Singer-songwriter Jesse Malin has long been too glam for rustic earnestness, too uncultured for commercial punk. From his glittery, hard-core band D Generation in the '90s to solo albums portraying him as Springsteen with a rooster haircut, Malin just doesn't quit. This year, he released two albums - New York Before the War and Outsiders - as ramshackle and ruminative as anything he has ever recorded.
A cocksure Malin was raring to rant at Johnny Brenda's on a rainy Thursday night. In a black neckerchief, black leather jacket, and sideways jeff cap, Malin looked like a New York Doll and rocked twice as hard. With prancing piano and squealing guitars, Malin and his backing trio rammed through "She's So Dangerous" and "Addicted" with a frenzy that nearly knocked them off Johnny Brenda's small stage. "I'm addicted to the glory of a broken heart," he sang. "Got some money on the wrong horse / I just had nowhere else to go / Now they're closing down the bookstore / And they're putting up a condo." When it came to grunge-glam, the silvery, gritty "Death Star" did a handsome job.
With the Brass in Pocket horns on hand, the stage didn't get any bigger as the band kicked into the rough jangle of the Pogues' "If I Should Fall from Grace with God" and Malin's own boozy, harmony-filled Shane McGowan tribute, "Mona Lisa." The horns added a wild, innocent, E Street shuffle to all tunes they touched.
The vocal harmonies (mostly courtesy of mighty bassist Catherine Popper) were the icing on the bittersweet cake. Heavenly countervocals accented the AM-radio pop of "High Lonesome" ("I'm dropping out of circulation / Gonna change my occupation") and the bruised but contagious "Bar Life." Malin gave off warm, slow soul vibes during "Love Struck" as his voice got higher to deliver the pleading lyrics.
Malin is best at his bluntest - as on "Outsiders" and "Whitestone City Limits," played back to back Thursday night. He screamed gloriously that being an outsider is "all I know" and fretted away furiously on a meaty power chord. Here's hoping Jesse Malin never becomes an insider.