South California Jandek Report 13.1.2011

Tiivistelmä suomeksi: Nikolai Sadik-Ogli kertoo raportissaan Etelä Kalifornialaisella Irvinen yliopistokampuksella pidetystä Jandekin konsertista sekä muista siihen liittyvistä taidetaphtumista.

Jandek is the artistic moniker used by a musician from Houston, Texas who has released over 60 albums since 1978 on his own independent record label Corwood Industries. He has only been interviewed twice and did not give any public performances until 2004. Otherwise, he has continued to maintain complete secrecy regarding other aspects of his life. Tisue’s website is the best place to learn more (and to follow-up the references made below) about this fascinating and prolific artist:

On Saturday, January 8, 2011, Jandek played for the first time in Southern California at the Crystal Cove Auditorium in the Student Building at UC Irvine. The maximum room capacity was 96, so there were probably about 75 people there. The only on-site advertising was a paper sign inside the lobby.

The LA Weekly made the interesting comment that “it’s a magical surreal time, made even more so by the fact that he’s playing in the creepy, Stepford-like pseudocity of Irvine.” As the area was primarily composed of corporate parks and the University, it had a perfectly spooky and deserted, yet crisp and ultramodern, vibe on such a quiet Saturday. The distant high rises provided the perfect atmosphere, like the background on the cover of 0790 or the second series of Summersteps photographs.

Such curious external correspondences extended to the venue. Most noticeably, just before the show started, there was some kind of Magic: The Gathering or Society for Creative Anachronism meeting occurring in the downstairs area, where participants were dressed in Medieval garb, singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and shouting “Aye!” to vote on issues, somewhat like the concepts explored by Myth of Blue Icicles and Canticle of Castaway, or the dramatic cover of 0791.

More to the point, there was a small exhibit in the lobby of Ansel Adams’s black and white photographs taken at various UC campuses, including Davis and Irvine. Some images of the dramatic buildings or, conversely, the beautiful rolling landscapes, were very reminiscent of certain album covers.

Surprisingly, as all of the other California shows have started in complete silence, there was opening music playing from a laptop that had been provided by the promoter, including an extremely atmospheric, though appropriately slightly harsh, piece by a band named Growing.

Bassist Mike Watt stood his ground like Roy Orbison on bass and B. J. Miller pounded the drum kit like a caveman to back Jandek’s extended minimalist guitar solo and occasional sparse and abstract lyrics. Miller started the show with a striking series of dramatically spaced hits. Typically, the lighting switched between red to blue.

Jandek, in black, was unusually dramatic while playing, spinning around, squatting down, and walking around, turning his back to the audience. He even sat down on an amplifier, once to play slide guitar (not heard on album since 0761). There were no breaks in the set, only continuous sound, except the unexpected, when Miller broke his snare drum, apparently by actually snapping the stem of the stand, thereby rendering it useless. In typical fashion, Jandek soldiered on, with only the tribal tom toms as support for the last part of the performance. The guitar solo was very sparse and noisy, relying heavily on ever-changing effects.

Lyrically, he did not use any notebook. Jandek first advised that he was walking down the street, along with many other people doing the same. The lyrics also included a direct question to the audience: “I don’t know why you’re so interested in me,” followed by “but I’m not going anywhere.” There was a brief broken word piece, wondering why people were standing on a corner smoking. Also, “you said it was all an accident” to which he responded with an ironic: “I know” (while also stopping his guitar playing and stretching out his arms, thus heightening the comedic effect of the delivery) and further “there was a plan.” “I nestled in your cradle, I drank of your nectar / it lasted forever, I didn’t mind at all.”

The enthusiastic audience gave Jandek a standing ovation, but there are no encores, outro music was played instead.

It is curious that Jandek selects such genteel and sit-down, slightly out-of-way performance venues. Then again, he has always been associated with college radio and small towns (such as Point Judith, Chilicothe, and Katy Vine’s Appleton Wisconsin story). Both Davis and Irvine were presented in areas that contained no other distractions nearby, no bars, shops or main drags, thus allowing for complete concentration on the music and event at hand. This is clearly Jandek’s basic approach and philosophy, from his refusal to divulge personal information, to sending his product unannounced to radio and retailers, and releasing most of his concerts, his work ethic and power of concentration, uniformity, and thoroughness is staggering.

Other items of interest in the LA area, which I was not able to check out:

Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge, through February 14, 2011:

In many ways, the juxtaposition of the characters behind these two exhibits – meaning the extremely avant-garde, experimental, conceptual, abstract, structural and architectural challenges presented by Xennakis coupled against the down-to-earth, totally American, drunk, vindictive, involved and literary world of Bukowski – perfectly embodies Jandek’s art, aesthetic, and work.