and i’ll dedicate this feeling to the ones in my life;
Certain songs get scratched into our shoulders, and certain songs get scratched into our souls. There’s no such thing as a glib one-liner in my life, even if the words spoken rarely correspond to the feelings they relate to. I’m still a “wee thinker”. Somebody told me once you get the bug after your first tattoo, but it took me four years of longing and planning before I settled on my cold rose and I didn’t think I’d feel that way again. There was this guy behind me in the queue when I went to make my appointment: how much for a tattoo? he asked. “What do you want?” came the reply. I dunno. I don’t understand that. Maybe it’s a… thing. You know what I’m getting at. Every scar, every ink spot, has to tell a story. I want to look at my markings in twenty years time, and I want to still understand. I want to bottle it up and tie it with a ribbon and a label saying 2010. I want every little moment to feel as good as it does right now.
Certain Songs… It’s a lyric of course, and a damn fine one at that. It’s a tribute to a band that exploded into my life one day and have continued to recapture that teenage feeling every day for as long as they’ve been in it. But it’s more than that. It’s a reminder about the songs that have kept you warm at night for a decade or more, and which continue to fill you with that heady rush of remembrance and longing every time you remember they are there. Jesse Malin’s The Fine Art of Self-Destruction is an album full of those songs; one which transports me to a rainy University Avenue or my mother’s living room or the New York subway. It’s one that, eight years later and me a few days from married, still vividly paints long-forgotten faces in every lyric.
So, on the train to Edinburgh straight from work: it’s been a while, and I feel almost as if I have missed the city in which I used to exist if never actually lived. Early doors at the Cabaret Voltaire mean that I miss St Mark’s Social keyboard player Allan Fox’s solo set, but Claudia and Rachel are already in the venue and keeping me a space down the front. I make sure to be in plenty of time to see him the next night in Glasgow. His voice is smooth, soulful and polished and his playing is skillful, but his lyrics are angrier than the music gives them credit for. His slot only allows for four songs, but he assures us that he’ll be back before the end of the night.
I don’t know what to make of The Killing Floor when I see them first. Frontman Marco Argiro is all skinny jeans and sweat bands and rockstar posing and at first I giggle and wonder who he thinks he is, him and his band that have only been together for a few months after a chance meeting in Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland studios in New York. But then it dawns on me: you can get away with all of those things if you are mindfuckingly beautiful (sorry mum) and of course – if you have the tunes. I don’t even realise until the next day, when Claudia and I put their “limited edition” demo on as we get ready to go out for Round Two, but “Shout” in particular is a slice of perfect bass-heavy glam punk. Later that night I even sing along, before getting the band to sign my own copy of the CD.
But, beautiful boys aside, there is only one reason I’m on this intercity tour. It’s been far too long since Jesse Malin has graced a Scottish stage, and his Glasgow crowd in particular are pleased to have him back. King Tut’s shows almost seem like a homecoming for Malin, whose bar in New York once bore the same name. The St Mark’s Social are one of the strongest bands I have ever seen him play with, and they blaze through an incredible setlist which – although fairly similar both nights – runs the gamut of the singer’s entire solo career while incorporating covers from the Replacements and the Bad Brains.
Malin is one of those artists you have to see live. He’s engaging, funny, angry – and sweats more than any artist I have ever seen. Tracks from Love It To Life hold their own with such storming memory-makers as “Hotel Columbia” and “Wendy”; in particular album (and set) opener “Burning The Bowery” and the incredible “All The Way From Moscow”. Inspired, Malin tells us, by a long-distance breakup with a girl who shared his name, a support slot with gypsy punks Gogol Bordello and his discovery under the golden arches of McDonalds near Red Square that “we’re all the same, we all fall in love and we all get fucked over by corporations”, it’s the kind of song that makes me realise that I’m still devastated. But in the best possible way.
That night in Edinburgh, I ask Malin to play “TKO” – the song that inspired the title of this blog, and one I haven’t heard live since the night I changed its name. I’m half kidding, of course – there’s rarely much point to bellowing requests particularly when, as in this case, a relatively new band won’t have learned the words – but after complementing me on my new tattoo (“Certain Songs”, again) he says he’ll see what he can do. And since it’s not on the next night’s setlist, it’s the most incredible surprise when he breaks out the acoustic guitar and forgets the words before launching into my all-time favourite of his songs – and another oldie – “Downliner”.
Let me bottle that one up and label it 2010: the night one of my favourite artists went away and learned my song, just for me. And, thanks to my wonderful friend Murray and the sort of artists who don’t think show taping is killing music, I have the soundtrack to go with it. You can even hear me screaming down the front, if you know what you are listening for: