The first words I expected to hear as I sat down on the back benches of the Deaf Institute music venue were definitely not “He’s a good singer and he’s got a nice arse as well”.
The current UK tour is playing his first full solo album, The Fine Art Of Self-Destruction, in its entirety. It was released in 2003 after Malin himself felt self-doubt about a solo career. ‘I thought I’d have to wear Hush Puppies, sit on a stool and grow a moustache,’ he recalled on stage. ‘All the other bands coming out of New York at the time were The Strokes, The Kills. And when someone asked what band I was in what could I say? The Jesse Malins?’ He laughs before launching into another anecdote. Malin is a storyteller, having broken up his band D Generation officially in 1999 because ‘I could have been singing about fucking anything as long as the crowd could get a mosh pit going, they didn’t care about what I was saying.’ (He has been playing in various bands since the age of 12 when he auditioned at CBGB’s with his band Heart Attack.) He’s a storyteller, having duetted with the likes of Bruce Springsteen on his Glitter In The Gutter record on a song about his mother, Broken Radio, and with Lucinda Williams on his upcoming album Sunset Kids. He’s also worked with and toured with Ryan Adams (who produced The Fine Art Of Self-Destruction in five days), Green Day and is clearly a fan of The Clash and The Pogues, covering a song by each during the evening’s set.
Supported by Stephen Chopek, who is clearly another Clash fan as he performed a stripped back, solo acoustic version of Train In Vain to the point it was almost unrecognisable. Completely different as it is, it’s still a main point in a strong set.
Ten minutes after Chopek left the stage, Malin’s band began to emerge from the door next to the stage until the man himself dances out to the music playing. The Deaf Institute is listed online as a 350-capacity venue but as the band – Malin on vocals and guitar, Derek Cruz on guitar, Catherine Popper on bass, Rob Clores on keyboards and Randy Schrager drumming – took up their instruments the room was full with approximately 200 people, maybe less. At one point as Malin said ‘Rob Clores on keyboard’ Popper gave him the finger and laughed. It’s an absolute joy to see that there are bands that don’t take themselves seriously and have a genuine rapport to the point that they’ll casually swear at each other on stage and not be insulted. While Malin talked between songs they leant back against the speakers or the wall, listening to stories about moving Barbra Streisand’s bed into storage or feeling out of place at Shane MacGowan’s 60th birthday tribute.
After the first two songs from the album Malin announced that they would be playing the songs in the same listing as the record, saying that half the album was about stories from his childhood and growing up, or like the next song, about a girl he was obsessed with. ‘She was called Jenny, but I was living with a girl called Mary so that might be why it never worked out properly.’ And the band launched into the song Wendy. It’s at this point that the crowd really started to loosen up and start moving. Watching from the back benches in the venue it was still high up enough to see the stage, almost on a direct level, and also watch the sudden surge that showed how popular this song is. In the people watching there were a lot of Jesse Malin shirts and people on their second, third, fourth plus trip to see the band and it’s worth it. Songs like the slow burner Brooklyn, and ballad Solitaire sit comfortably alongside more upbeat tracks such as Riding On The Subway and the album’s title track, exactly as they do on the record.
After the final, stellar song from the album, the band seemed to crank up the energy after they burst into a cover of The Pogues’ If I Should Fall From Grace With God. It was after that that Malin told the Shane MacGowan anecdote, before playing new track Shane. Keeping up the speed they played Meet Me At The End Of The World – if you haven’t seen the video for that, check it out, it’s what you might call colourful – then covering The Clash’s anthem Rudie Don’t Fail. As a Clash devotee and friend of the late Joe Strummer, this was where Malin seemed to blow up the room, and as the song drew to the close, he handed his guitar to Cruz with ‘Here Derek, you hold this a few minutes, I’m coming down in to see you all, it’s too high up here and these lights are too fucking bright’. Malin – who by now was bare chested – jumped off the stage, taking the microphone and started singing She Don’t Love Me Now. Toward the climax of the song he climbed onto the bar, and after encouraging the crowd to carry on singing, appeared to down a shot of tequila before scrambling back down again and ‘Thank you Manchester!’
After leaving the stage for approximately 17 seconds, they returned and played Room 13, a new track from Sunset Kids about being on the road for what seemed like forever and missing home.
Gradually the other band members left the stage, leaving Malin alone to play Revelations, Since You’re In Love (‘when you say fuck it, I’m just gonna love you anyway’) and finally Aftermath from Glitter In The Gutter completely solo and acoustic.
As the house lights eventually went up the crowd seemed reluctant to leave, still standing at the then-closed bar, talking in groups about the show and comparing how many times they’d seen him live whether as support, as a guest or headlining. At some gigs people leave early so they don’t get caught in a rush. At this one they didn’t want to go.
And yes, after seeing him standing on the bar and moving through the crowd, I can confirm that what I heard at the beginning of the show is completely correct. He’s a talented musician, the band are fantastic, and he does have a lovely arse.