Jesse Malin's latest touring frenzy.
After seeing Jesse Malin live for the first time back in January and being utterly enthralled, expectations were running high before this performance, particularly as Jesse's latest album is not only his best but my current contender for album of the year. After bearing the general mediocrity of polite but boring support Headway I am all ready to be kicked in the head and the heart by Mr Malin (speaking metaphorically of course).
Opening with personal favourite 'Riding on the Subway' gets things off to a promising start, particularly as the tempo is speedy enough to make the crowd excited but not so much so that it will signal an energy burnout from here on in. As the gig progresses all the boxes are firmly checked, with new thrills such as the touching nostalgia of 'Broken Radio' and 'Don't Let Them Take You Down (Beautiful Day!)'. The latter of which is preceded by Jesse's comments on Tony Blair's departure and his assertions about the contents of George Bush's Ipod. That's an example of what provides much of the entertainment at a Jesse Malin show, his random commentaries on the world at large and quirky anecdotes about an American fast food chain called 'Cracker Barrel', and trying to find veggie burgers in Birmingham.
Never one to dismiss his back catalogue, the set is punctuated with many old favourites, including setlist staple 'Solitaire', which as is the accepted norm by now, involves Jesse leaving the stage and roaming the venue while the audience sit on the floor. Although intended to create a harmony between the performer and their audience by crossing the barrier between them, I am someone who wants my artists' on stage and not with their sweating face right next to me asking me to provide vocals. That personal detraction aside Jesse uses his time away from the stage to discuss being arrested for petty crimes such as attaching a poster to a wall and also references Woody Allen, which couldn't fail to be endearing as far as I'm concerned.
Generally the setlist covers near identical ground to the previous tour, with the notable exception of cover versions. January saw The Replacements and Neil Young covered, yet here we find Harry Nilsson's 'Everbody's Talkin' and the fantastic 'You Can Make Him Like You' by The Hold Steady. As the gig nears its close Jesse returns for a second encore which includes 'Queen of the Underworld', which is followed by the heart stopping beauty of gig finale 'Aftermath'. Who could fail to be moved by the line "though she never got famous, she was the star of my life"? Poetry can always be found in such simplicity, words designed to hit straight in the gut.
Overall this gig didn't quite reach the euphoric heights of the previous tour and perhaps suffered a little due to an overly familiar setlist coupled with the usually lacklustre crowd to be found at Birmingham's academy. Those things aside however Jesse Malin is a troubadour with all the passion, fury and heart you could ask for, and that is no small triumph.