtle undertone of classic rock, soul, and blues. “My favorite band is The Clash, straight up The Clash,” Levin offers, “The Smiths to The Cure, to Otis Redding, James Brown, Social Distortion, and The Bouncing Souls. I can keep going all day.”

The vast range of influences is evident in The ’59 Sound from one track to the next. ‘Great Expectations’, ‘The ’59 Sound’, and ‘Old White Lincoln’ are punk rock anthems with subtle blues undertones. ‘Miles Davis & The Cool’, ‘Even Cowgirls Get The Blues’, and ‘Here’s Looking At You, Kid’ are slower ballads full of soul and incorporate a touch of classic rock interwoven throughout the lyrics and sound.

According to Levine, “We’re a punk rock band playing soul music. That’s really what we went for.” Play four chords and try to make it a soul record. However, one can’t help but acknowledge the influence of their hometown hero Bruce Springsteen, who’s tales of youthful innocence often become the lyrical focus on The 59′ Sound. It’s also no coincidence that the first sound you hear on the album is a needle scratching a vinyl record, which perhaps, pays homage to a generation of musicians that the boys from New Brunswick hold deep in their hearts.

Springsteen, a New Jersey native as well, joined The Gaslight Anthem for an encore performance of the ‘The ’59 Sound’ at England’s Glastonbury Festival on June 27, 2009. Levine describes the moment very casually, “He really just came up to us ten minutes before we went on stage. He came up, introduced himself, ‘Hey man, how are you doing? Can I play a song with you guys? That’s really it. You’re not going to turn Bruce Springsteen down” [laughs]. When asked about preparation before hand, Levine responds, “We just kind of went over it. It’s Bruce Springsteen, he’s pretty well versed at the C, F, A chord progression. He basically invented it.”

Aside from the Glastonbury Festival, The Gaslight Anthem was invited to play on the third day of the All Points West Festival in Jersey City, N.J. Due to inclement weather, however, the band was forced to forfeit their spot. The Anthem added a show at Terminal 5 in New York on Oct. 15 to make up for the cancelled festival performance.

Their ever-growing fan base has also made its way overseas. They accompanied Social Distortion on their European tour, jammed at London’s Hard Rock Calling Festival, and stormed the stage of U.K.’s Reading and Leeds Festival.

Sharing your music around the world is an opportunity many bands strive for, but in regards to playing to a hometown crowd, Levine states, “It’s a whole different ball game of course. We can play in front of a thousand people in Sweden, playing a festival out there. But you come home and play in front of 200 people, 1,000 people, in front of anybody really. It’s a different feeling that you can’t really explain. Playing for a hometown crowd, you’re playing for your family, basically your family has been there since day one.” | New Jersey