"You've seen one you've seem 'em all" is a cliché that doesn't apply to Mark Mallman shows. Although I've seen Mallman two dozen times, I still make every attempt to attend each subsequent performance because I never know what I'll miss if I don't. Saturday night, Mallman gave an intimate performance at the Bryant Lake Bowl theater where he showcased several new songs from his forthcoming album, Invincible Criminal.
He was introduced by leggy local cable TV personality Blaine Marcy of The Blaine Marcy Show, who read a specially-prepared faux Mallman biography that included excerpts from Wikipedia entries about Howard Hughes and Albert Einstein as two people in rat costumes settled down on stage to watch The Wizard of Oz on an old TV. It was clear before the show had even started just how weird it was going to be. One friend called it Andy Kaufmanesque, and she wasn't far off.
Saturday's show was a send off for Mallman, who leaves on tour next week. He will traverse the Midwest and East Coast in the weeks leading up to the official release date for Invincible Criminal August 11. He'll then celebrate the release of the album locally with a show in the First Avenue Main Room September 5. At the BLB Saturday, we were treated to the album's first single, "You're Never Alone in New York" (which features guest vocals by Craig Finn of The Hold Steady on the disc - preview that track here.) Other songs off the upcoming album that Mallman shared Saturday included the searching pop song "Eternal Moonshine" and the brooding "In These Times of Harsh Economy" that riffs on the death of 1930s bank robber John Dillinger.
Mallman's BLB shows are intimate affairs where you see a somewhat quieter side of the man famous for straddling his piano when he plays bigger rock stages. (After one song Saturday, Mallman mentioned he was glad to get the chance to play a few songs tonight he's not normally able to play for some of the rock fans in some of the roadhouses on tour.) Another treat Saturday was when Mallman pulled out a shiny red guitar (an instrument he plays, but seldom publicly) for a rendition of his 2001 song "We Only Have Each Other." The sold-out performance wrapped up in quick hour and a half, and if whetting our whistle for the new album was its purpose, I for one am looking to it.
Just the other day some fellow music fans and I were talking about how Mark Mallman's music definitely stands on its own despite his regularly over-the-top stage shows. His showmanship simply raises it all several notches and helps to focus attention where it is already deserved from an artistic standpoint alone. Hearing his songs at the BLB in their stripped-down form (he was only joined by drummer Aaron Lemay and bassist Matt Johnson) show how the new songs hold up. The show was, however, not without plenty of antics. Even the Mallwolf made an appearance at the end of the set as Mallman did a version of the upcoming album's title song "Invincible Criminal" and was then carried off stage, king-like, by his rat companions.
David de Young is the founder and theater editor of HowWasTheShow.com, a Twin Cities-based live review site.