Have you ever had a live music moment that plays your spine like a tingly zither? I did in 2010 while sitting in front of a computer watching and listening to Mark Mallman finish the debut performance of his new song, 78 hours after he began.
Wait. Let me back up a bit.
In 1999, the former Blue Video clerk and Minnesota-based Mallman (playing Tuesday at the Sunset with Carousel and The Awfully Sudden Death Of Martha G) took to the stage of St. Paul’s Turf Club and unfurled "Marathon." The 26 hour long performance was no improvised goof-off session, though—Mallman came armed with 300 pages of pre-written lyrics and a rotating cast of backup musicians that kept things moving for over a day, even as they played in an empty bar after closing time. Five years later, he doubled down with “Marathon 2." At twice the length and with no less than 75 different musicians taking turns backing him up over two days, one would have to think, “Well, nice job, guy. Good luck topping that.”
Fast-forward to 2010. “Marathon 3” started on a Thursday afternoon and busted through the finish line tape on Sunday evening, making it a 78 hour live performance that was equal parts “what the hell” and “holy shit." The man spent over three days on the same stage with backup musicians coming and going (including former Husker Du bassist Grant Norton as well as Paul “St. Paul” Peterson from The Time), the Turf Club opening and closing and opening and closing and opening and closing before opening again. I checked the webcast periodically to see what was going on—about 36 hours into it, he was alone at his keyboard playing deep ambient chords that sounded like Mr. Sandman’s top-shelf pillow talk. It swiftly pulled me into sleep within minutes and when I woke up, he was still going. Still going! Looking in later, I saw a doctor on stage making sure that Mallman (sometimes called Mr. Serious) was not risking death to make music. The later I checked in all weekend thinking he would be burnt toast, the more I was proven wrong. He was still upright and animated. Rock and roll had given way to adrenaline and Teflon.
This excellent running diary of "Marathon 3" makes for fascinating reading, but here’s the climax that gave me shivers. This video proof is even better news for Mallman, who says he can’t remember the last several hours of this performance. (Finale begins at 0:55)
Last month, Mallman took it up a notch with "Marathon 4", only this time the venue was a van travelling from NYC to LA with stops along the way to play in front of crowds. Additionally, he got to sleep while travelling as a heart-rate monitor and brain scanning devices translated his body’s psychic and physical activity into music. And now he’s coming to Seattle to play a bunch off much, much shorter songs for you.
“Well, gee, Jason,” you ask, looking out the window and picking your nose, “are the songs any good?”
Well, I’ve only heard the title cut off of his new release, Double Silhouette, but it fits in all jigsaw-like with Mallman’s brand of edgy but driven piano pop. He’s offering a free six-song sampler for download on his website if you require a bit more persuasion, but the man certainly knows how to put on a live show, even if it’s just for 45 minutes instead of a three-day weekend.