Jesse Malin (left), Dave Bielanko of Marah (right)
Having missed Jesse Malin and his new band during their first few gigs in Philly this year, I wasn't going to miss their last one of 2010. And when I heard that Philly's own Marah would also be playing as part of a "It Came Upon a Midnight Beer" mini-tour with donations for Toys for Tots, it just made it that much better.
The show opener was a local act, Slo-Mo. Slo-Mo is veteran local guitarist Mike Brenner, who has played with dozens of local artists over the years, including Marah. The rest of the band consists of rapper Mic Wrecka handling some vocals. They are also notably joined by Sue Rosetti and Steph Hayes, both formerly of Stargazer Lily. It appears they are part-time members of this band. It was a quick enjoyable set.
Jesse Malin & the St. Marks Social followed. Malin's career is an example of what happens when you have talent and determination. He's been a veteran of the NY hardcore punk scene since 1980, when he was 12 years old in the band Heart Attack. Since then he formed the under-appreciated D Generation in the 1990's and then went solo, showcasing his songwriting talent and other influences like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul Westerberg along with his punk background. They are touring in support of Love It to Life - Malin's 4th solo album.
The St. Marks Social represents a return to his roots, with songs about the NY scene and life in the Bowery section of the city where CBGB's used to be. NY hardcore veteran Todd Youth plays lead guitar and helped put together the rest of the band with Malin. Youth also played in Agnostic Front, Murphy's Law, with D Generation on their final album in 1999, Danzig, and lately has been playing with the likes of Glen Campbell and Ace Frehley.
The set was tight, albeit a little short at only about 70 minutes. But they ran through a lot of crowd favorites. And it had the usual Malin banter between songs. My only quibble is that having seen Malin play about 6 times now, I've heard a few of these stories already. And when the set was finished Malin even went to the Merch table to talk to fans and sign stuff.
In between sets Cracker and Ted Leo played on the sound system, so that was plus.
Marah came on to close the show shortly afterwards. They are promoting their latest release, Life Is A Problem. Dave Bielanko said he kind of blew out his voice the night before at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. But they would do their best and got through an hour or so long set. Christine Smith plays keyboards in Marah and she used to play with Malin a few years ago, so there's that connection. And she handled vocals on a few songs to give Bielanko a break. They also played some instrumentals for the same reason. Marah have always had a Bruce Springsteen meets punk rock with a dash of stringband music in it. So they find a way to incorporate instruments like accordions, bagpipes, and banjos in their songs and it all works somehow.
And then Malin and the St Mark's Social came back out to play the last 3 songs with Malin handling lead vocals on all of them. The highlight was "Fairytale of New York" - one of my favorite Christmas songs. It was originally done by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Malin recorded this for his covers record in 2008. Christine Smith handled the female vocal parts.
I just wish Bielanko had his voice and the set was longer. This was the first time I had ever seen Marah and their impressive live show. I'd like to see a normal longer set by them one of these years, since this show only consisted of 5 Marah originals.
Jesse Malin & the St. Mark's Social Setlist:
1. Cigarettes and Violets
2. Burning the Bowery
3. Hotel Columbia
4. Prisoners of Paradise
5. Disco Ghetto
6. Burn the Bridge
9. The Archer
10. Mona Lisa
11. Black Boombox
12. All the Way From Moscow
13. Black Haired Girl
15. Instant Karma (John Lennon)
1. O Come All Ye Faithful (instrumental with bagpipes)
2. Rocky Theme (instrumental)
4. The Catfisherman
5. Baby, It's Cold Outside **
6. Angels of Destruction
7. Muskie Moon
8. Valley Farm Song
9. Here Comes Santa Claus *
10. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town *
11. Auld Lang Syne
12. Holly Jolly Christmas
13. Winter (by Rolling Stones) #
14. Fairytale of New York (by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl) # **
15. Merry Christmas Everybody (by Slade) #
* - with Christine Smith on lead vocals
** - with Christine Smith on co-lead vocals
# - with Jesse Malin & the St. Marks Social, Malin on lead vocals