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Jesse Malin Fires Up Beat Kitchen Crowd

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 21, 2015 5:00PM

Photo by Ilaria Conte-Portier

If there was any justice in the rock'n'roll world, Jesse Malin would be a star. Well, that's exaggerating a bit, but he certainly should be able to draw a bigger crowd than the one that maybe filled about two-thirds of the Beat Kitchen Sunday night.

But Malin doesn't seem to care if he's playing to the walls. He genuinely seemed appreciative of the people who did attend the show and proceeded to give them hell.

Malin is an exuberant performer. At once he seems to be pent up with energy and excitement, almost as if he's holding a little something back, but still delivers a wild performance. He's giving a lot, but it's like he's putting a lot of effort into pacing himself for a big finish so by the end of it all everything has been left on the stage when he walks off.

The crowd may have been small, but it was enthusiastic and Malin had it eating out of his hand. This is not just because He was playing to a group of his fans, but because Malin commands attention during his performance. Not only in his intense guitar playing and singing, but even when he just tells a story about the next song he's about to play or about making his latest album, New York before The War, Malin weaves a compelling tale. There is something magnetic about his stage presence, and it certainly comes with his experience, as he's been playing rock music for crowds for a good 30 years. He's also a showman's showman without the schlock.

During "Bar Life," a piano ballad, Malin walked off the stage and into the crowd. He sat down on the floor while he told a story and a dirty joke, and got about 80 percent of the crowd to sit down on the floor of the club with him. This writer never had seen anything quite like it before - the way Malin could manipulate a crowd like that - and was awed at the power he had over them. Who sits on the dirty floor of a club like that? At the crescendo of the song, Malin got back on his feet, got the crowd to sing the chorus with him and by the time he got back on the stage it was time to launch into a rocking number without he full band and get things a little wild and rowdy again.

Malin talks a lot during his set. He'll talk about difficulty finding a vegetarian meal in small town Virginia while making his album. "There's a health food store about three or four miles away," he quipped. "It's called WalMart."

He derided social media and the "Google box," imploring people to actually gather together. He professed his love for book stores and record stores. "I love going to the record store," he said. "You never know who you're going to meet there. Who you're going talk to there. Who you're going to start a band with there."

Malin and his band played a lot of material from New York Before the War—seven of the album's 13 tracks—kicking the show off with the single "Addicted." He dipped into his back catalogue of crowd favorites like "Brooklyn," "Same Old Situation," "Arrested" and "All The Way From Moscow." He also peppered in a few covers from The Pogues and The Clash.

Malin has put together a very good band for this tour, also. It consists of a lot of the contributors to New York Before The War, including Derek Cruz, who co-produced a number of songs on the new album, on lead guitar and keys. It's a well-rehearsed and skilled band and they put on a dynamite show.

Nashville's The Wans preceded Jesse Malin's set, making their Chicago debut. The Wans produce a thunderous sound, and chase great tones with their mid- to quicker tempo rock tunes. Unfortunately for The Wans, their songwriting is rather derivative - both in riffs and lyrics - and it doesn't stand out from the crowd of rock bands. The Wans also have just two or three songs that they write time and again, so by the time the set was over it was already a little stale. But they have some chops to go along with good tones and could have a bright future with some songwriting help.

Milwaukee's Trapper Schoepp opened the show with his brother Tanner singing backup with him. Trapper sang overly sentimental songs, but he is a skilled guitarist and has a really nice voice. Tanner is no slouch of a singer either and the two had some nice harmonies going through the set.