Jesse Malin | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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On the surface, New York singer-songwriter Jesse Malin's persona seems a simple enough amalgam of dueling De Niros: the fast-talking fuckup (Mean Streets' Johnny Boy) and the alienated loner (Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle). But the real key to both Malin's strengths and weaknesses lies in his past: prior to his current incarnation as a Lower East Side troubadour, well before his years as a dreadlocked punk fronting major-label contenders D Generation, Malin was a 15-year-old prodigy leading the 80s hardcore outfit Heart Attack. The sensibility of a precocious showbiz trouper informs the familiar, if occasionally forced, polish of his live act, which is studded with oft repeated jokes, anecdotes, and asides. There was nothing so labored about his 2002 solo debut, The Fine Art of Self Destruction. Recorded in six days, featuring gorgeously clattering production (courtesy of Malin's running buddy Ryan Adams) and a set of beautifully scarred songs, the album synthesized the work of several generations of heart-on-their-sleeve cynics--Neil Young, Graham Parker, Paul Westerberg--with an offhand ease. Malin's latest, The Heat (Artemis), isn't as fluid as its predecessor--it's weighed down by a handful of lumpen rock tracks and overreaching ballads--but his writerly gifts largely remain intact. A tumble of images delivered in a rapid-fire Noo Yawk honk puts album opener "Mona Lisa" in tight competition with early Springsteen, while "Goin' Out West" is built from the Boss's escape-anthem blueprint. And though loading a sophomore record with road songs is a common error, Malin shines on the homesick melancholy of "Swinging Man" and "Hotel Columbia," while the Pixies-meet-Psych Furs throb of "Since You're In Love" might be the most dolorous few minutes committed to disc this year. Squad Five-O opens. $10. Friday, June 11, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Storey.

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