Jesse Malin + Hennessey, 100 Club, London, 17th September 2019

Like all the cool kids seem to do, Jesse Malin came on stage to the strains of ‘Ol’ 55‘ – and this was Jesse Malin and a full band, with a small horn section of trumpet and saxophone poised at the stage edge to add additional power as required through the set. Starting off with a launch into Jesse Malin’s calling card ‘Brooklyn‘ – it’s a slow edge into a set, a mourning for a life that’s gone, with an added edge of time passing and regrets as things change, as Malin sings it “I sometimes lie awake until sunrise – wondering how we become what we despise”. Things soon pick up the pace as Catherine Popper plays the bass intro to ‘Deathstar‘ and then the first new song of the night ‘Chemical Heart‘ a typically twisted love song. For the first time Jesse Malin took a pause to rap with the audience – about the new album and how it came together with Lucinda Williams producing it.

Jesse Malin retains his youthful punk sensibility whilst blending it with music that recalls Southside Johnny as much as Ryan Adams. His is an energetic approach to stage craft – jackets are for discarding and shirts are for unbuttoning, bass drums are for standing on or leaping from, stage edges are for jumping off and crowds are for pushing through. If Jesse Malin wants to know how much time remains until the curfew he just grabs someone’s arm and checks their watch. It serves to break that barrier between band and audience – this is a shared experience, this is musician and listener feeding off each other. It’s an excitement that pounds through songs like ‘When You’re Young‘ with a refrain of reckless abandon “When you’re young and you run and you’re burning like a star / And it’s fun and it’s done and it leaves you with a scar”.  It’s not all high speed rock and roll – ‘Shane‘ is a nod to a musical hero, building on experiences from a celebration concert, which jumps from admiration to a reality that had left Malin nonplussed “they pulled you out of your hospital bed / to take you down to the show” and then unsure as to how to react when actually rubbing shoulders with Shane MacGowan “I felt so lost didn’t know what to say / Standing in the wings / … / getting kind of nervous talking to a stranger”.  It’s the tenderest song of the night which captures something emotionally deeper without falling into the the maudlin.  Other heroes, The Lords of the New Church, were acknowledged with a cover – ‘Russian Roulette‘ – which fits so well with Malin’s own material and provided the opportunity for full throated screaming and chiming guitar licks.  Not that everything just kicks-ass, ‘Do You Really Wanna Know‘ is a great and soulful song from the new album which grooves with some funky bass and sweet keyboard support whilst ‘Room 13‘ edges into almost country. Almost.

Early in the gig there had been time for Jesse Malin to expound on his current crazy tour schedule – this first time gig at the 100 Club being book-ended with upcoming Stateside gigs and a recent somewhat anomalous appearance at Americanafest which was explained away with the disingenuous “‘cos I’m so rootsy“.   He’d also dwelt on the importance of a crowd coming out to the show “because we are in the business of Show” and his own absorption of backstage at Glastonbury advice to “not be political” – courtesy of one B. Bragg.   So when the last half-hour approached the pedal really hit the metal – anecdotes were forgotten as there were clearly songs that Jesse Malin intended to sing come what may, and if that meant raising the bar to segue from one into another with barely a pause then that was what he was going to do.   ‘Wendy‘ powered through the checklist of the virtues of the girl that couldn’t be held on to and who, like all of us, “liked Tom Waits and the poets’ heart / Sixties Kinks and Kerouac” whilst new song ‘Meet Me At The End Of The World Again‘ boogied slyly like there was no tomorrow. Having pretty much hit the curfew Jesse Malin declared “we’re out of here” at the conclusion of a careening ‘Strangers & Thieves‘ which had encapsulated every rock and roll dark dream, as well as carrying the hint of the autobiographical. No encore? Not likely! Called back for just one more Jesse Malin took a nod to another set of heroes, noting that it was “40 years since London Calling” the band stomped there way through a reckless, feckless rendition of ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, horns blaring and the band giving their all one last time.

As for the support tonight, Hennessey is a three piece of guitar, ancient synthesizers and lead singer Leah Hennessey – best known musically for being in Ryan Adams’ side-project Pornography. There’s not much of what one might call Americana about Hennessey, not that this bothered the audience who clearly dug the new-wavey, kinda early Talking Heads vibe with frantic snatched and scratchy guitar shredding, ancient keyboard operated electronic noise generator and a guttural singer who never stops. It was a sprinkling of that CBGBs late 1970’s / early ’80’s vibe for all those who were either too young or in the wrong continent, or both, to go at the time. Leah Hennessey has all the moves and all the attitude and carry off songs of affected insouciance – throwing out lines like “let’s shag like we love money” whose sole aim is to parody an eighties wanna-be yuppies world view.

The set closer – a cover of The Waterboys’ ‘We will not be Lovers‘ warped the song into an electronic nightmare with Leah Hennessey’s barked vocals blending with the synth’ sounds to imply an on-going ride on Barbarella’s Orgasmatron – whilst the front row of the audience were summarily dismissed as potential partners. Probably just as well considering the demographic that Jesse Malin attracts.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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