Jesse Malin – Melkweg, Amsterdam, 4/10/2004

“He doesn’t so much play his guitar as fight with it.”

“He doesn’t so much play his guitar as fight with it.”


Last time I saw Jesse Malin in the Melkweg, he had the full band with him. George Bush had just started his war on terror and Jesse was taking it personally. He and the band played a troubled set that night and the whole show was littered with angry outbursts aimed squarely at his President and apologies to us Europeans. His political outbursts even rubbed off on Tom McRae, who played after him. You can find my review of that night elsewhere on the site if you search well enough and that gig sticks in my mind as one of the most memorable from that year. You could feel the tension and frustration that Jesse (and Tom) felt that night quite palpably. The crowd were there to swoon at Tom McRae, but Jesse won himself a fair few friends that night.


And so I come to tonight’s show, which was an absolute joy to be a part of. A part of? Well, I’ll get to that. I was looking forward to hearing his new material live, as I always thought the old stuff sounded better live anyway and on record at least, his latest album The Heat is great. Jesse arrived in Amsterdam after completing a UK tour which went down a storm as far as my sources can tell me. In fact, everyone’s been raving about it, telling me how great the band are and how much passion and energy Jesse has been radiating. I’ll say it again, I was looking forward to this.


Then, when they were setting up the stage I realized that there would be no backing band tonight. Bugger. Apparently the drummer enjoyed himself a little too much on the ferry over from England and was in no fit state to play. (So the rock and roll lifestyle still exists after all? How nice.) This evening’s performance consisted of just Jesse on guitar and the lovely Christine Smith on electric piano and, at first, I felt a little disappointed as I have enjoyed watching Jesse ‘punk out’ in the past. Thankfully my disappointment lasted all of, what, three bars of the first song I think? Within seconds my fears were allayed and by the time Wendy was played a couple of songs into the set I began to think that I was hearing something special.


Losing the band actually made the night more interesting. Reducing the sound down forced Jesse to calm his ‘punk rocker’ tendencies and reign himself in a bit, putting the focus back on the songs, which is what we were all there for in the first place. Playing almost totally acoustically, Jesse put his energy into translating the emotion and passion that lies within his songs, as opposed to just working up an energy with a band and driving the set forwards on that vibe. Every song from the debut album performed tonight was excellent as far as I was concerned. TKO wasn’t forced as it normally is with the band, but rather left to amble along with Jesse’s shuffling feet providing the back beat; Wendy, as I said earlier, was fantastic. Solitaire was hauntingly beautiful and wonderfully drawn out on the piano. My own personal favourite of Jesse’s songs, Riding On The Subway was just amazing but I would say that. For some reason, stripping every song down to its basics seemed to give them more life. I certainly haven’t heard Brooklyn or Wendy sounds as good or as full of life as they did tonight. Of the new material, Mona Lisa, Hotel Columbia and Indian Summer were all excellent but New World Order was superb.


Jesse himself looked a lot more relaxed and comfortable on stage than he did a couple of years ago as well as a lot more confident. He’s still as strong willed and determined in his manner and I was glad to see the old rocker shine through on occasions here. He doesn’t so much play his guitar as fight with it. Although the songs were handled more delicately than they are with the band, he still attacked his 6 string like a bully in search of lunch money and threw himself around the stage like a man possessed. You can sense how much he loves being on stage; he lives for it. You can see it in every head throw, every turn, every kick and every scream he produces. He sings every song like it might be his last; veins pumping out of his head, sweat dripping, eyes closed tight and fists clenched. He’s an infectious performer and a good story/joke teller too. The banter in between songs was almost as entertaining as the songs themselves and I certainly didn’t mind hearing about Anti Apathy and the School For Young Professional Rent Boys again.



The room may not have been full, but the couple of hundred of us that made it to the Old Hall were certainly glad we came. He proved himself to be an artist of real craft and power, but the highlight of the night was his cover of Neil Young’s Helpless. Stepping down from the stage into the crowd, getting the entire crowd to lay on the floor and scream out “Helpless, Helpless, Helpless” as a protest against George Bush lifted everybody’s spirits. Hell, he might do it every night on the tour, but we didn’t care. Tonight it felt special. And what more do you want from a gig? Come back soon Jesse.

Words and Photographs : Damian Leslie