Jesse Malin – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, Sunday 27th November 2011
It was with a great sense of anticipation that I set off up the A38 on Sunday afternoon. I was on the way to see one of my favourite singers, whose previous two live shows I had seen were superb, one with the band and one acoustic. The current UK tour saw Jesse and the band performing his critically acclaimed but chronically under-purchased first album “The Fine Art of Self Destruction” in its entirety, a fabulous opportunity to hear all those songs that have been part of my life since released back in 2003.
This was my first gig at the Rescue Rooms, but due to a recent refurbishment I seemed to feel more at home than my friend and my sister who were with me, both of whom live in Nottingham and have been there numerous times! It is a small venue, but well laid out and with a high stage (always good for seeing the band when people are moving around, dancing, waving arms etc. during the set). A separate bar provides a place to go if the support act is not up to scratch, also a nice feature, although thankfully one we didn’t need to take advantage of on this occasion with either of the supports.
First up was Anthony D’Amato, a young singer/songwriter from New Jersey (he told us it was his 24th birthday that night). Being the opening act of three is always going to be a tough task, so full respect to him appearing with acoustic guitar and harmonica only and delivering a great set. He has an absolutely tremendous voice and I found his songs very engaging. One of those wonderful moments when you realise you have discovered a new musician to listen to. I picked up one of his CDs from the merchandise stand and very much look forward to discovering his music and keeping an eye on his career.
Next up was Special Needs. A totally different, full-on sound from this five-piece. It is tough to review their set, to be honest. The individual songs were good, and the guitar work in particular was superb, but they flitted between different styles so much that it was hard to get fully engrossed in their set. They covered every sound from The Clash, to The Cure, to The Smiths, with even a bit of The Levellers thrown in too. Overall, I ended up feeling a bit underwhelmed, but will be interested enough to listen to the CD my sister picked up (she thought they were very good).
So that brings us to the main event. The headline act, the man we had all come to see – the fantastic Jesse Malin and his band The St Marks Social. Taking to the stage looking rather more dapper than usual in trousers, shirt and waistcoat, Jesse launched into the “first album in its entirety” section of the set right away. From the first bars of the opening track “Queen of the Underworld”, Jesse and the band were on top form. I’d heard some of these songs live before, of course, but to hear them played with that amazing live intensity in the order you are accustomed to from the album is something very special. We had a great spot in the room too, about five people back from the stage, so with a really close view of everything, which gave an intimate feeling to the softer, acoustic sections of the songs.
At previous Jesse Malin gigs, he has followed his long standing tradition of descending into the audience, sitting on the floor and having the audience sit down in a circle around him while he tells a few of his stories and anecdotes (part of any Jesse gig is his storytelling, which I find excellent even if I am now familiar with some of the tales) and starts the next song. The crowd here was larger than previous occasions so I didn’t think he would do it, but he certainly did. In fact, he chose to sit on the patch of floor right where we were standing, so we were on the front row of the audience circle, face to face with Jesse as he talked to us. In fact, when he turned around to face the other way, he was leaning on me. This part of the gig is always great, but that proximity made it even better.
On CD, “The Fine Art of Self Destruction” ends with a full band, heavier version of “Brooklyn” one of the songs that appears earlier on the album. My friend and I had been musing in the pub before the gig whether the song would be played twice to stay true to the recording. It was – much to my delight as it is one of his very best songs, so hearing it again was no hardship. My sister, less familiar with Jesse’s albums, was confused “Haven’t we had this one already?” she shouted in my ear after the opening chords!
Having completed the album run-through, Jesse closed the set with a few choice selections from his later material, including the brilliant “Cigarettes and Violets”, which is not on any of his albums, but among my favourite of his songs. The encore featured two of the band’s “signature tracks” from the last album – “St Marks Sunset” and “Burning the Bowery”, recalling their New York roots, before Jesse brought the evening to a close at just after 11pm (the advertised “curfew time”) with a full-on, exuberant “In The Modern World”. I think both he and the audience would have liked to stay for longer.
As in previous gigs, Jesse Malin certainly lived up to, in fact surpassed, my expectations. His passionate delivery of his fantastic songs and his ability to captivate an audience is matched by the excellence of the four members of the St Marks Social, who played superbly throughout and looked like they genuinely enjoyed being on the road performing Jesse’s songs. All in all, another memorable night provided by Mr Malin and Co., roll on the next album and, even more, the next UK tour!