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Band Concert Review

Jesse Malin: Guitar Redemptions and Connections

By Anthony Kuzminski

My favorite rock albums are where the artists cut themselves open for the listener to hear, feel and see who they truly are. We’ve all been lost and discontented at some point in our lives and it’s during these times that we long to find someone who can understand how we feel inside. During these trying times, I’ve always found records to be my saving grace. Jesse Malin’s first two albums, ‘The Fine Art of Self Destruction” and ‘The Heat’ were full of romantic sincerity that ached with vulnerability largely disguised as rock anthems. These are near perfect rock manifestos for lost urban lovers which are among the best albums released in the last decade. When Malin released his third solo album ‘Glitter In The Gutter’ earlier this year I found myself disenchanted with the final product. It’s a tour de force rock album that takes no prisoners that is chock full of enthralling melodies while retaining its rag tag indie spirit. Why then did I find the album underwhelming? I have no idea. I probably had the bar set so high in my head that ‘Glitter’ never stood a chance. Upon my initial listens, I couldn’t get my head around the songs finding them not up to par with his previous two albums. However, after Jesse’s searing performance at the Double Door in Chicago, I can finally wrap my head around the full album.

As my music taste has widened, I have become accustomed to songwriters who pride themselves on being sincere, honest and emotional. I’m also a sucker for a gargantuan melody with enough spirit to rock a stadium. Here lies my dilemma. When I discovered Malin a few years back, he was a singer/songwriter I deeply admired whom I felt painted these beautiful pictures I somehow could see myself in. On ‘Glitter In The Gutter’ he leaves the broken hearted troubadour behind for a guy who won’t wallow in his misery but is going to relinquish it by throwing a bunch of quarters in a jukebox and dancing on top of a bar. To fully appreciate the aggression of these songs, one needs to live them inside the bars and clubs Malin is performing in. He hit the stage perfectly poised before drenching himself for a 90-minute soak fest kicking off with “Riding On The Subway” backed by a ‘Mean Streets’ backdrop and a rather excellent four-piece band. The show showcased beatific pseudo-angst anthems that the crowd ate up. “Prisoners of Paradise”, “Black Haired Girl” and “Little Star” all were riveting as Malin performed with rebellious passion. I never caught Jesse with his previous band, D Generation, so this was the first time I had ever seen him play an electric guitar up close. It made the show more riveting as each song appeared to be delivered with smoldering speed and the amps turned up to 11. “Black Haired Girl” was the treasure I rediscovered on this evening and after hearing it live I wonder why I didn’t immediately fall in love with it upon my first listen. It’ll for sure be one of my summer anthems every year going forward.

The revelation of the evening was how most of the material off ‘Glitter’ just steamrolled over me; “In The Modern World” was jolting while “NY Nights” was more reserved but similarly magnetic. When I first heard ‘Glitter’ earlier this year I knew it rocked, but was disappointed the songs didn’t hold together like a larger-than-life painting where everything felt intertwined. Witnessing these songs performed in a thunderclap fashion made me realize that ‘Glitter’ may not be as perfect as ‘A Fine Art of Self Destruction’ or as indomitable as ‘The Heat’ because it’s a collection of one-off paintings that are blazingly audacious. ‘Glitter In The Gutter’ may appear to be an ironic and nostalgic, but what I overlooked until the show at the Double Door was that these songs indeed rock...and they rock hard.

Besides the hyperactive new anthems, the evening was filled with an ecstasy of emotion, particularly on two songs from his debut solo disc- “Downliner” and “Solitaire”. These are songs of inner disillusionment that you seek out when you’re lost and not sure where to go. Why is it when we are bleeding, we find solace in other people’s pain? It’s because we’re human and we tend to relate to those who feel our same feelings, who have been in our shoes and know what it feels like to be alone, lost and confused. Malin is one of these songwriters you could follow him for an entire career because you believe in his earnestness. His introduction to “Solitaire” was uproarious as he talked about a friend who gave up on love and somehow managed to tie it to a story about Lemmy from Motorhead, specifically their song “Stay Clean”. Midway through “Solitaire”, Malin leaped from the stage into the crowd and asked for a camp like sit down. His personality is so engaging it’s hard to not want to love him even if he does this at every show. Intimacy at club shows like this have the ability to not just bring the music closer to you, but your heart as well. This is what people will remember and take with them years from now. Moments like these are priceless and the extra effort can go a long way as hundreds of acts will roll through your city this summer and it will take something extraordinary for them to etch themselves in your brains. Luckily for Jesse, he has the charisma to leave an indelible impression.

One of the best things about seeing Jesse live is his stories. They were shorter this time around, but they always prove to be witty and charming. I’ve never walked away from a Malin show without hearing a good story. He shared a story about seeing Yoko Ono on a street when he was hit with a great melody. He called home to sing it to his machine; he used her name for placement until he could poetically fix it (you had to be there to appreciate the story).

The main set came to a close with the most perfect song in his cannon, “Wendy”. Every time I hear this song an immense amount of joy and jubilation come over me giving me a truly euphoric feeling. This is what the greatest songs in the world do for you; they literally transform unrepressed emotions and make you feel something profound that can’t be articulated. The opening song of the encore was a surprising and sublime performance of “Connection”, a Rolling Stones cover from their excellent ‘Between The Buttons’ album and the first Stones track to feature Keith Richards on vocals. It was short, sweet and surprising and featured the beautiful and talented Holly Ramos partnering with Jesse on vocals. It was a nice surprise that elevated the encore performances.

‘Glitter In The Gutter’ is filled with an optimism that completely shines through via the live performance. Jesse Malin is out on the road saving souls and elevating their hearts and minds with a little thing called rock n’ roll. In a summer filled with lots of acts and festivals for you to attend, Jesse Malin is not to be missed for the swagger and sweat he will bring to your summer nights. I doubt you’ll see a more sincere, honest, emotional and rocking act this summer. In the meantime, I’ll be reacquainting myself with a new friend who is no longer misunderstood; ‘Glitter In The Gutter’

Anthony Kuzminski can be found at The Screen Door

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