Jesse Malin is a great rock and roll songwriter, a gritty New York poet with a punk background and excellent stage presence. So why can't he get any love?
The critics, including yours truly, certainly are down with the ex-D Generation leader's sound, especially his solo work like the new Love It To Life album, or his stellar debut The Fine Art of Self-Destruction. But he continues to struggle to find an audience in the great "flyover" part of the country between the coasts, something he joked about during his Wednesday night show at Club Sound.
There weren't many of us on hand to laugh at his jokes, sadly. A few dozen fans at best were treated to a full set, plus a four-song encore, which goes to show the guy is a total pro. Early on, through songs like show opener "Burning the Bowery" and "All the Way from Moscow," Malin and his band The St. Mark's Social seemed to be rushing through the songs, and understandably so. But eventually the band settled in and started getting off on how well they were playing together, and the show took a turn for the better.
Songs like the older "Wendy" were delivered alongside a bunch of Love It To Life cuts like "Disco Ghetto" and the ballad "The Archer." Malin also delved into some tasty covers, including a dramatic reworking of The Replacements' "Bastards of Young" and a hyper-speed cover of Bad Brains' "Pay to Cum."
All in all, a fine show, but depressing, too. There might have been more people there had Malin played a different venue, or a weekend night, but I think there's something larger at play here. There's simply nowhere to go for the older rock and rollers plying their trade.
You think commercial radio is going to give a 40-something artist like Malin his first big airplay break now, when he's been delivering solid and sometimes spectacular albums for nearly a decade as a solo artist? Not likely: Rock and Roll Hall of Famers like Tom Petty and John Mellencamp can't even get their new music on the radio; what chance does a "new" voice like Malin have?
How about "alternative" radio, or public radio? Malin probably can't get much leverage there. If he was 20 years younger, had a beard and employed a laptop in his band, he might have a chance. But straightforward rock and roll isn't "hip" enough for alt-rock radio.
MTV? VH1? Fuse? Again, Malin's in his 40s and a relative unknown. You think TV can break him? Not bloody likely.
That leaves the life of a vagabond touring musician. I get the sense that Malin is pretty comfortable with that life. As he put it Wednesday, he's used to the punk-rock life of playing "for free beer and a place to stay."
After finishing his lengthy encore, with Malin on the floor serenading the few fans VERY up close and personal, he said, "See you next time." I'm guessing next time might never come.