Jesse Malin. Wednesday, June 13, at the Bottleneck.
Dispatch by Crystal K. Wiebe
While underappreciated by the masses, Jesse Malin can inspire fierce loyalty in the folks lucky enough to see him perform. I’ve been something of a Malin fangirl since I saw him perform in 2003 at the Double Door in Chicago. But I’ve got nothing on the dedicated follower I met last night.
Mike had driven four-and-a-half hours from Oklahoma to see his favorite singer. Apparently, Malin has yet to play in Mike’s home state. But Mike’s seen Malin in several other places, including Austin and now, Lawrence. I noticed Mike staring at my friend and me during a roots rocky set by the opening band, Acute.
I figured the skinny, bald guy was a creep. My radar went way up when he asked if he could stand with us and then insisted on buying us a round. But ol’ Mike turned out to be a very nice and generous fellow, who just wanted to share his concert experience with other fans. (At one point, Mike lowered his voice a little to confide that he thinks the new album, Glitter in the Gutter, is a bit too slick.) In exchange for our company, Mike provided Lisa and me with a neverending supply of shots and mixed drinks. And he didn’t hit on us once.
Like every Malin show I’ve been to, the setting last night at the Bottleneck was intimate. By that I mean: the crowd was small. But that just made the gig more fun for those of us who were there.
Malin has a personality that’s far more fun than his songs about broken hearts, broken homes and broken radios might suggest. The New Yorker always tells a lot of stories between songs. Last night, he shared memories of previous nights spent in Lawrence, along with more colorful anecdotes from his urban childhood. He prefaced “Almost Grown” with the tale of how three guys on the street conned him out of his money, belt and pocketknife the first time he tried to visit a prostitute – at age 11.
“Almost Grown” and about half of the set came from Malin’s first, Ryan Adams-produced solo record, The Fine Art of Self Destruction – Mike’s favorite and mine. His voice cracking in all the right places, Malin made regret feel good on old songs like “Brooklyn” and “Downliner.” And for the newer “Broken Radio,” it didn’t even matter that Boss couldn’t be there (Malin recorded the duet with Bruce Springsteen.)
Thanks to the shots Mike kept bringing, the end of the night got a little fuzzy. I remember Malin making everyone sit on the floor for one song. And then my memory cuts to me back at the bar, buying four PBRs, one of them possibly for the artist. The vomit-y smell lingering in my nostrils today makes me think that money would have been better spent on some Malin merch.