Jesse Malin’s gig in Stockholm last night was the best gig I have seen in a very long time. It was brilliant. Unfortunately there were only about 150 people there to witness it. But those of us who did bother to come out to Nalen’s small basement venue on a Tuesday night, got a thrilling, exciting, unpredictable, raucous, intense and fucking loud show.
Jesse Malin is pretty much unheard of in the mainstream. But he has been around for over 20 years and had much critical acclaim. He has well known friends too. Bruce Springsteen, one of the many clear influences on Malin, sang on his third solo album and Malin has also worked with members of Green Day, Foo Fighters and Ryan Adams.
In the 90s he was a member of critically acclaimed New York glam punk band D Generation, before changing sound radically with his first solo album, released in 2002. Produced by Ryan Adams and featuring a distinct Americana sound, The Fine Art of Self Destruction is a great album, with a pre Born to Run, lyric heavy and New York image laden Springsteen sound.
A decade later and the Americana sound it seems has gone. Malin is back to punk rock, delivered last night with an incredible energy bellying his 47 years and experience on the road. There aren’t many people who have been doing something so long but still muster so much enthusiasm (Springsteen comparisons again spring to mind). But Malin was on fire last night, darting around the tiny stage, pumping himself, his band and the audience up into a frenzy. He was clearly not going to allow anyone out of that room last night unless they had a dam good time.
The music was a guitar driven, punk rock riot. It was loud, and unfortunately the lyrics were often lost in the sheer wall of volume. But there was plenty of melody, guitar licks, bass grooves and varied drumming to be heard from the classic drums, bass and two-guitar line up. And an on-off horn duo, added a wonderful, sparingly used brass section that really added to the sound.
The sheet fact that Malin brings this size of an entourage with him on a presumably appallingly low paid tour deserves respect in itself. But the man seemed to be having the time of his life up their with his band mates.
He was almost as much off the stage than on it though, jumping down into the audience on several occasions. And as the night wore on he started running right through the middle of the small crowd and standing in the middle of the room singing emphatically into his microphone while leaning into an audience member.
This was a man who knew how to work a crowd like a true pro and his incredible efforts in doing so were massively admirable. Malin may well be the hardest working rocker around.
A true “tofu eating vegan raised by lesbians” Malin oozes New York. He looks like a real hipster, but with no pretension. He is hip. But also nostalgic. Talking about vinyl, when “that’s all we listened too,” record stores in weird streets, “are there any weird streets left anymore,” and berating ”facebox” and the use of ipads and iphones and the general information overload of the modern world.
Very talkative, he at times crossed the line into soap-box preaching, admonishing himself for doing so on one occasion. Though his message was valid. Put down your phone and talk to people and get out the house, come to shows, live your life!
This message was constantly backed up by the punk rock music which exuded teenage rebellion, being yourself, being loud, having fun and going crazy every now and then. After one of these sermons, as he launched into The Ramones’ Do You Remember Rock n Roll Radio, someone threw beer at him, to which Malin looked delighted and roared “yeah”!
The set list included a handful of other covers including thePogues’ If I should Fall From Grace, and featured many songs from Malin’s latest release, New York Before the War, including the brilliant Oh Sheena.
It is perhaps one of the many quirks of success that Malin has not “made it”, while others that are no more talented have. Yet he is probably the better man and performer for it. His studio work is perhaps patchy. And he doesn’t offer anything new. But his live show last night and the sheer effort the man put into it was up there with the greatest things I have seen in rock n roll. It sent you back to another time when passion was all that counted.
The highlight came towards the end during a bombastic Bar Life, from the latest album. During this soul tinged rock n roll number Malin came down onto the floor amid the audience and made everyone sit down around him as the lights came up. Malin sat there, one of us, singing in the middle of the room, making eye contact with each of us. It was a little cheesy, but it was also very magical. And like nothing I have seen at a show of this sort.
As the song started to wind back up from the mellow toned down middle section, some audience members couldn’t contain themselves and started standing up and shouting the chorus, arms swaying, while the band prowling quietly around on stage started to explode, the trumpet player climbing on a stool and blowing his lungs out.
The encore was a cover of Lou Reed’s party song Sally Can’t Dance with Malin literally running around the venue and climbing up on a stool at the back of the room to sing us out. He then jumped straight down off the stool to the merchandise desk, to carry on working, selling and meeting his fans long after the show had ended.
They don’t make em like this anymore. And I felt very fortunate to have been there. If Malin is coming to your town, put down your ipad and get to his show. It is umissable.