Been waiting a long time to reacquaint myself with a Jesse Malin live show. Throughout the pandemic, I tried watching various broadcasts and live streams but, not one single effort caught my imagination and made me set a reminder to tune in except for one; ‘The Fine Art Of Social Distancing’ Jesse Malin is someone who has always been on my musical radar from the moment in the 90s his band D Generation managed to save the decade with their punk rock n roll and when they broke up I went to New York in search of Bellvue and then Jesse went solo and I just couldn’t get enough of it from the 169 EP to the present pandemic Malin seemed to cut through whatever genre he chose I was on board.
I find myself easing back into live surroundings and having taken in a few over the last few weeks I ventured into the Fleece with a minute to spare before the excellent Kris Gruen (sure yes he the son of Bob) I mean if Bob Gruen was my dad I’d be telling everyone and sundry but he didn’t drop that Clang! until well in the set.
Kris was stripped down to just his voice and an acoustic guitar and to be fair it’s an impressive voice to begin with as he regaled us with songs from his new album as well as a couple of choice covers. You could have heard a pin drop throughout his set as he went about his business. Sure it was a soulful blend of countrified rock and roll but his take on ‘Bankrobber’ was majestic but his interpretation of the Thunders classic ‘Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’ won me over. Haunting and memorable as he took ownership in a way I’m sure Thunders would have approved of. Warm-up or opening act call it what you will Kris Gruen won over a few new fans tonight in Bristol for his style and quality of craft just what the doctor ordered.
Onto Malin and his Guitar, Bass, Drums, and a piano band that was geared up to race through his repertoire picking up a song from here and there like a Magpie fluttering over the shiny songs like pieces of gold and silver and buffing off any cobwebs that might have gathered over the past eighteen months of being left in the box.
With a stunning new album in tow Malin slotted in songs like the blissful ‘Shining Down’ alongside classics like ‘Downliner’ and ‘Wendy’ but its more than that Malin engages with his audience like its a private gathering and only you and his band in the room regaling us with stories he’s gathered on his travels about his songs and the journey he and these tunes have been on. Opening the set with ‘The Way We Used To Roll’ from the new album and then hitting ‘Backstabbers’ another new one before dopping the earworm that is ‘Downliner’ and then back into the new album with ‘Before You Go’. Already there was a sense that this was going to be something special and sending out three new songs in the set so early was brave but it’s exactly what we needed and the energy pouring off the stage was huge.
I’m not sure the mains needed turning up but the standout track from ‘New York Before The War’ was a stomper before the shimmering ‘Room 13’ gave us some respite before a top rendition of The Pogues classic ‘Fall From Grace With God’ enabled everyone in the room to get loose and get up to speed because live shows are back baby and seeing Malin move through the audience looking for a bar or vantage point to climb was a beautiful thing. I love the new record and the Blondie Noo Yawk disco beat of ‘A Little Death’ fitted in nicely showing another side of Jesse’s songwriting masterclass.
To be fair before we hit the encore Malin had given up seven new songs throughout the set and whilst I could go on he didn’t play this or that and nothing from ‘The Heat’ and only a pair off the debut solo album it was one of “Those” nights where everything seemed to be perfect and whilst it looked effortless and the band just hit their groove I’m sure it isn’t quite that easy. It seemed apt that Jesse offered up his version of ‘Sway’ to Charlie Watts it was his parting shot of the excellent hymn for travellers from his new album ‘St Christopher’ seemed to have always been in the set and with Kris Gruen joining for some team spirit and vocal aid it was the parting gift of The Clash classic ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ that sent us off into the cold Bristol night knowing we’d just seen a fantastic set from a unique talent and one of the best songwriters out there.
You can get so far with a little PMA and a pocketful of dreams but you still need the tunes and Jesse Malin has got a whole fuckin’ suitcase full of em and more the only regret was he didn’t have some Noo Yawk saxophone with him now that would have been something, maybe next time, please. Hopefully, with a little PMA, it won’t be so long before we can do this all over again. I can’t remember almost two hours of live music passing so quickly and leaving me wanting more. Just what live shows should do. Brilliant simply brilliant.
Author: Dom Daley
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