Jandek: Live Last Night
By David Malitz
So, that was Jandek. But was it really Jandek?
The famously reclusive outsider folk musician performed his first ever D.C. concert Saturday night at an overflowing Velvet Lounge, a mere 31 years after he recorded the first of his five dozen or so self-released albums. (He started performing live in 2004.) For someone who cultivated mystery for so long -- he didn't even appear in a documentary about him -- it was downright bizarre to see him milling around the dank U Street club. He looked pale, frail and wore a three-piece suit and hat, like a character out of a '30s noir film. His performance was anything but thin, though.
(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)
Anyone hoping to hear recreations of the damaged, droning folk tunes from Jandek's records had another thing coming on Saturday. Instead of taking the stage by himself, Jandek recruits different musicians to perform with him in each town for what amounts to an extended improv jam. In Houston earlier this year he played with a bar-funk band. A short Irish tour found him making a noisy racket as part of a standard three-piece guitar/bass/drums setup. On Saturday Jandek played guitar as part of a quartet that included a drummer, spoken-word vocalist and noise manipulator on a laptop. For 45 minutes they made free-form noise. At its most harsh it had dozens of people inside the venue reaching for earplugs. The closest it ever came to melodic was when it sounded like the most hectic moments of the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray."
Jandek didn't say a word the entire set, instead focusing solely on the steely sound from his guitar, although that might be selling the sound short. It was as if someone put steel guitar strings on a garbage can lid and strummed it with a rusty fork. When the percussion picked up and a blast of noise from the laptop shot through the speakers, the crescendo was an intense, full-body experience. The vocalist -- singing in a language that was eventually determined to be "not English" -- was the most distracting element of the set, but that seemed to be the entire point. Whenever the group approached something of a groove, things veered in another direction.
Make it weird, make it different. It was the true Jandek experience after all.
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