“This album is ten years old next year,” says Jesse Malin. “Playing this album in its entirety, you return so vividly to where you were when you were writing these songs.
“This one is about a girl. I was dating somebody else at the time, so I had to change her name, but I basically put everything she liked into one song in the hope that she’d come back to me.
It’s the introduction to “Wendy”, the fourth song from Malin’s debut which tonight, for the second time on this UK tour, he is here to play in its entirety. The one-time, some-time punk rocker (London was among the dates he played this year with his bandmates from reformed en-why-nineties glam punkers D-Generation, but we’re pretending that it didn’t happen because we were launching our new website the next day) tries to dress smartly these days, taking to the stage in waistcoat and tie. It never lasts and the sweat is already beginning to bead on the ends of his messy hair. I’d feel sorry for the girl beneath the microphone if she wasn’t, you know, me.
And it seems appropriate that this should be the case. It isn’t quite ten years since the first time I was standing right here but it’s close enough for punk rock, and it’s fair enough because I’m pretty sure I stood a little to the left those days anyway. I didn’t know Mad Rachel then either, but it seems right that it’s her shoulder I lean on as we woah-woah-woah our “Mona Lisa”s and she demonstrates the expression on one of her adoptive gig uncles’ face when she introduces him to her girlfriend. We’ve grown up with this album and it turns out, like most fine art, it’s only improved with age.
I can’t say the same for me but at least I’m still here and I still know the words.
The St Mark’s Social have only had Jesse’s back for an album but they slip into these songs with ease now they’ve had a chance to learn the words. And when they say the album in its entirety they mean it, right down to the US-only bonus track and the second version of “Brooklyn” that wide-eyed North Carolinan producer boy insisted on recording. There are insights into the writing and recording of these tracks which although you’ve mostly heard them before will fit perfectly with the documentary DVD that’s being recorded by the side of the stage (and honestly, if I had to appear on somebody’s tour DVD it was probably fitting that I did so with Jesse Malin’s crotch right in my face). There’s a hip-shakin’ arrangement of “Ridin’ On The Subway” and the Social’s rocked-out “Solitaire”. We squat on the floor for old time’s sake of course, and I know better than to ask what the sticky substance is that ends up on my t-shirt.
So no surprises in the setlist beyond the encore but that’s fine; as I sit here the morning after post-8am seminar with my ears still ringing and my head beginning to throb the sadness for the people who shared that time who I never see anymore is fading a little. If I had to develop permanent ear damage from live music (stop panicking mum, it’s a figure of speech) it seems appropriate that it be at this show which is in its own way a bookend. I think of what the album soundtracked and the people I met: dissertations and lipsticks and backwards train journeys, playing PR girl and playing Westerberg and not caring that I failed an exam for the first time in my life as I ran for the last bus back to Edinburgh. I miss Kaite and Helen, Claudia and my darling Jo; I think of the girls from the messageboard and “Dire Straits for indie kids” and how I never got around to reviewing Christine’s solo album. I remember tears and t-shirts, falls in the street; Johnny P’s act of incredible kindness and that one idealistic boy (did I ever tell you that was our song?).
And I smile because, regardless of whether the promised deluxe anniversary edition with the blow-up doll comes out (and you wouldn’t be surprised if it did), this can only ever be a pause.
Jesse Malin & the St Mark’s Social The Fine Art of Self-Destruction on tour:
TONIGHT! Newcastle, Academy 2
26/11 Liverpool, Academy 2
27/11 Nottingham, Rescue Rooms
28/11 London, Scala
29/11 Bristol, Fleece