Jesse Malin - Live in Edinburgh (Cover Artwork)

Jesse Malin

Live in Edinburgh (2016)

live show

As I arrived at the Electric Circus on a cold and damp Saturday in February, I was cheerfully greeted by a young man near the merch booth. This was the wonderfully named Trapper Schoepp, who had evidently just finished his support slot. I should have told him that I'd heard good things about his music, that I would have liked to have made it in time for his set but was still recovering from flu and it had been hard enough to drag my sorry carcass out of the house at all, let alone for a 7pm start, and that, seriously, Trapper Schoepp was just a great name. Instead I just grunted and disappeared into the darkness of the club.

Fortunately I was there in time to catch Don DiLego, 40-something singer/songwriter, producer and musical lifer. Initially taking to the stage alone, before being joined by a makeshift backing band dubbed the Touristas, his half-hour alt-country set was full of deceptively simple melodies, the sort of songs that worm their way into your memory by the second chorus. Think early 70s Neil Young with a touch of Wilco's pop sensibilities and you're not far off. With his lived-in face, roadworn songs and occasional flourishes of harmonica, there were hints of grizzled country campaigners like Rodney Crowell too.

Highlights included new single "Drive Like Pirates" and a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper" that was less haunting, more stomping than the Nebraska original. Looking and sounding like he'd be equally at home in Nashville or New York, DiLego left the stage with some good natured banter ("you guys are a good crowd for not knowing who the fuck I am") and no doubt a few more fans than when he arrived.

20 minutes later Jesse Malin hit the stage. It had been six years since he last played in Edinburgh, Glasgow being the more common Scottish touring stop, and fully twelve years since I last saw him. Back then he was playing solo and supporting Counting Crows (yes, I like Counting Crows - feel free to re-evaluate my every musical opinion based on this information), but now he was backed by a full band including DiLego on bass. With his tight leather jacket, Gogol Bordello t-shirt and signature hat, Malin would fit right in to pretty much any episode of Law & Order as the original street-tough suspect in a Queens stabbing, before the real killer turns out to be the husband/wife/business partner/au pair.

Malin opened with a pair of songs from New York Before The War, the first of two albums he released in 2015. "She's So Dangerous" wasn't the most high energy start, but was swiftly followed by the rollicking "Boots Of Immigration". Then he delved into his extensive back catalogue and pulled out "Hotel Columbia" from 2004's The Heat, and the still majestic "Brooklyn" from his debut album The Fine Art Of Self Destruction. Malin gets compared to his close friend and regular collaborator Ryan Adams a lot, but I will never understand why Fine Art didn’t make Malin as big a star as Gold made Adams.

Next came a storming run through "Addicted", which both bemoans New York's creeping gentrification and celebrates its musical heritage, then "Wendy", another undisputed classic from his first record. Malin has always been as much a storyteller as a singer, and "Mona Lisa" was preceded by an anecdote as long as the song itself that ended with the Pogues' Shane MacGowan staggering onstage uninvited at Malin's London gig "drinking booze from a Pringles can".

The show took on another dimension when the band was augmented by a pair of horn players. Their trumpet and sax added colour to songs like "She Don't Love Me Now", as close as Malin could ever get to sultry, and got the crowd dancing. Malin then left the stage to sing the simultaneously anthemic and depressing "Bar Life" in the crowd, offering fans the microphone for the choruses, and persuading the entire audience to join him for a nice sit down while he told another story or two. He recalled a previous gig where one fan annoyed him by refusing to sit down: "I was being a microphone nazi... turned out he had a wooden leg".

Malin returned to the stage for a pair of faster, harder-edged songs - first "Outsiders", the title track of his most recent album, propelled by what sounded suspiciously like a recycled Clash riff, then "All The Way From Moscow" from 2010's Love It To Life. The evening ended with a suitably raucous cover of the Clash's "Rudie Can't Fail", Jesse once again going walkabout in the crowd, ending up on top of the bar at one point. Malin loves a Clash cover - he did "Stay Free" on Outsiders, "Gates To The West" on the all covers On Your Sleeve, and "Death Or Glory" as an early b-side, and there have no doubt been others live. It's almost as if the former D Generation frontman feels the need to restate his punk credentials every so often. But he needn't bother. On record, and especially live, he's at the peak of his powers.