June 22, 2004


The Stone Pony -- Asbury Park, N.J.
June 6, 2004

Jesse Malin rants, Sonic Youth rocks

Jesse Malin's debut solo album from early last year, The Fine Art of Self Destruction (Artemis Records), marked a smooth stylistic shift by the former D Generation front man.

He retained traces his of old band's gritty post-punk sound, but featured more lush, acoustic-based arrangements and a street-smart eloquence. Malin had proved he could not only walk the line between genres, but successfully lean more toward poet than punk.

During a late-afternoon set June 6 inside The Stone Pony as part of The Great Bamboozle 2004 -- which also served as the opening date of his U.S. tour in support of his sophomore release, The Heat (due June 29) -- Malin sure sounded awfully worried about being typecast as a rootsy singer-songwriter. This was not evident by his performance with his four-piece band -- solid and spirited, as usual -- but by some telling comments between songs. He made a point to rant about interviewers' irksome questions about going from "the punk thing" to folkier stuff. Then, before covering Neil Young's ballad "Helpless," he praised Young's punk ethos and ranted about how punk is a mind-set that comes "from the heart" and isn't measured in "tattoos and piercings." You'd think he was making a plea to keep his indie rock membership card from being revoked.

On The Heat, however, Malin's music also seems to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. It's a better-than-average batch of songs, but uneven in spots. The more ambitious, layered production and heavier guitar sound make it more of the band record Malin has said he was aiming for, but as a result, his storytelling feels more impersonal than on his debut.

The high point of Malin's set was a glorious late flourish of songs from Fine Art -- the Tex-Mex-meets-pop number "Almost Grown," the soaring "High Lonesome" and the vivid New York snapshot "Riding on the Subway." Malin did splice four songs from The Heat into his 55-minute set, with mixed results. "Since You're In Love" still sounded like a flat power ballad, and "New World Order" was far more rollicking than on the album, but the added fervor seemed a bit forced. Malin and the band fared better on straightforward rockers "Mona Lisa" and "Hotel Columbia," with the latter's refrain of "Call me up, call me up" recalling the bashed-out bubblegum hooks of the Ramones (oops, there's that punk rock thing again).

While Malin's remarks about punk as a mind-set rather than an image were well intentioned, he might have gleaned from artists like Young that a better way to avoid being pigeonholed would be to continue to push musical boundaries, not lecture the audience.

The day's headlining act, Sonic Youth, showed it still knows this lesson well. The band has made a lengthy career of eschewing such self-consciousness, though sometimes veering too far into self-indulgence. That wasn't a concern during the quintet's 80-minute set on the outdoor stage, as it showcased much of its promising new album, Sonic Nurse (Geffen Records). The three-guitar attack -- courtesy of Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and recent addition Jim O'Rourke, who first handled bass duties on a few numbers -- did forge some trademark explorations into the world of feedback and alternate tuning, particularly on the new "Paper Cup Exit," but things never veered off course.

Unfortunately, just when Kim Gordon was getting fully warmed up, shedding her bass to lay down some wild dance moves in leading her band mates through grunge-era favorites "Drunken Butterfly" and an encore of "Kool Thing," the festival had come to a close.

Earlier, 57-year-old Patti Smith had the middle-aged set grooving, though it wasn't enough to save her from one of the pitfalls of performing for a festival crowd that cut across generations: an over-served, twenty-something lout who grumbled loudly and impatiently, "Play something we know!" If anything, Smith and her band were in fine form, ripping through some tunes the younger folks should know; the players flexed their muscles on an inspired turn through "25th Floor" before the singer spewed a little of her political venom late in the set -- hey, it is an election year -- with the rousing anthem "People Have the Power" and the fiery set closer, "Rock & Roll Nigger."

Southern arena-rock revivalists My Morning Jacket, touring behind its acclaimed major-label debut, 2003's It Still Moves (RCA Records), didn't seem to have too many bodies moving as the band's set on the outdoor main stage crawled to a finish. The crowd's waning response may have accounted for singer-guitarist Jim James lamenting the demise of mosh pits at one point. The reverb-happy Kentucky outfit's extended jams had some tasteful elements and were mellower than expected, almost jazzy at times, but sorely lacked direction.

New York-based Ambulance LTD also finished its set in less than spectacular fashion -- with an undistinguished instrumental. But by then, the band had already impressed enough with its versatile brand of guitar- and keyboard-driven avant-garde rock from its debut album LP, ranging from the Brit-pop stylings of "Anecdote" to the more muscular groove of "Primitive (The Way I Treat You)."

-- By George Henn

Posted by medleyville at June 22, 2004 01:57 PM