17 Again: Seeing Japandroids and The Gaslight Anthem through two sets of eyes

 

I’m the eldest of three sons.

There’s a significant age difference between my brothers and I. My usual line for explaining this away is that, in a reversal of tradition, I was the accident. Anthony, who’s come to be known as Anton, is seven and a half years younger than me. Gerard, born in March 1996, is almost a full decade younger than I am, having been born in May 1986. The day he was brought home from the maternity hospital was the day of the Dunblane shootings. Our dad, picking me up from the school bus, seemed torn as to which was more important that I know first: that my three day old brother was home safe, or that, forty miles away, a man had killed several children whose average age split the difference between us.

It’s been a strange experience, watching Gerard age. Not only are we much more alike than myself and Anton, but the ten year age gap is an uncommonly round number for this sort of thing – for whatever reason, it’s much more jarring to realise that the equivalent of every milestone Gerard reaches is now a full decade in my past than it was to see Anton hit them. It’s been like a mixture of the end of It’s A Wonderful Life and a body-swap comedy: I’ve effectively been able to rewatch my own teenage years play out through Gerard, only with a new decade’s worth of technology, culture and political contexts imposed.

Last week was ten years since the first gig I ever bought tickets for myself and went to with friends (Red Hot Chili Peppers at the SECC, supported, weirdly enough, by The Mars Volta. The £30 ticket price seemed far more expensive then than it does now.) In another weird piece of symmetry, tonight was Gerard’s first time doing the same thing – in his case, The Gaslight Anthem at the Academy, supported by Japandroids. I was there too, although neither of us had actively planned to be there on the same night as one another (it’s a two night run of shows, and my attendance was a relatively last minute proposition). Like I had with the Chilis, he had been to two shows before this one, but having had tickets bought for him and been accompanied by a family member (the Brian Wilson and Flaming Lips concerts I took him to when he was thirteen certainly, to my mind at least, trump the Capercaillie and Jools Holland concerts that were my only prior exposure to amplified music).

My big takeaway from tonight – watching proceedings simultaneously through my own eyes, standing at the back, after a decade’s worth of gig-going, and through Gerard, somewhere down the front, experiencing all this anew – was that I really wish Japandroids had been my first exposure to live music as a teenager, because hot damn. This was the third time I’d seen them, the first since the release of last year’s euphoric Celebration Rock, and they’ve never been better. The bigger stage suited them, maybe more than the more cramped environs of Tut’s, giving them room to spread out, fill a room with noise, put on an almost literally blinding light show, fulfil all the mythological rock god fantasies hinted at in their music. That album title seemed more appropriate than ever. By the end of their forty-five minute set I was hoarse from yelling along, and my heart rate was noticeably increased. It was absolutely glorious.

When they left the stage, I texted Gerard: ‘AAAAAAHHH THAT WAS AMAZING AND I THINK I’VE LOST MY VOICE’. His reply –  ‘They’ve ruined my ears but I love them for it!’ – brought back memories of frequencies I can’t hear any more, of leaving Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds on the Abbatoir Blues tour unable to hear properly for a day and a half afterwards, of standing with my right ear almost touching the speakers when Ted Leo and the Pharmacists played the Captains Rest and walking away slightly off-balance. My hearing tonight was unaffected.

It got me thinking about all the differences between what Gerard will experience in his next ten years of live music and what I experienced in mine. Thanks to the smoking ban, he’ll never have to come home and immediately dump everything he was wearing in the laundry basket. He’ll likely see as many bands through video screens others hold in his line of sight as with his own eyes. He’ll never know Barfly or the Captains Rest, but he’ll never not know the ABC or Stereo. To him, the music I most associate with my late teens – the early 00s New York scene that ranged from Is This It in 2001 to the first LCD Soundsystem album in 2005 – is as distant as Madchester, shoegaze and Slanted and Enchanted are to me. Maybe in a few years time he’ll excitedly buy tickets for a reunion of the original line-up of Interpol.

It also got me thinking about how he’ll look back on tonight, whether he’ll feel the same mild embarrassment that I – and, anecdotally it seems, many of my peers – feel about recalling the details of the inaugural gig experience. As far as I’m concerned, he got a better deal than I did: Japandroids is far and away the best of the four bands that we saw between us at our first concerts, and whilst I’m ultimately mixed on The Gaslight Anthem – I was being facetious when I tweeted that it seems like the kind of band Dennis Duffy would love, fronted by Ken Cosgrove, but not to an overly exaggerated extent – it at least has the benefit of not featuring Anthony Kiedis or his lyrics in any capacity.

It’s worth noting that Gerard is a far bigger fan of The Gaslight Anthem on record than I am, and almost certainly a bigger fan of theirs than I was of the Chili Peppers by the time the six month window between buying the tickets and actually going to the show elapsed. He also loves Japandroids, and was thrilled when they were announced as tour support. His attachment to both is such that even if he doesn’t always love their music for what it is, he’ll always carry it with him for what it meant to him in his last few years of high school. I can’t say that about the Chili Peppers or The Mars Volta. He also came to the show tonight with two of his best friends, whereas I went to the SECC in 2003 as part of a group of around eight, almost none of whom I’m still in regular contact with, some of whom I don’t think I’ve even seen since we left school. I was part of a similarly large group tonight, none of whom I knew ten years ago.

I haven’t spoken to Gerard since the gig finished to gauge his reaction – I missed him in the throng of people leaving through various exits, and, given that he has school in seven hours, it’s too late to phone or text him. I can only hope that what my baby brother saw tonight gave him a taste for hearing damage, BO, elbows jabbed in uncomfortable places and the occasional pelting with beer. With any luck, in ten years time, some other band’s set will make him feel jealous of the kid down the front who was born in 2006.