The Gaslight Anthem Opera House, Toronto ON July 16

The Gaslight Anthem Opera House, Toronto ON July 16
In The 25th Hour, Ed Norton kicks around town with his buddies, saying goodbyes and preparing to go to prison. With a new record, Handwritten, already plastic wrapped, the Gaslight Anthem are bound for a long tour with increasingly bigger stages. It's not the same as going to the clink, though the five-piece are treating it that way.

Playing a sweaty, sardine-can-packed Opera House, the New Jersey quintet mined their back catalogue, digging up hits, fan favourites and wink-and-nod rarities (plus a dash of Bon Iver, Pearl Jam and the Who for good measure) while offering only a sample-sized look at the new record.

Throughout, frontman Brian Fallon explained the need to revisit the classics in front of a more intimate crowd as a bon voyage of sorts -- a special occasion and a necessary preparation for touring a potentially big new record (see Jerry Seinfeld's I'm Telling You for the Last Time).

While that reads like a humble brag, his aw-shucks delivery added compensatory sincerity. Besides, his band -- Garden State rockers that fetishize four-chord breakdowns and earnest, ostensibly blue-collar poetry -- are built for packed, sweaty bars.

Sure, leadoffs "Great Expectations" and "45" faced an obligatorily muddy mix, but they got by on sheer bombast and emo-style sing-alongs. Similarly, what "Casanova, Baby!" lacked in nuance it made up for with drummer Benny Horowitz's huge fills. By "Old White Lincoln," the sound had smoothed out, letting guitarist Alex Rosamilia show off a ceiling-walking guitar line.

Proletariat outfits love to share the spotlight (blame their pinko tendencies), but Fallon was the centerpiece. Breaking up a fight, checking in on moshers and collapsing to close a cover of "Baba O'Riley," his shtick had an inherent affability. And his voice has continued to improve, growing out of its initial yelp.

Previous record American Slang saw Gaslight leaning on a slightly different batch of influences (see the Clash-indebted "Queen of Lower Chelsea") with only moderate success. Apparently, the latest effort harkens back to breakthrough, The '59 Sound, so the new cuts sidled up nicely, especially a romping take on tour staple "Biloxi Parish."

Judging by the panoply of acts represented on punters' T-shirts -- everything from the Boss, the Clash and Against Me! to Vampire Weekend and Beastie Boys (see above picture) -- the band's scope is pretty diverse, even if their sound isn't. Still, a Gaslight gig is a meant to be a visceral experience, all perspiration and man hugs. And that's exactly what it was. Oh, and Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't show up to stare at Anna Paquin, which is always nice.