Jesse Malin/City Winery/June 17, 2016
Raised in Whitestone, New York, Jesse Malin aspired to rock at the all-ages hardcore punk shows at CBGB’s. At age 12, he became the vocalist for a hardcore band, Heart Attack. Upon the group’s disbandment in 1984, Malin labored as a gas station attendant, a health food store clerk and a “man with a van” moving furniture for Barbara Streisand and the Swans. In 1991, Malin and some childhood friends formed the popular glam-punk band D Generation and released three albums before disbanding in 1999. Malin played with several short-lived bands, then went solo in 2001. Along the way, he collaborated with Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen and members of Green Day. Malin released his seventh album, Outsiders, on October 9, 2015.
Malin has spent three-quarters of his life playing in rock bands. In recent times, most of his local performances have been celebrations of record releases or benefit concerts. At City Winery, Malin and his band performed his entire 2002 debut solo album, The Fine Art of Self Destruction, track for track, bringing to these songs new life and slightly rethought arrangements. While the original versions were comparatively laid back, tonight they were given ignition and momentum. Malin opened the show singing from the audience, working his way to the stage. Playing an amplified acoustic guitar on some of the folk-centered songs brought out his emotive side, but Malin’s whole being seemed to energize in the rockers. Between songs he used his gift of gab to annotate amusing anecdotes related to the lyrics of the forthcoming song. Malin and his band concluded the show with a bang, featuring “Mona Lisa” from his The Heat album, and covers of The Pogues’ “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” The Clash’s “Rudie Can’t Fail” and The Lords of the New Church’s “Russian Roulette.” The next time around, Malin will be with his reunited D Generation, headlining at Irving Plaza on July 30.
Jackson Browne/Beacon Theatre/June 18, 2016
Jackson Browne was born in Heidelberg, Germany, where his father, an American serviceman, was stationed. The future singer-songwriter was three years old when his family moved to his grandfather’s house in Los Angeles, California. As a teenager, Browne sang folk songs in local venues, and after graduating high school in 1966, he joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for a few months. Before his 18th birthday, he moved to Greenwich Village, where he backed Tim Buckley and Nico of the Velvet Underground. In 1968, Browne returned to Los Angeles and launched a solo career. Browne has sold over 18 million albums in the U.S., and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007. Browne’s 14th and most recent album is 2014’s Standing in the Breach.
Despite a lack of new product to promote, Browne headlined three sold-out nights at the Beacon Theatre. Ticketholders had been warned that the show would begin promptly at 8 p.m., that there was no opening act, and that sufficient time should be allowed for a security check. True to his word, Browne held court on time and delivered two and a half hours of familiar music. Browne was accompanied by longtime band mates Val McCallum (guitar), Jeff Young (keyboards), Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums), Alethea Mills (backing vocals) and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel). Half of the set drew from his first five albums in the 1970s, and the other half covered all the subsequent decades. Browne sang in a deeper voice, such that on “For Everyman,” at one point instead of reaching for a high note he dove for a lower octave. Nevertheless, the spirit was there, and Browne fairly showcased his knack for memorable melodies, insightful and personal lyrics, and pleasant arrangements in composition. From “Doctor My Eyes” and “These Days” to “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty,” the songs still sounded fresh and vibrant. Hopefully next time around he will have some new songs to sell as well.
Mitski/Bowery Ballroom/June 20, 2016
Mitski Miyawaki was born in Japan, where her future music trajectory was informed by her mother’s 1970s pop CDs. Her father’s job caused her family to relocate frequently, and Mitski lived in 13 countries before she enrolled in college in Purchase, New York. Going by her singular first name, Mitski launched her music career while in college, self-releasing two albums, then moved again to New York City after graduation, where she would further her audience with two more breakout albums. Mitski released her fourth album, Puberty 2, on June 17, 2016.
Mitski’s headlining gig at the Bowery Ballroom was preceded by a cover story in Brooklyn magazine, a feature story in the Village Voice and coverage in several other local media. Mitski spoke in her interviews that her music reflects her issues of belonging due to her cross-cultural identity as “half Japanese, half American, but not fully either.” Dozens of college-age women near the stage sang along with her odes to loneliness and attempted to get her attention, perhaps as if to say, “I am just like you.” Mitski, dressed in a business-casual knit top and pencil skirt, appeared mature enough to be the mentor for young women sorting out their journeys, but yet seemed too young to be the cool mom. Playing bass, backed by a guitarist and drummer, Mitski soulfully sang songs that seemed thoughtful and personal, even when the images were closer to scattered stream-of-consciousness. From “Townie” to “Fireworks,” plus two solo encores, Mitski had a rapt audience caught up in her sparsely-arranged songs. At the beginning of the set, Mitski remarked that the evening was a rare event, a convergence of both the summer solstice and a strawberry moon. Perhaps it was this cosmic cocktail that had her audience swooning symbiotically to her low-key music.
Miles Nielsen & The Rusted Hearts/Mercury Lounge/June 21, 2016
Miles Nielsen has a musical bloodline that goes back four generations of players and singers. Miles was a toddler when Cheap Trick, his dad Rick Nielsen’s band, released its debut album in 1977. As a boy, Miles rode on tour busses and grew accustomed to rock stars hanging at his home in Rockford, Illinois. By the age of 13, Miles was inspired to learn guitar, and was on stage covering songs by age 14. Eventually, he began writing his own songs and playing bass with various regional folk bands, including Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons, Cameron McGill & What Army, Hayward Williams, and Daniel & The Lion. He has also played rhythm guitar for Cheap Trick. Nielsen now leads his own band, Miles Nielsen & The Rusted Hearts. He released his third album, Heavy Metal, on April 29, 2016.
Miles Nielsen & The Rusted Hearts headlined a late show at the Mercury Lounge, and brought some Midwest flavor to the city venue. Nielsen sang lyrics that exposed his mind and heart, with an honest, drawling voice hinged on a country lilt that felt warm, comfortable and rootsy. His compositions often built into pop hooks by the time he reached his choruses. The band provided a light and breezy backdrop to accentuate the melodies. The end result was more pop rock than country folk, but retained a rustic charm that celebrated America’s heartland.