From Basement Halls to Arenas

A few years ago, I was in a far different situation than I am now. I was a news reporter living in West Chester, where  I also attended college. The location and its close proximity to Philly allowed me to see several shows in the city.

One of my favorite venues is still the Unitarian Church, which fits only 200-300 people. One blustery winter night, I ventured there for a record release party for The Loved Ones, one of Philly’s finest punk/indie acts. The band had just released its second full-length album, Build and Burn.

Opening the show was a foursome from New Jersey called The Gaslight Anthem. A few weeks prior to the show, I had purchased their debut full-length, Sink or Swim, and I was drawn to the driving power-chord anthems about lovers named Maria, growing up in New Jersey, and the power of music. They sounded like the punk version of Springsteen. The band came out and looked like they were out of the 1950s-blue jeans, white T-shirts, and slicked back hair. They ripped through several of the songs from their first album, and played a few songs from a forthcoming EP, Senor and the Queen.  The anthemic choruses were even more infectious live. 

Post-show, I  met front man Brian Fallon and other members of the band, who seemed rather shy and timid. I told them they were going to get big and they were already starting to gain popularity, at least in the underground scene. I based this off of buzz they were generating on punk/indie rock blurbs/websites, especially They had more heart, energy, and passion than most bands, and it was evident their fanbase would only grow.

I didn’t see the band live again until they played Cafe Metropolis in Wilkes Barre and by that time, they released The ’59 Sound, an album with richer production that drifted more toward straight rock ‘n roll, and even soul at times. As the band’s sound expanded, the positive reviews only increased. But surprisingly, they didn’t sign to a major label, even after their next album, American Slang, earned them a feature story in The New York Times. They stuck with the punk/indie label SideOneDummy.

Over the last few years, I saw them play a few more times in Philly, NJ, and the Allentown Fair, and each time, they played a bigger and bigger venue. I also encountered them in person again at the Troc in Philly, when they were on the cover of Wonka Vision, a Philly-based music magazine I used to write for. They beamed with smiles and actually showed their parents the cover when I handed it to them before the show. But still, they were so humble and couldn’t believe they were on a glossy magazine cover.

Recently, the band announced that it signed to Mercury Records,  a major label. Despite whatever punk rock complaints I may still hold against major labels, I have to say these guys deserve it. They worked hard and toured constantly over the last few years. I’m sure their sound will continue to evolve, and I’m happy to say I got to see them at a church basement hall shortly after their first album came out. It was clear even then that success awaited them. That small show, where only two dozen people or so knew them, is even more special to me now.

Here’s an older track:

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