The Hype: Jesse Malin is a punk rock veteran whose overall sound remains surprisingly optimistic. Starting out in the '80s with the hardcore band Heart Attack, Malin evolved musically to co-form the '90s garage act D Generation. Now, he's assaulting the ears of the masses with his latest project, Jesse Malin and the St. Marks Social. The band provides music, that despite often dour lyrical material, is uniquely up-beat. They played Alex's bar in Long Beach on Friday night. I was hoping they would play their recent single, "Burning the Bowery," and expectations were high.
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The Show: For whatever reason, the crowd was thin. Following opening act Chris Shifflet and the Dead Peasants, a large swath of concrete floor was visible, ringed by a stand of PBR guzzling patrons on bar stools. Once the band started playing however, people crowded around the stage. And the set started with a fantastic opener--"Burning the Bowery" off this year's Love it to Life. Win! It's a song that blends the delay-pedal eloquence of an Interpol jam mixed with the punk edge and melody of Jawbreaker's "Million," from the 1995 release, Dear You. Looking like a handsome Elliott Smith, Malin wailed, strummed and stomped in front of a crowd that at times swelled to only 25 people. It was a triumphant parallel of the uniquely optimistic vocals and guitars that typically combine with Malin's dark lyrical material. Compounding the lackluster turnout, throughout the evening, the band dealt with persistent feedback. At one point Malin requested sarcastically to the sound guy, "Can I get a little more vocal on the feedback machine?" The highlight of the set included the acoustic strummer "Almost Grown" off Malin's 2003 solo record, The Fine Art of Self Destruction. It's a song which chronicles the inner turmoil of a young man caught in an emotional blender while on the cusp of adulthood. Unfortunately, the sonic constrictions of Alex's small room, combined with the heavily distorted guitars to produce a set, that although energetic, was uneven. Preceding Malin was Long Beach fem-trio, Cunt Sparrer. These three musicians had a fearless charm that made up for their lack of polish. Stand by for a blog on this group next week.