Monday, July 23, 2007

Jandek @ Rose Marine Theater

Based on the admittedly small amount of research I've done on Jandek, I would venture to say that his show at Rose Marine Theater on Saturday night was one of the most structured and digestible performances he's given since his emergence from anonymity a couple years ago. This is not to say that the music wasn't strange, because it was; and it's also not as if Saturday was the first time he's ventured into the realm of more traditionally structured music, because it wasn't. It's just that the unique combination of musicians accompanying him on Saturday night helped to make his music sound quite different than most of the recorded Jandek material I've heard, and for the most part, this had the effect of bringing his vision closer to tangible, every day life than I imagined it ever could be.

Ok, let me explain. To me, Jandek's music brings to mind Sigmund Freud's initial conception of dreams and the unconscious. Particularly in his early material (with which I am most familiar), Jandek's method of writing, playing and recording music seemed to draw the listener into the dark, playful and often painful world of the unconscious through the dreamlike atmosphere of the material. Just as Freud believed that dreams were something of an open door into the unconscious, Jandek's music acts as a gateway to the darkest and most inexplicable spaces of the artist's mind, inviting you into a world of surrealist images, random thoughts and flowing, often structureless sounds that seem to be guided by anything but coherent rationality. Essentially, Jandek songs remind me of those last few moments before you fall asleep at night, as you slowly lose control of your thoughts while maintaining awareness of them as you drift off. And more than just about any other musician I can think of, it sounds, at least to me, that Jandek is trying to make some kind of direct presentation of his unconscious existence, turning songs and lyrics into bits and pieces of surreal dreamscapes as he invites the listener inside his mind.

What made Saturday so different was the pull between the aforementioned qualities of Jandek's music and the performances of Ryan Williams, Will Johnson, Ralph White and Susan Alcorn. Although the music they played was fairly abstract, formless and experimental by most standards, the elements of jazz, folk and country that were apparent throughout the set seemed to keep Jandek's vocal and harmonica performance grounded in waking life, not quite permitting him to go to the deeper, darker place he goes in much of his most striking recorded material. This might sound like a bad thing at first, but it was honestly quite intriguing. As the bits and pieces of more traditional American music faded in and out of the largely avant garde set, it became quite exciting to watch Jandek interact with a group of musicians that seemed to come together quite well despite having no idea what to expect. Although under most circumstances their performances would qualify as subtle and strange, with Jandek, the music often came across as bold and colorful, revealing ways in which his haunting vision could work in an entirely different musical context while honoring the abstract nature of his work. The backing musicians seemed to effectively challenge Jandek to work and interact with them, pulling his highly introverted style outwards while giving him the space he needed to remain in the personal zone he seems to invite us all into. These contradictions between the band and their leader created a tangible tension in the room that made his performance quite powerful despite the fact that he always maintained the detached and self involved persona that makes his music so intimate yet so foreign. It was as if the audience was being invited back into Jandek's house, just like we are on his records, only this time, he had friends over. And he wasn't exactly sure about them just yet.

Of course, I've probably heard less than 1/4 of his vast catalogue, and there very well could be many other instances of such interaction in Jandek's history (I'm aware that he has recorded with other people, for example). It's just that it was great to see him play live with complete strangers, participating in a give and take that I couldn't possibly have imagined the first time I heard his first album. And I'm sure that back when he was recording Ready for the House in 1978, he probably couldn't have imagined himself on a stage in Ft. Worth either, playing in front of a group of people that were happy to once again explore his mind.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any photos?

8:49 AM  
Anonymous wanz said...

One of the best shows I have seen this year. A truly unique experience.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if it will be put on dvd, there as that guy recording it and they had a rig set up to record the sound.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only in Fort Worth.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Youmans was asked to video the show when Lee Daniel had to drop out. He left the tapes with Craig and Jandek before we went home, so I would assume footage will show up eventually.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.
at least stoney attended and cares enough to write about shows. and gives us a forum to complain!

i'm sorry. i meant to say go fuck yourself.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone see all the people in the back with lights and notebooks I'm assuming they were doing write ups of the show, the only ones I have come accross are this one and the Dallas MOrning News one.

2:58 PM  
Blogger The IMG said...


3:12 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

It was probably someone from the observer writing another angry story about how Jandek isn't "real music" or something.

3:13 PM  
Blogger DTC said...

i saw the startlegram had a surprisingly good review of the show.

i personally thought the show was great. i kinda thought i was taking a gamble w/ my money on that, as ive heard even less of the catalog than SR has, but I was quite pleasantly surprised.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

I didn't have a notebook. I kind of wish I did. But I decided to review it anyways.

So here it is:


He was pale, sallow and gaunt in matching gray with a top hat, like a relic from another time & place who’d been holed up for years in a dim basement boardroom on a subsistence diet of bread and water. Yet his presence was stern and commanding, and utterly confident, as befitting his unofficial status as a mythological creature. You could sense that the assembled players had not only the utmost respect for this man, but also a little fear. Fear of the unknown.

One person who held no fear was the Corwood representative himself. Utterly unafraid of utilizing to the maximum his strained, off-key, monotone voice that makes “pop music critics” like Thor Christensen get up and walk out. Unafraid of using his drawn-out, stilted, narcoleptic phrasing to conjure fractured daydream vignettes, and unafraid to let loose jarring bursts of harmonica frenzy out of the dead silent stillness.

