Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kick-off to summer. The season where fun is made in the sun, sand gets stuck between our toes, Sangria and BBQ’s take center stage. Any other year, kicking off Memorial Day weekend in the Jersey Shore would be as traditional as the first grilled hot dog or burger, but over seven months after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast and took away most of the atmosphere of Jersey’s famous shoreline, the people of The Garden State are staging a comeback, the rebuilding of the landmarks and beaches that saw people from all over the world come and enjoy. In the town that gave birth to Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, Asbury Park was ready to show the world that the time to come back to the Shore is now. In a co-headlining bill featuring New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem and Brooklyn’s The Hold Steady, the venue that made Bruce, Southside Johnny, and so many others famous, The Stone Pony, welcomed the two bands to open up summer 2013.
While most of Asbury was still under construction from the storm and nearly a ghost town thanks in part to a lack of people renting summer shares and the cold, wet, windy weather, this summer got off to a slow and cold start, but that was not going to stop the sold out audience from packing the Pony’s Summer Stage.
Just after 8pm, The Hold Steady provided the soundtrack to the season opening with their furious anthem, “Constructive Summer,” as beers cracked open and some pounding double whiskey and coke with no ice, it was time to forget the effects of Sandy, the current weather and let loose. While the stage was open and no backdrop was behind the band, you could see the breaks in the clouds of sun and shadows altering the skyline to make for a beautiful ambience during the fury of rock and roll. In a tour-de-force set that included songs like “The Swish,” “Chips Ahoy!,” “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” “Stuck Between Stations,” and even two brand new songs, The Hold Steady did little talking and captured the crowd with their music. As usual, singer Craig Finn’s guitar was used more as a prop than proper instrument, but his stage antics were not only comical as he laughed at his own monstrous lyrics and acted out every piece of dialogue he was singing like a thespian actor on Broadway. The band sounded as tight as ever, even as the rain came pouring down half way through their set and fans were getting rained on, The Hold Steady seemed unfazed and pushed through it all. It was the first time the band were playing the iconic venue and being a band that is constantly compared to Springsteen’s signature bar room sound, they were having the time of their lives, and being huge fans of The Boss himself, it seemed like it was a dream come true.
After the crowd recharged after The Hold Steady’s hour long fuming set, it was time for the pride of New Jersey to come on give hope to a better season and tomorrow to their people. The Gaslight Anthem walked on stage to the sounds of fellow Jersey punks, The Bouncing Souls blaring through the Pony, grabbing their instruments and taking their places, the sounds of “Oh ho! Whoa Ho!” surged through the crowd as the title track to last years album of the year, Handwritten, opened their set. From the get-go, this was the most passionate audience I have ever witnessed respond to this band, from the countless times I have covered them, this was something different, this was something stronger, this was a crowd beaming with pride for their hometown heroes. “It is summer everybody! Just a few months ago, Hurricane Sandy took away our shores; it took away our beaches, but we coming back. It is going to be better than ever,” said singer Brian Fallon to his people. His calming voice soothed the crowd that while many parts of the Shore are gone, it is time for new memories to be made, starting now. The bands songs are about the places and people that residents know so well, so hearing a guy from the same place talking about the same loves that those impacted by the storm, still, all these months later was reassuring. Even though it has been nearly a year since Handwritten was released, most of the bands 90-minute set came from their 2007 breakthrough, The ’59 Sound. The anthems Gaslight have written from ‘59 all take on new meaning now, songs like “Miles Davis and the Cool,” “Great Expectations,” “Meet Me By The Rivers Edge,” “Old White Lincoln,” “The Patient Ferris Wheel,” and the album and shows epic closer, “The Backseat,” all have new value thanks to being written about their home state and atmosphere that is now forever altered.