Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jesse Malin & the St. Marks Social and Marah - World Cafe Live 12/19/10

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
7. Wendy
8. Lucinda
9. The Archer
10. Mona Lisa
11. Black Boombox
12. All the Way From Moscow
13. Black Haired Girl
14. Solitaire
15. Instant Karma (John Lennon)

Marah setlist:
1. O Come All Ye Faithful (instrumental with bagpipes)
2. Rocky Theme (instrumental)
3. Limb
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

Old 97's at the TLA 12/11/10

I've seen the Old 97's or Rhett Miller solo 11 times now and the shows are still entertaining. They do play some songs at nearly every show, but they also play a nice chunk of their latest material, along with some older songs that are added back into the setlist rotation. So at least 1/3 of the set will usually be songs you haven't seen live before or at least not in a long time.

Part of what makes it fun seeing the band is that they have so much fun doing it. They really seem to enjoy playing together and that comes through during their live shows. Rhett Miller joked to bassist and songwriting partner, Murry Hammond, before one song that they spend so much together, they are like each other's second spouse. The quartet, which also includes guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peeples, has been performing together for 17 years. You'd be hard-pressed to find another band with all the original members, who has been together at least that long, without breaking up and reuniting or going on hiatus. U2 is probably the only other one still going.

The formula remains the same for them - smart catchy pop/rock songs with a twang, highlighting their Beatles by way of 80's Alt Rock with a dose Johnny Cash influences and high-energy live shows. They are definitely one of those most hard-working and reliable acts of recent memory, remaining in a near-constant write/record/tour mode for almost their entire careers except for a few year break earlier last decade, right after they all got married and had kids.

This most recent show did not disappoint. It ranks somewhere near the top of the list of shows, perhaps 3rd or 4th best. I suppose it was a tad disappointing that some old favorites were left off the setlist like "Doreen", "Big Brown Eyes", "Streets of Where I'm From", "Won't Be Home", and "Murder (Or a Heart Attack)", to name a few. And in general the material from 1999-2004 - Fight Songs, Satellite Rides, and Drag it Up, isn't greatly represented any longer, but cuts have to be made to fit in the new material. And they can't play forever.

The highlights were the set closer, "If My Heart Was a Car" - a song that hasn't been played much since the 1990's but has resurfaced in most sets the last year or so. It is one of my favorite songs from their debut album, Hitchhike to Rhome, and this was the first time I have ever seen them do it live. And they began the encore with "Wish the Worst", also from their debut album. A few audience members had been yelling for that song all night and they finally obliged. This was also the first time I have ever seen this song live as well.

As expected, much of the rest of the setlist consisted of tracks from the new album, The Grand Theatre, Volume One - 9 tracks in all. The new material sounded great. They also played a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Rocks Off" during the encore at a time in the set where they had been playing R.E.M.'s "Driver 8" during much of this tour. The setlist below is pretty much spot on and was based on what the band had written up. The only track I'm not sure about is "Indefinitely", which wasn't on the official setlist, but was added after they found out Steve Garvey of the Buzzcocks was in attendance. And at the end of "Indefinitely" they referenced "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" as a nod to the influence that song had on their song.

1. The Grand Theatre
2. Here’s To the Halcyon
3. Dance Class
4. Lonely Holiday
5. You Smoke Too Much
6. Busted Afternoon
7. Champaign, Illinois
8. Victoria
9. Love Is What You Are
10. W Tx Teardrops
11. Please Hold On While the Train Is Moving
12. Stoned
13. Question
14. Designs On You
15. You Were Born To Be in Battle
16. Barrier Reef
17. Let the Whiskey Take the Reins
18. Rollerskate Skinny
19. Smokers
20. Indefinitely
21. Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)
22. Melt Show
23. If My Heart Was A Car

Encore-1-Rhett solo:
24. Here It Is Christmas Time
25. Holly Jolly Christmas
26. I Need To Know Where I Stand

Encore-2-whole band:
27. Wish The Worst
28. Rocks Off (Rolling Stones)
29. Dance With Me
30. Timebomb