When the rowdy housemates of the embarrassingly popular MTV series Jersey Shore decided to finally get ready to “rage” at one of the clubs they frequented, they had a ritual. The characters known as “The Situation,” “JWOWW,” “Snooki,” and “Pauly D” would hang out in their undershirts until it was time to leave. When they were ready to leave, they would proclaim that it was “t-shirt time,” and they would put on their respected t shirts, and head out for a night of debauchery and God only knows what else. And yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
I bring this up only to give a shout-out to my friends at the Mike and Tom Awesome Show. When we play a band’s b-side on the show, we all shout “IT’S B-SIDE TIIIIIIIMMMMMMEEEEEEE” in unison to promote the event. Why do we do this, you ask? Well, other than the fact that we are all ridiculous human beings, it’s because everybody loves b-sides. They give a little bit of a peek behind the curtain of what goes on when a band is recording, they give fans something more to collect from their favorite bands, and sometimes they end up being better than some of the songs that actually made the album.
The Gaslight Anthem have always been a band that loves their b-sides, playing a few of them in their headlining sets, and always releasing one or two through each album cycle. These b-sides have come in the form of original tracks that were left in the production room, stripped-down acoustic versions, or covers of songs the band loves. SideOneDummy, the label Gaslight used to call home before making the leap to Mercury, kept track of all these buried treasures, and saw fit to release them this year in the form of The B-Sides, a must-own for any Gaslight Anthem fan.
The B-Sides begins emphatically with the band’s best b-side, “She Loves You.” After being left off of the band’s much-maligned American Slang, the song has become a staple of the band’s encores at their headlining sets, proving its power over the band’s fanbase. Following “She Loves You” are two covers, one being a live recording of the band performing Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust,” followed by a studio recording of the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” which was originally released on a Record Store Day-exclusive 7″. The two covers represent slightly less than half of the cover songs appearing on the compilation, with a stirring version of Fake Problems’ “Songs for Teenagers,” an acoustic version of Lightning Dust’s “Antonia Jane,” and “Once Upon a Time” from Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise rounding out the set. “Songs for Teenagers” is the major star of this bunch, as Brian Fallon’s solemn croon takes the surf-punk anthem to a much darker place than the band’s former SideOneDummy label-mates ever could.
Alongside “She Loves You” and the covers are an assortment of the band’s greatest acoustic hits. From The ’59 Sound, arguably one of the best albums of the last decade, we hear the albums two lead tracks and singles, the always-overpowering “Great Expectations” and the album’s title track, which is just as haunting in its own right. These tracks are likely already ingrained in the listener’s psyche, but the treatment they receive in an acoustic environment gives them a new spin and perspective to listen to, with Fallon switching up the melodies in unexpected and rather unnecessary ways. The core of each track that Gaslight fans know and love is still there, it’s just a little different.
Despite being the universal pick for the band’s worst album, the songs from American Slang end up being the best when given the acoustic treatment. The first dose is the strongest, as Fallon passionately delivers “The Queen of Lower Chelsea,” a slow-tempo track that becomes even more impactful when stripped of its atmospheric feel. The band do an excellent job keeping the spirit of the album’s title track, never straying too far from the song’s arena-ready feel. The acoustic interpretation of “Boxer” is miles better than the original, with Benny Horowitz’s playing of various percussion instruments that sound like the pounding of a steel mill that gives a blue-collar feel to the song.
Though this collection of tracks isn’t essential listening for everyone, it does do a fantastic job of keeping The Gaslight Anthem’s sterling reputation intact. The covers, acoustic renditions, and b-sides they’ve assembled here are a great snapshot of where they’ve come from, and will be more than enough to hold fans over while we anxiously await the band’s follow-up to Handwritten and whatever other project we see new material from that Brian Fallon can come up with. It won’t be the most-played record in your collection, but having The B-Sides in your possession will assure you an excellent listening experience that if nothing else will remind you that The Gaslight Anthem are one of the very best bands making music right now.