New York City rocker Jesse Malin opened up for Justin Townes Earle at The Birchmere recently with a dynamic set. Jesse kicked off his set with both himself and his sideman, Derek Cruz, playing acoustic guitar on “Revelations,” which he recorded for his recently released album, Sunset Kids.
“Chemical Kiss,” Jesse told the audience on Oct. 2, is “about being in one of those relationships that is dysfunctional. You’ve accepted it and you stay with that person because they’re rooting for you.” After the hard-charging instrumental break, he commented on the listening room environment, saying, “I like it; it’s quiet. Once you get over the initial shyness, it’ll be a good night.”
Between songs, Jesse asked for lights on the audience briefly, then proceeded to tell a story about former Pogues frontman Shane McGowan. Jesse wrote the song “Shane” in tribute to McGowan. Once, while performing in London, Shane appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, onstage, drinking bourbon out of a Pringles can. After a bit of inebriated mumbling, Shane joined Jesse in singing a cover. On this night, Jesse covered the Pogues’ “If I Should Fall from Grace With God.”
Jesse made his latest album during a difficult year in which he lost a lot of people, including his guitarist and his father. The night he met Lucinda Williams, she opened for Tom Petty at the Hollywood Bowl, in what would be Tom’s final appearance before his death. “Promises,” written for Sunset Kids, was Jesse’s paean to Tom.
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Ironically, Jesse, who got into music for what he called “antisocial reasons,” now finds himself forced to deal with social media responsibilities. He admitted to enjoying some aspects of the online world, doing his shopping there at times, but he remains an advocate of brick and mortar stores — book stores, record stores. When you go to a record store, he said, “You might meet someone. You might start a band.” He joked, “You might rob the store.”
On “Turn Up the Mains,” Derek switched to playing the keys. Jesse introduced “She Don’t Love Me Now” as being “about one of those relationships that didn’t work out, but I got this song out of it.” He took the opportunity to plug his merchandise, joking about his expanded offerings. For a mere 500 bucks, he told the audience, you could own your own Jesse Malin coffin. If you “aren’t ready to drop,” he added, the coffins makes an excellent beer cooler, or you could sell it back to Gene Simmons.
Jesse wrote “Wendy” to get a girl back in his life. He jammed everything she liked into the lyrics. It didn’t work.
When Jesse met with Lucinda Williams at the kitchen of her Studio City home, the first song he showed her was “Room 13.” Lucinda helped him cut the song down from six verses to three, and she contributed touches like pointing out that it’s not all stores that are closed on Sunday — it’s liquor stores.
Back in the ’90s, Jesse and his friends contributed the chorus of “whoa’s” to the Muffs’ cover of “Kids in America,” for the Clueless Soundtrack. Around 2am, they were drunk when they got a call in the middle of the night to go to Electric Lady Studios. On Thursday, Jesse learned that the lead singer of the Muffs had passed away, and he dedicated “Shining Down” to him.
To close his set, Jesse performed “Meet Me Again at the End of the World.” With the audience clapping to the beat, he brought his 45-minute set home, leaving the crowd energized for Justin Townes Earle.