I was first introduced to the music of Jesse Malin while working at a college radio station close to a decade ago. The Fine Art of Self Destruction, Malin’s first solo outing since fronting bands like Heart Attack and D Generation, had hand-written notes taped to the CD cover by the program director that mentioned something about Malin’s former rock and roll experience and the fact that he was friends with Gold-en boy of the moment, Ryan Adams. But the image of Malin on the cover of the disc was what made an impression. It’s a simple photo of the singer leaning against a wall, dressed in black, hair askew and staring hard into the camera. There is something about that photo that instantly sells Malin as the hard-living, heavy drinking, rock and roll star his songs promise him to be. And there is something that makes you think that Malin must take control of every room he enters.
It was striking how much Malin still looked like the 2002 version of himself when he took to the Zanzabar stage Friday night with his latest band, The St. Marks Social. Malin and company quickly launched into their latest single, “Burning the Bowery.” But a few tracks later, they were reaching back to The Fine Art…, slamming through loud renditions of “Wendy,” “Downliner,” and “Riding On the Subway.”
In person, Malin is as loud and assertive and in control as his picture promises. He is an obviously seasoned front-man, proud of his past just as much as his present.
“It’s trendy to say you are from New York now,” Malin scoffed mid-set. “Every guy from Minnesota with big glasses moves to New York and suddenly says they are from Brooklyn… But you can tell from this Sopranos accent I have – I am REALLY from Queens.”
Malin had lots of comments to make as the night wore on. While the set started heavy on the rock and roll, thirty minutes in, Malin was making long soliloquies between – and sometimes in the middle of – every few songs.
“You know where emo-core came from?” he asked during one tangent. “Mr. Rogers… He had that sweater and those shoes and those skinny jeans…”
Later, he told stories about his judgmental father, his royalty checks, his dislike for technology and his favorite songs.
“This is a song written by Paul Westerberg,” Malin announced as keyboard player Derek Cruz made a dirge-like pass through the opening chords of The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young.” Malin lead the crowd through the indie rock anthem and then stopped after the bridge to convince the entire room to sit on the floor and finish out the song with him in their midst.
The St. Marks Social finished off an 80-minute set by hitting more recent tracks like “All the Way from Moscow” and with Jesse suddenly materializing on top of the bar in the middle of the room.
It was not a surprise that after the band left the stage, a chant began – not just for an encore - for “SIX MORE SONGS!”
Malin takes control of every room he enters.
Photo courtesy of Brian Eichenberger