This Jesse Malin review was written by Joel Gehler, a GIGsoup contributor
Halfway through Jesse Malin’s set on Sunday night I found myself asking the question: how is this guy not considerably more popular? I’ve asked myself this question on many an occasion whilst listening to a lot of his albums since his 2002 debut ‘The Fine Art of Self Destruction’. Malin falls into the category of singer-songwriter, owing just as much to the classic American songwriters – Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young to name a few – as he does to important punk bands like The Clash, Ramones and The Replacements. He slots in nicely next to Ryan Adams (a close friend and producer of Malin’s debut), Brian Fallon (of The Gaslight Anthem) and Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady) in style and quality of music – yet he’s never received the same acclaim or success. Even if a lot of his material has a stadium rock sound and influence, his set at the Clwb Ifor Bach confirms that intimate club shows suit Jesse Malin perfectly over the bigger spaces of theatres and arenas.
From the get go it’s very clear that Malin is the type of performer who will empty the tank and always give his performance every ounce of energy he has, whether he’s in front of 5 people or 500. This hour-and-a-half long set is filled with sing-a-long choruses, wonderful story telling, hilarious stage banter and a couple of superb covers (a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Pocahontas’ went down a storm). Malin, armed only with an acoustic guitar and supported by his pal Derek Cruz, who rotated between piano and acoustic, created a hell of a lot of noise for just two guys. The musicianship and clear chemistry between the two ensured that not one second of the performance was worth missing as they rocked through a retrospective set, taking in a range of Malin’s back catalogue from his debut up to this year’s ‘New York Before The War’, alongside a few outings from the upcoming album ‘Outsiders’.
In this setting, Malin’s songwriting really shines as his words are brought to the forefront. Fan favourites such as ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Wendy’ were met with the crowd sing-a-longs that they were written for, whilst the quieter numbers, such as the unreleased ‘Promises’ or the beautiful ‘Bar Life’, received the audience’s full attention. ‘Bar Life’ brought with it an intimate special moment for all as Malin walked down into the crowd and asked the audience to sit down on the floor with him. Sat amongst his faithful you can feel the importance and love Malin holds for these shows and his audience as he thanked everyone for coming out on a cold Sunday night in the Welsh capital. It is moments like these that showcase why Malin has earned a loyal fan base that will come out every time he’s on the road. There’s not a whiff of ego here at all; the guy is the real deal and it makes him all the more likeable for it.
By the end of the night, I came to the conclusion that artists like Jesse Malin aren’t making music for the big-time, because they have the rare talent of making the small shows feel big when necessary, whilst always retaining the intimacy of a club show. Here’s a guy who has been round the block (both with previous band D Generation and nearly 15 years as a solo artist), amassed a very strong back catalogue of songs and has the passion and belief in the power of rock & roll that he preaches every night. Malin is as real as any artist gets and this performance was a testament to what makes the live music experience so fulfilling. Long may he continue. The full set-list was as follows…