The Passion of the Mallman

A blow-by-blow account of Mark Mallman's agonizing, ecstatic 52.4-hour song

The only way to truly do justice to Mark Mallman's recent performance of a 52.4-hour song would be to make a 52.4-hour version of Billy Joel's video for "We Didn't Start the Fire." In lieu of that, here's a rundown of what happened when a local piano man got onstage at the Turf Club in St. Paul and rocked for three days straight.

 

Day One

Saturday, September 4, 5:35 p.m. Mallman is rushing around setting up equipment in the Clown Lounge downstairs, where a small group of onlookers is gathering. He's wearing a zebra-striped top under a jacket, spectacles, and a few days' reddish beard. On his keyboard sits the phone-book-sized blueprint of "Marathon 2": 628 pages of lyrics and charts in a three-ring binder that's over twice the size of "Marathon," the original 26.2-hour ditty he performed here in 1999.

Except for bathroom breaks, Mallman plans to play around the clock, with the help of 75 other musicians working in shifts. I ask him if he has anything to tell fans before doing this. "It's not going to be good," he says. "It's going to be long."

6:15 The first band is alternating verses and guitar solos with a simple, catchy chorus: "Here I am/Singing again/Going to make it through/Marathon 2." So far, it sounds like any other good song, except it doesn't end.

6:52 For a moment, "Marathon 2" nearly stops. Mallman admonishes the musicians: "You got to keep going. We almost had to start over already."

6:55 The bandleader says to the audience, "For the first six hours this is going to be about high school. And death. Actually a lot about death."

He flips ahead in the lyrics. "I see that at 1:45 on Monday I talk about killing. Here's a page without death."

8:15 The timer counting down the 52.4 hours breaks. Mallman doesn't notice until later. "That clock used to mean something," he says.

1:07 a.m. Thanks to hourly lineup changes, the music morphs from mid-tempo rock to jazzy reggae to metal. Mallman is wearing a bunny mask now, his band going full throttle for a packed room. "I'm way shooting my wad here," he says.

 

Day Two

Sunday, September 5, 4:45 p.m. Mallman has moved the song upstairs, where a sparse crowd regards him with blank faces. He's singing variations on "Away in a Manger."

Stage manager Wilson Webb reports that during the night, Mallman nearly hit a wall. "He was playing a bunch of Pink Floyd-inspired improvisational stuff."

Between 2:00 a.m. and noon, everybody but a core group of musicians--Ryan Olcott, Jacques Wait, and Peter Anderson--was forced to leave the bar. The remaining participants took turns sleeping, and at one point, Mallman was playing alone.

To pull off the transition from the basement, Mallman began playing along with a drum machine in the Clown Lounge, pumping the beat through amplifiers upstairs, where Anderson began drumming. Then the singer came up to join in on a second keyboard.

5:39 Mallman makes his band take off their shoes, and says he'll pay a couple of band members five bucks each if they exchange socks.

6:34 He flips up the "Gone pissing" sign on his keyboard and disappears, as a cellist and guitarist exchange solos. Volunteers are making sure Mallman has enough to eat onstage--but not too much at once, lest he succumb to full-stomach fatigue.

10:25 Mallman looks pale. His handlers say he's in trouble. Greek history scholar Aaron Poochigian climbs the stage to tell the story of the first marathon runner. "And what happened to him?" Mallman asks.

"He died of exhaustion," Poochigian says. The crowd cheers.

11:05 The show is kicking into high Springsteen gear for a full house, with Ev Olcott on sax and Rich Mattson on guitar. I've seen as much Mallman in the past two days as I have over the past six years. Yet "Marathon 2" never gets boring, partly because Mallman himself can't get bored, or he'll fall asleep.

12:18 a.m. Mallman just drank a shot of Jägermeister offered by a fan. He turns to Mattson and violinist Jessy Greene, and says, "You're both looking very attractive to me right now."

Memorable lyric of the weekend: "In the roar of the book fire/Where do you keep your dreams, desire?"

 

Day Three

Monday, September 6, 3:19 p.m. Last night ended in a free jazz jam, with an overnight shift by members of Ouija Radio. Now Mallman is playing a "power ballad." "I think I'm just going to quit," he says. The sparse assemblage answers, "No!" Mallman's bruised fingers are covered in duct tape.

8:48 After an energetic hour with Martin Dosh on drums and St. Patrick Costello on bass, Mallman grows belligerent. He stuffs a banana in his mouth. "John Lennon never ate a fucking banana onstage," he says.

Signs reading, "No shots please!" (referring to alcohol, not photos) have been taped to the monitors.

10:10 After squealing a duet with saxophonist Mike Lewis, Mallman, his voice shot, has his customary backing band in place: Pony on bass, Mark Landre on guitar, and Peter Anderson back on drums. Singer to audience: "Why would I put myself through this much torture if it wasn't to have a good time?"

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