“You’re never alone in New York,” Mark Mallman sings in “Invincible Criminal” off his latest record. With his over-the-top personality, oodles of talent and explosive shows, Mallman seems guaranteed to never be alone just about anywhere. He brought a taste of his ultra-dramatic, neo-glam to the Hi-Dive on Friday night and from midnight to last call, left the stage drenched in sweat.
Mallman’s stage shows have a reputation for being wild affairs, and Friday’s was no different. The show nearly burst through the seams of the Hi-Dive’s cramped space when, at one point, Mallman actually hit ceiling tiles while swinging a keyboard, Daltrey-style, by a guitar strap, causing a fair amount of debris to fall onto him and the stage. He and drummer Aaron Lemay brought the glam and circumstance back to rock for over almost two hours with a show worthy of an arena — and the small area only made it more incendiary.
He donned alternate personalitie, all of them full of the heroic, Broadway-style pop of Elton John or a Freddy Mercury filtered through a Darby Crash aesthetic (as the show went on, wearing a different jacket for each one). While Lemay pounded his trapset nonstop, Mallman did everything you might imagine to, on, below, behind and around his large keyboard, and more to a mid-sized synth mounted on a stand that looked like a stepladder, complete with the aforementioned guitar strap, while prerecorded tracks filled out the rest of the band.
They played anthem after anthem, some slightly dour, like “Executioner” and “Simply In the Distance,” some wryly hilarious, such as “Invincible Criminal,” “Hardcore Romantics” and “Do You Feel Like Breaking Up?” But none were as downright uplifting as “True Love” or the electrifying “White Leather Days.” Through these songs Mallman channelled the most resilient and dreamy optimism around which the late John Hughes built his movies. The place felt like it’d been transported into any of hundreds of ‘80s “brat-pack” scenes, full of the triumphs of the main characters.
As the set wrapped, Mallman calmed the crowd and (unsuccessfully) asked them to observe a “moment of silence” to prepare them for what ended up being a truly rousing cover of Peter Gabriel’s ‘80s MTV anthem “Sledgehammer.” The song had never sounded so good, or so oddly relevant to me — and I doubt it ever will again.
Local wildman A. Tom Collins — former frontman for Machine Gun Blues — opened for Mallman with his five-piece band and filled the Hi-Dive with a resplendent, cabaret-meets-drunken-ragtime set. Collins’ vocals — like a raspy, inebriated Randy Newman — matched perfectly with the jazzy three-piece horn section, stand up bass and drums as he belted out drunken ballads. I swear I’m going to be happily hollering “F*** the beautiful people” in my head for weeks now, thanks to them.
Dave Gannon is a Denver photographer and new contributor to Reverb.