* Who: Jeffrey Gaines, Alana Davis and Jesse Malin
* When: 7:30 p.m. today
* Where: The Birchmere, Alexandria
Here's a musical bargain -- three fine singer-songwriters at one of the area's nicest listening rooms, at $5.50 per act. Although Jeffrey Gaines is listed as headliner, each of the artists could hold the room as the main event, so arrive early.
Jesse Malin hasn't played the Birchmere. Speaking from an Australian airport on his "worldwide 'Get Smart' shoe phone" during a quick swing Down Under, Malin's New York accent and cheerfully sarcastic attitude were undimmed.
"It's like a hard-core, punk-tattooed, jumping-off-the-balcony-kind-of-place?" he said, teasingly. That's the kind of club he frequented as a young musician in the Big Apple and the kind he played with his first major-league band, the glam-punk outfit D Generation.
Malin's got a new bag now, packed with beautifully crafted, roots-deep songs from his acclaimed debut solo CD, "The Fine Art of Self Destruction," which features musical contributions from producer and drinking buddy Ryan Adams.
Contrasting his styles old and new, Malin explained, "We stripped away a lot of the loud Marshall stack guitars, but it's still a rock band. It's still about my songs." The punk past was "a good life," he said, but he grew tired of "people talking about the hairdo and the shoes and not the music and the lyrics. I think Neil Young is more punk rock than a kid with triple piercings in his eyebrows."
Malin plans a future date in the area with a full band. The Birchmere date is a rare chance to hear him in a solo acoustic show.
Jeffrey Gaines spoke briefly about the show while caught in Philadelphia during the recent holiday weekend blizzard . "It's like the North Pole. It's crazy," he said with a laugh, though as a native of Harrisburg, Pa, he knows the cold-weather drill.
Gaines is also playing material from a new CD, "Toward the Sun," and initial response has been so good that he was offered an opening slot on Tori Amos's current tour, a great opportunity that nearly scuttled his Birchmere appearance.
"We had to reroute a couple of things," he said. His schedule has become a patchwork of dates, switching from club headliner to arena opening slots -- some dates with his full band, some by himself with a guitar. Even Gaines finds it hard to keep track.
"By the time the Birchmere comes around, with all these different schedules that I'm juggling with musicians, it may be something even more stripped down."
The one constant, Gaines said, is an ongoing relationship with his audience that has survived many years on the road, record label changes and the misguided -- and unheeded -- advice to change his style.
"Of course, when you put an album out, everybody else is invited," he said. "A million other people are invited if they choose to get on board, but I don't have to rethink what it is that I've been doing and come up with a whole new sound, chasing fame. I see these 'American Idol' shows -- there are people who want to chase it down at any [expletive] cost. That's not how I'm doing it."
-- Marianne Meyer
The Birchmere is at 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. Tickets are $16.50 for general admission and available at 703-573-7328 or at www.ticketmaster.com. For more information,call 703-549-7500 or visit www.birchmere.com.