Birmingham Academy 2 (10th May)
As I wander down towards Dale End, in the far more reassuringly British summer time tradition of rain, it’s noticeable that the Academy seems very quiet.
With three other latecomers in front being of the older generation I have to admit I’m a little concerned about what I might see (or to be more accurate what I won’t be seeing) when I get in there. The fears turn out to be unfounded, with a fairly full upstairs room in the Academy (he is having to contend with Larrikin Love playing at the Custard Factory), although the average age is certainly on the middle life crisis side of thirty. Not that this is a complaint, merely an observation and perhaps not surprising when Malin gets compared to artists like Young and Springsteen.
For a slightly more contemporary comparison then his good friend Ryan Adams probably isn’t too far off, but one thing comes apparent during his ninety minute set, his song writing style doesn’t fall too far out of his tried and tested formula. Again this is not a complaint per say, he makes interesting vignettes and upbeat tuneful melodies, which contrast with stripped down melodramatic acoustic numbers, but towards the end it just starts to get a little repetitive, especially with multiple encores.
Anyway I get ahead of myself, although the name Jesse Malin tends to give the idea of one man and a guitar, his music doesn’t function without the supporting band. When they come to the stage it’s Malin who is at the fore throughout the night but looks utterly unremarkable in a line up full of celebrity look a likes. You have Dr. Guy Secretan from the Green Wing on bass, Noel Fielding on lead guitar with a pair of drainpipe jeans on that probably need to be surgically removed to take them off and last but not least the Garth from Wayne’s World on the drums. They seem happy to let someone else take the limelight, which Malin does with aplomb.
After rocking through some of new tracks and a couple of older ones it’s easy to see something of a pattern developing. The younger sections of the crowd are far more receptive to, while the older get there kicks from tracks like ‘Queen of the Underground’ and ‘Riding on the Subway’. It has a unique impact though, with the older material feeling just at home alongside tracks like ‘In the Modern World’, I can’t imagine too many who didn’t own his previous material not going home tonight and investigating it. I suppose this could be the argument for his song writing process, he does construct good songs and has a fantastic voice to tie them in with but at the same time for a neutral bystander it can get a little samey.
Had it been just this then, despite the value that Malin represents I think it probably would have been slightly disappointed with the show on the whole. However, Malin really shines in between songs and moments of rest. While a lot of singer songwriters could be cast as moody and bleak individuals, Malin is the opposite sweating with enthusiasm and life. We get anecdotes ranging from Tony Blair, to Crackerbox (some fast food chain in America), to being arrested (twice), his early days playing in punk bands, which is noticeable in the passion that accompanies his songs and finally to the barrier in front of the stage. He certainly is a showman and the confidence he exudes is given back by the crowd when he decides to wander out in amongst the crowd mid song and gets them to sit down. Almost everyone does.
Now this is unusual because generally getting people to clap together along to a song is hard enough, let alone convince people that they want to sit down on a floor which is more than likely wet with rain water and £3.15 pints of Carling. The only time before that I’ve seen such an attempt was at a Reel Big Fish matinee show, at an age where I was too young to be concerned by having to wash my own clothes. Anyway we sit and he talks, then sings and then returns to the stage. It’s a bizarre little role play in an evening of entertainment. It boils down to the fact that Jesse Malin enjoys playing music and it’s hard not to pick up and like him a whole lot more for it.