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Jesse Malin – Brel, Glasgow

There is a snobbery amongst music fans that can best be described as ‘the thing that I know about and you don’t know about is better than the thing we both know about’.  It posits that the obscure is often better than the obvious. It’s elitist, it’s divisive and it’s often fun. It’s also often particularly vicious amongst people who would consider themselves to be serious music fans. After all, there’s not much point slagging a Pussycat Dolls fan and showing them the cover of Unknown Pleasures. They’ll just think you are mad.

Sometimes it is correct, such as when people who are fans of The Fall slagged people who are fans of Pavement. And sometimes it is nonsense, such as when people claim I Am Kloot are better than Elbow. Being better is not simply about having sold fewer records.

Jesse Malin is always compared to his friend and sometime collaborator Ryan Adams. It’s a fair assumption to suggest that everyone crammed into the conservatory of one of Glasgow’s more cosmopolitan bars owns an album by each. But while Adams is the man with the hits – such as they are – Malin is the one with the acclaim. Yet he’s in Scotland supporting a headline tour by, yup, Ryan Adams.

He bounds on stage and thanks the audience for joining him for a gig announced just three days before, explaining that he had a night off and it was either ‘sit in my hotel room or this’. This turns out to be a blistering, 90-minute show which proves that, in the right hands, an acoustic guitar can be as rock and roll as any Les Paul.

He’s relaxed, and it’s clear that the unexpected nature of the show means that the audience is treated to a set which hasn’t been polished to a damaging degree. That’s not to say he isn’t tight – but the banter seems fresh, the songs seem joyous and the increasingly raucous crowd seem to delight in supplying percussive handclaps.

‘Hotel Columbia’ and ‘Aftermath’ are stand-outs, along with a storming cover of the Hold Steady’s ‘You Can Make Him Like You’ but the truth is he doesn’t play a duff song all night. It’s simply a joy for everyone in the room from start to finish.

Jesse Malin isn’t Ryan Adams. He’s far better at the Suicide/Springsteen rock element than his friend – Ryan always seems like a kid trying on his dad’s jacket when he’s in foot-on-the-monitor mode – but he couldn’t write as many classics across the spectrum as the former Whiskeytown man. But he absolutely pisses on him as a live act.

So, in the end, we’ll leave the argument to the side and simply embrace a great performer doing what he loves. Sometimes that’s enough.


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