I knew it was going to be weird when I saw the sign out front of Sammy Sortino’s a.k.a. Slammers that welcomed “Piano Man Mark Mallman.” When I walked in, the guy who took my money said, “You here to see Mark Malberg?” Uh, you man Mallman? “Mallberg.” OK.
The show was supposed to start at 7:30. I got there at 8:30 and the opening acoustic guy playing cover songs was still on stage. He went on to play for another hour.
Mallman didn’t mind. Including me, there was only three people there to see him play. He said the venue wouldn’t let him use the big P.A. stacked on either side of the stage. Instead he was told to use a couple tiny Peavey amps the size of cereal boxes. That meant that he wasn’t going to be able to do his regular show, which involved he and a drummer playing on top of prerecorded instrument tracks – supposedly recreating the full sound heard on his records. Instead, his drummer watched with the rest of us, videotaping Mallman’s solo set. Lord knows he wanted a record of his gig in Omaha.
I guess it was the kind of disaster show that all touring bands dread. Here was a guy who, just a year ago, opened for Head of Femur at an SRO Sokol Underground show. His records are released on one of the more respected indie labels – Badman Records – home to such acts as My Morning Jacket, Mark Kozelek, Rebecca Gates and Hayden. And now here he was, playing in an Omaha pizza restaurant, propped up on a riser looking at row upon row of empty tables. Let’s face it, he could have bagged — he could have simply canceled the gig and passed up his portion of the $15 door. But instead he hunkered down and pulled out a memorable solo set that included a couple songs from his self-released comp CD, which I highly recommend you find. Heck, Mallman didn’t even mind when someone walked up to the stage between songs and asked him to play a cover – any cover. “I might be on a great indie label but I’m not too big to do a cover,” he said before going on to do a half-assed version of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” that included a few new lyrics written especially for the occasion. Priceless.
I gotta tell you, Mallman has a helluva voice and knows what he’s doing on a piano. The whole set sounded kind of Elton John/Billy Joel-esque, and I think he knew it. His songs, however, took on a darker hue when sung alone. I talked to him before the show as he was compiling his set list, crossing off songs he couldn’t do solo. He said he felt kind of weird playing songs about loneliness, death and incarceration while families sat around and ate pizza and watched the Yankees. Let’s hope Mr. Mallberg — uh Mallman — has better luck tonight in Denver. He deserves it.
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