Booty calls, white iPod headphones, The Kooks, Pete Doherty, racism on Big Brother, Myspace, journalists asking him inane questions. These are a few of Jesse Malin’s least favourite things. The occasionally brilliant New Yorker is renown for his (usually) engaging, funny and self-deprecating banter between songs, and in recent times he’s turned his attentions to impassioned Bush-baiting too, but tonight he seemed oddly riled by the above blights on modern life.
These frustrations can be excused by the fact this was the final date on his mini-tour of the UK promoting new album Glitter in the Gutter. But while he may have seemed tired and cranky at times, he lacked no energy. Indeed, mid-gig he wheeled out his familiar party piece when he jumped off the stage, weaved his way to the middle of the tiny Islington Academy and demanded with some venom that everyone sat down on the floor. We did, and he led an Oasis-like, football-crowd singalong of his classic, Solitaire. Jesse puts everything he has into everything he does, be it moaning about what irks him or achieving a bond with a crowd – with moves like this – that few other artists even attempt.
The new record is a frustrating listen, and tonight’s was often a frustrating performance. His three solo albums indicate he is perfectly capable of the sublime, tonight proven by Brooklyn from his 2002 debut The Fine Art of Self Destruction, Solitaire, Queen of the Underworld and the lovely new ode to his hometown, New York Nights. These tracks all have a troubadourish, melancholic beauty to them, yet with the belligerence and lack of sentimentality of a true New Yorker.
However, Jesse’s capacity for dross emerges when he writes material that attempts to plug into the same punk-rock swagger he achieved so marvellously in his nine years in D-Generation. New track In The Modern World is an embarrassing atrocity that sounds like the work of a bunch of spotty sixth-form Libertines imitators. Similarly, the loud but spineless Hotel Columbia doesn’t do justice to his considerable talent.
Tonight he has ‘death’ written in black marker on the back of his left hand and ‘glory’ on his right, an ostentatious piece of wanky pretence you might think, and you’d be right. But to his credit he and his five-piece band went on to perform with a fervent electricity The Clash‘s Death Or Glory, a title that seemed to neatly sum up the duality of Jesse Malin’s career to date.