His songs are really surrealist short stories, drawn out slowly and tensely. He woke up in a hotel bathtub, his wallet got stolen, he went to the manager to complain. It’s impossible in this space to convey how dark and dramatic this Burroughs-esque episode was, or to explain that the most dramatic moment was when they brought him fresh towels.

As stonedranger alluded to, the fresh and bright playing of the quartet behind him at times re-focused the tension into oddly uplifting tomes with a true forward thrust, as opposed to the sometimes stifling morbidity of much of the Corwood canon. In one memorable number, the Corwood rep claimed to find God, swinging his right arm back and forth almost like a marionette as he lyrically swept the streets clean, with Will Johnson’s drum brushes and jig-like beat giving this awkward yet earnest Zombie shuffle the feel of some kind of odd, celebratory number in a musical production gone wrong.

Time and time again, the representative of Corwood Industries would build a foundation of tension and uncertainty, each deliberately almost-half-spoken line adding to the gravitas, which he would then punctuate with piercing shrieks of harmonica, stabbing like a knife.

Susan Alcorn was a revelation. Despite her renown in the realm of improvised music, I’d never had the opportunity to see this unique Houston-bred pedal steel player. Generally playing the dissonant foil to the versatile Ralph White (who alternated between pretty violin work and mesmerizing thumb piano that only added to the David Lynchian vibe), she did unimaginable things with the pedal steel. Clawing, scratching, scraping, thudding, as well as bending some oddly beautiful passages, using her slide and perhaps other objects in unconventional ways, Alcorn stole the show at times. Despite being a true virtuoso at her instrument, Alcorn was the one player who was simply reckless and abrasive, in contrast to White’s consonant and textbook style, and the rhythm section’s easy-going, palatable manner. Without this, the backing band would have lacked the ugliness necessary to effectively flesh out the darkness and unpredictability of Jandek’s songs.

Unpredictable being the key operative word.

To me, as an improvised player (though I’m way closer to hack status than anybody in Jandek’s band), I could not stop marveling at the process that was unfolding before us. This randomly assembled band, who had only met at soundcheck, would begin a number, usually with one of the quartet driving the outset in some way. The Corwood representative would then, apparently, mentally flip through a cache of songs that he came prepared to perform, and choose the appropriate one that fit the initial strains of music. It’s possible he predetermined the songs and order, but the sense I got was that he simply chose the songs to fit the intros.

Then, as the vocals cut in and the subject matter began to reveal itself, the music re-shaped itself to fit the story. Time and time again, this is the way it occurred, the cart pulling the dog, and then the dog steering the cart.

There was so much going on between the lines, so much reaction and counter-reaction in that auditorium, so much palpable thought and feeling put into each musical direction, that alone made it a stimulating and memorable musical experience. The fact that the art itself came out golden, and thanks in large part to the rhythm section’s ever-forward brightening of the corners, made it unforgettable, and to me the best show of the year.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

was not the best show people.
too bad everyone is from texas and has no idea about avante garde. really it was complacent music. jaw breaking yawns were had by all. when it was over i ran out of the fucking place.

The communication amongst strangers on stage was second rate.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gosh, if I only knew about avant-garde!

6:12 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

nice review MC...Susan Alcorn was very very good, and I'm glad you mentioned it because I, for some reason, kind of skipped over her performance.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Sam Machkovech said...

FYI, I've seen Thor leave a few concerts early. In particular, he split at the last Rolling Stones concert in Dallas barely halfway through. And that fucker had a $300 seat.

Not that we're talking about the Stones here... but you get my drift.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Wildcat said...

Re: 5:13

Yeah I agree that Jandek was surprisingly charismatic and projected a great deal of confidence for all the claims of reclusivity. I liked how he seemed to be enjoying the show himself, and I bet that was encouraging to the other players. I really like how Alcorn answered Stone Dranger's question, "is it a good thing that he's playing this show?"...

Alcorn: "Well, he as a human being, just like you and me, if he wants to play live, then I think it's a good thing that he is playing."

So he came, he played, and seemed to have a good time. Happy ending.

Also 5:13, those lyrics that you mention..."sweeping the streets clean" and something like "gonna work for the peeoplllllllllle" are examples of the types of platitudes he sang all night long. Why did he rely on those so much?

And did you see Will Johnson using fly swatters on the drums?

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't know if I'm the only one, but I think about George Costanza's Vandalay Industries everytime I read Corwood Industries.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if avant garde = out of tune unlistenable singing & harmonica playing then this was indeed that. Liked the band shame about the talentless frontman

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those of you that find something fascinating about Jandek what exactly is it? I guess I do not get it. Does he improv his sets? Do you like him because he is doing something "different?" If someone else used his style for their basis of music making would you like them too?

I am really not looking for negative responses. Can someone please explain it to me????? I am being serious!

9:08 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

Well, I tried to explain as best I could in my review (a couple of comments above). In all honesty, I was not the hugest Jandek fan before. You have to be in a pretty special mood to enjoy his recordings sometimes (Ready For the House is I think my favorite) .... but the intensity of this performance made a much bigger fan out of me for sure.

7:41 AM  

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