Jesse Malin, Whelans, Dublin, 17th January 2003
When Jesse Malin ambled onto Whelans' stage to the sounds of Nilsson's 'Everybody's talkin'', it proved to be more than a little ironic. It's Malin himself who loves to talk. Whether he's telling us about his experiences of life on the road with the Dead Kennedys or as a furniture delivery boy to Barbara Streisand, it's clear that his personality is as much a part of his performance as his music - both of which had this crowd won over.
Before Malin's appearance, Jeff Klein took to the stage to open with an acoustic set. A collision of Tom Waits' sandpaper voice with Conor Oberst's angst, the solitary Klein and his guitar were restricted to a quiet set and were inevitably a little too mellow to hold everyone's attention; although his performance was promising enough to merit a bit of further investigation
Before the show, rumours had rippled through the waiting queues outside Whelans that Counting Crows' Adam Duritz (in town for a gig in the Point the following night) would make a guest appearance later, but Duritz' no-show was irrelevant. Malin himself was more than enough to entertain this capacity crowd. Opening up with 'Downliner', it's clear that he has come a long way from his beginnings as vocalist with bratty New York glam punks D Generation.
The influence of his buddy/album producer Ryan Adams is obvious, but it's unfair to pigeonhole him as an identikit Adams. 'About me', a new song written for his next album, made it clear that Malin and Adams approach their respective brands of alt.country from very different starting points. Gone are the Dead Boys riffs and the sneered vocals, but Malin's performance was laced with a swagger that is hard to lose once it's learned.
He continued with 'Wendy', which could genuinely be mistaken for one of Ryan Adams' punkier efforts with The Pinkhearts. Nonetheless, it was a great, upbeat tune that began with a few acoustic riffs before really kicking in with guitars and harmonies. 'TKO' and an excellent version of 'Brooklyn' followed, complete with organ and piano. Then the talking began in earnest. Malin seemed to enjoy his own performance as much as the crowd did, regaling us with tales of his days supporting the likes of Green Day, Social Distortion and fellow Queens natives, The Ramones.
He continued with the story of his near-arrest on what should have been one of the best nights in his life - opening for Kiss in New York's Madison Square Gardens. Perhaps he ought to watch his mouth, though - his outdated exhortations to "F**k the NYPD" weren't appreciated by the two disgruntled, native New Yorkers in the crowd with me, whose opinion of him plummeted after that. He finished his story by dedicating his next song, a new tune called 'Arrested', to none other than Pete Townshend.
After the title track of his current album, 'The Fine art of self destruction', Malin was joined onstage by an enthusiastic fan who clambered onstage to show her appreciation by grabbing and kissing him. Only in Dublin, he mused, had he ever been molested onstage like that - and he went on to add that since that was the case, he'd definitely come back to Irish shores very soon! Following 'Almost grown' came 'High lonesome', a radio-friendly song that had everyone singing along. Before launching into 'Riding on the subway', he paused to tell the story of the song's muse, a girl who often shared his New York subway in the morning, but who disappeared before he had worked up the courage to ask her out. This was met with a collective, sympathetic "aaaw" from the crowd, much to his obvious delight.
After this little confession, Malin started to wrap things up with another quality cover: Elvis Costello's 'Peace, love and understanding'. He preceded this with a rant against the US and UK governments and their current pro-war stance (which was met with further disdainful expressions from the two New Yorkers). He finished up with a slower song called 'Cigarettes and violets' and, if this is any indication of what's to come on his next album, then it should definitely be worth a listen.
Jesse Malin is undoubtedly a great showman, vaguely reminiscent of David Lee Roth with his energetic split-jumps (no easy feat on such a small stage!) and charismatic persona. But it's not all swagger: his musical reinvention from angst-ridden punk rock to acoustic-based songs of urban heartbreak seems to be paying off dividends, and it's highly unlikely that his next visit to Dublin (rumoured to be in March) will be in so small a venue as Whelans. Based on this night's performance, in any case, I'll be there.
Mary Anne Kenny.