LIVE REVIEW: Jesse Malin, Brothers of Brazil, Kris Gruen @ The Cluny (18.5.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Kris Gruen is one of those authentic singer-songwriters that you can’t help but love. Dedicated to his craft, with the talent of a true poetic lyricist, the Vermont based New York native keeps it simple and effective. Driving Snow is the pick of a short but very sweet set and it’d be nice to see his name around these parts again in the near future.

Brothers of Brazil are an oddity. They take to the stage as two blood-brothers from Rio, one of whom could be a 1950’s rockabilly musician, the other who closely resembles Billy Idol. Rockabilly plays guitar and sings, Idol jumps around and sings until he jumps behind the drum kit and provides raucous rhythm as his brother shreds his guitar. They could be accused of being a novelty act – with song titles like Viva Liberty and their own theme song, We Are The Brothers Of Brazil – but when they can write songs as catchy as On My Way and then get all cultural on us with some Brazilian bossa nova, you can’t help but join the party. They make for utterly compelling viewing and are sure to gain a cult following on all sides of the pond.

I first caught Jesse Malin playing at London’s Union Chapel in 2003 and 12 years later his live act has never failed to impress me. It’s not because of his outstanding musicianship, although his guitar-playing is faultless and his band always top-notch. And it’s not because he’s a great songwriter; although he’s been releasing constantly great records since his 2003 debut solo album, The Fine Art of Self Destruction. It’s because he has a way of connecting with his audience that few performers I’ve ever seen can match. It’s because he’s as much a fan of his music and the music that he’s happy to admit to being influenced by as his audience is. He’s also dedicated to his craft and to those that follow him as many of the crowd in tonight on a chilly Monday May evening will testify, a lot of them having no doubt attended Jesse’s first Cluny show back in 2004.

When so many acts – especially our Stateside brothers and sisters – release their tour itinerary, there’s so often a big North-East sized hole but this is Jesse Malin’s second Cluny show in just six months. The last time he was over, there was no new album yet to promote and Malin was suffering from the flu, admitting to barely even being able to talk backstage. It was still a cracking show. That devotion to the cause reciprocated by an audience devoted to helping their hero make it through, along with a (un?)healthy sized dose of tequila to boot!

Tonight sees Malin’s first UK tour since the release of last month’s New York Before The War LP and he’s in better shape, treating the crowd to a repertoire of what are by now classics – Wendy, Riding On The Subway and the ever-beautiful and poignant Brooklyn – as well as newer tracks. She Don’t Love Me Now sees Malin laying down his guitar for a “dance” number whilst Turn Up The Mains sees him strapping it back on and rocking out like he was thirty years younger and still fronting glam punk outfit D Generation. There are nods to those precious influences too; a blast through the Ramones’ Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a raucous If I Should Fall From Grace With God by the Pogues and a party-closing Sally Can’t Dance by Lou Reed. But anybody who’s seen Malin will tell you that the songs with the stories are always the highlight and when it comes to a rock ‘n roll storyteller, he’s right up there with Henry Rollins. Stories of former bass players, whorehouses and braless Glaswegians are all recounted in true Noo Yawka fashion.

Malin sings of the beautiful losers, the glitter in the gutter, and he’s never afraid to climb down from the stage and get amongst his people, encouraging the whole room to sit cross-legged on the hallowed Cluny dance-floor as he roams amongst us, recounting tales of why Laurence Olivier refused to quit acting when he began to forget his lines. Jesse Malin maybe approaching 50 but he’s not forgetting his lines just yet and there’s still plenty of Bar Life in this Brooklynite yet.

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