Jesse Malin, who styles himself as a wise-ass New York street punk, has been visiting our shores for more than a decade now. He almost always drops in to one on Newcastle’s smaller venues to deliver a tight frantic show to a hard core cultish audience who seem to know every word to whatever album he happens to be promoting at the time. This year the album is entitled “New York Before the War” and the tour itself has a name too, the “Turn Up the Mains Tour”. This is perhaps the fourth time I’ve seen Malin and he always looks fantastically pleased to be on stage and he usually jumps around with boundless energy for the duration of the show and tonight is no exception.
The band stroll on to the Cluny’s cramped stage to the strains of The Clash’s “Bank Robber” and for a moment it looks like the band are about to start playing it as the cute female bass player grinningly picks out the Paul Simonon’s historic bassline. Jesse is dressed entirely in black and sporting a black cocked hat and bawls’s “Hello – I’m Jesse Malin and this is called “Addicted”” before launching into his raucous opening tune. Jesse’s soul has been seared by punk rock and tonight’s set veers away from the more subtle material from his first couple of albums to concentrate on spiky punk guitars, volume, shouted vocals and thrashing drums.
He sets himself up as some kind of raconteur too with several tall tales about his colourful past the best of which relates to a former bass player who Jesse managed to get a job as a security guard in a New York brothel that involved cops, sex and courts and ended up with his buddy in the dock charged with “promoting prostitution” whilst his mother sat shame faced in front of the Judge. All these tales are the source for Jesse’s wild songs and it’s easy to picture all these rouges and renegades as he roars through songs like “The Year I Was Born” and the “soul jam” (as Jesse calls it) of “She Don’t Love me Now” with funky bass and clattering drums and a ramshackle cover of the Pogues “If I Should Fall From the The Grace of God” that has the crowd leaping around furiously.
The night is marked by razor shredding guitar and slashing chords alongside Jesse’s tall stories and the audience’s whooping and hollering. At one point he informs the crowd that the following day (19 May) is the birthday of two rock icons Pete Townshend of The Who and Joey Ramone and proceeds to badmouth Pete a little but heaps praise on Joey before delivering a rampant “Rock n Roll Radio”. The centre-piece tonight though is “Bar Life” from the new album that is a portrait of those reprobates and characters from his real life mean streets. Jesse uses the song as vehicle to come out into the audience and sit amongst the crowd urging us to “get together” and “build something”. Despite the fact that he tells us he’s never done such a thing before, he has – every time I’ve seen him anyway. After another tale about a post cold-war visit to the Soviet Union with Gorgol Bordello we get a roaring “All the Way From Moscow” that sees the guitarist firing off a mean glam rock riff and Jesse bounding around the stage open shirted singing with great gusto.
It seems like the punk sensibility is a little lost on some of the crowd though as there are significant departures towards the end of the set and my friend (who should remain nameless) pronounces that the show was “crap” and coming from a guy who has all Malin’s albums (and an autographed birthday card) it’s a pretty damning verdict I must say though that for me the punk attitude is entertaining and occasionally stirring and as he winds down with a heartfelt “Brooklyn” from his first album, “The Fine Art of Self-Destruction”, I feel sure that that the large majority here tonight had a great night and that the rockin’ encore of Lou Reed’s “Sally Can’t Dance” will send them over to the merchandise stall for the man himself to sign copies of his new album – God bless him.
Reviewer: Greg Johnson
Photographer: Jill O’Donnell