You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory

Jesse Malin with guests Tommy Stinson and Billie Joe Armstrong covering Johnny Thunders, 2/19/11

Jesse Malin performed two shows at City Winery last night which featured his first album, The Fine Art of Self-Destruction, played in its entirety. Tommy Stinson opened. (I will get to that in a bit.) It’s a great record, so getting up and playing it start to finish with a great band (imo Jesse’s best band ever) has to result in an amazing show. The performances were strong, every single one of them. I do wish that he had set the record up with one key story, and then just played the thing from beginning to end with no stops. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled by the performance, but I wish there had been less chat and more music on this one night.

I feel like Jesse short-changed himself and the audience with lengthy stories (most of which repeated themselves too many times) between many of the songs, especially at the beginning of the album. Do not get me wrong – I love Jesse’s stories and I love that he tells them because he is keeping old New York alive by doing so. Even last night, when he mentioned in passing that it used to be, if you liked punk rock, people thought three things about you: that you were a junkie, that you were gay, and that you killed your girlfriend. (It’s like that line in “Brooklyn” about “It’s still a drag walking in Queens” – unless you walked around in the suburbs in the late 70s or early 80s with dyed hair and black skinny jeans, you do not know what that line truly means) – he’s one of the few people telling these stories, and I want him to keep telling them. Tonight, at least at the late show, he didn’t have his usual focus and things dragged just a little bit, and at this venue in particular, that was unfortunate, because it’s already full of people who are there to drink wine and not to listen. I wish he had just set it up, plowed through the songs, and then come back for the encore where he could have talked as much as he wanted to. Just this one night. Because towards the end of the album, when he just kept going into song after song, ending with “Cigarettes and Violets” and then a harder, grinding version of “Brooklyn” to close, had this been a regular rock club, people would have been losing their shit, it was powerful, undeniable, and in your face.

Tommy Stinson opened. I have not seen Tommy Stinson since the last time I saw the Replacements, which I believe was the Beacon in 1987. I spent at least five minutes marvelling that his hair still does that dandelion thing that it did when he was 18. I liked the songs – he even dragged out something from the Bash & Pop record by request – but the band was not perhaps as strong as it could be, or needed just a touch more rehearsal. Only one dumbfuck yelled for “Sixteen Blue” that I could hear, and the first few songs were interrupted by me needing to explain to the women to my right that no, that was not Jesse Malin, that was Tommy Stinson (and let’s keep in mind that he came out and said I’M TOMMY STINSON). There had been a rumor somewhere that he was going to play bass with Jesse’s band, which did not happen, which I was sorry about, but he did come out for the encore number above.

The encore would have better overall if the soundman had been paying attention and turned on the appropriate microphones at the appropriate times, which he did not, repeatedly, making a messy encore jam even messier. But “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” was a fitting choice and more than a touch poignant when you remember that 2/18 is the anniversary of Bob Stinson’s passing. I will note that Billie Joe Armstrong needed the lyric sheet, while Tommy did not, but I will also note that Billie Joe kept pushing Tommy in front of the mic and that there was a big bearhug between the two at the end of the song. (Really, I have nothing against Billie Joe Armstrong.) Other encore covers included “Pay To Cum,” “Winter” and “Instant Karma.”

City Winery can be a tough place to get out of quickly, so we bolted as soon as it was clear there would be no second encore. It was very late and we needed to get out the door as soon as possible. But when I came around the corner and saw Tommy standing there, I had to go say something. I was worried that I would gush something about how I used to see him when he was much, much younger and I wish I had said something about how much I respect his charity work in Haiti, but I will confess that I had to fight hard to get out something about how I wish he’d play more and get a photo and a hug (he was a little drunk at that point, which he was entitled to be after playing two sets) and walked out all OMG TOMMY STINSON HUGGED ME like I was 20 again.

City Winery as a venue remains a terrible place to see a show. The sound is good, but the stage is low and small and hard to see from multiple angles, and the seating in the venue uncomfortable in the extreme. If you sit down front, you have to sit stage right or your back is to the performers and so many chairs are jammed in that it is impossible to turn around without lots of cooperation from everyone around you. (It makes the Bottom Line’s old front section seating configuration seem spacious and comfortable.) The wait staff does its best to not block the stage but I do not get the whole ‘eating during a rock show’ thing (a reason I actively dislike Joe’s Pub). I appreciate that there is no cover, but the wait staff is snobby if you just order a soft drink. I understand that the venue’s raison d’etre is to have a grownup place to see rock and roll, but it brings out people who think that they can chat up a storm during the quiet songs – I for one would rather those people just stayed home and didn’t have a place to go see shows, frankly. I miss so many shows because I hate going here. I prayed hard that Jesse wasn’t going to yell at people to stand up because to be honest, there just wasn’t room to stand up. (He did, and we did, but it is not a simple thing to do.)