Jandek - Live at On The Boards in Seattle WA - October 27th, 2006
I don't own any Jandek records, nor have I seen the documentary Jandek on Corwood. I have heard a few of his records at friends' houses over the years, and I'm completely fascinated with his story. Who else has been this highly prolific, successfully disjunct from the music world for 25 of his almost 30 years of recording history, and consistently reputable in the operations of independent label Corwood Industries? Moreover, why did Jandek decide to end his reclusiveness just recently? Why not?
All these questions, musings, past show reviews, and stories were swirling in my head moments before he was to take the stage. Then the announcer came to introduce the band. The players, Emil Amos on drums, Sam Coomes on bass, and Liz Harris & Jessica Dennison on additional vocals walked out to applause. Then Jandek strolled out to greater applause, completely unphased by the adoration. He was oddly deliberate as he strapped on his guitar, and plugged it into his amplifier, only intensifying the anticipation.
So, what does Jandek's music sound like?
The best answer I can offer is another question. What does insomnia sound like?
Insomnia feels slightly ill, yet one is firmly grounded. The fight to prevent the body's urge to shut itself down for the day is not sabotaged after all. There are side effects. An insomniac often finds oneself trying to put two and two together to form a coherent pattern only to have a third element come along to involuntarily derail the attempt to mentally bind the former two. Thoughts become verbal in neither a spoken nor sung voice. The brain has neither the energy to allow these words or thoughts to follow a speaking pattern nor cling to a single note without dropping down the pitch. There's a constant battle between frustration, angst, euphoria, and meditation -- all which serve to prevent oneself from realizing that "Goddamnit! I can't go to sleep! WHY??"
Jandek was in complete control over a backing band who were well trained soldiers that were seemingly sleep deprived, yet they fought hard and did their job. All Jandek had to do was turn his head slowly to the band to let them know when a song was going to end, and the song would end. Jandek, Harris, and Dennison took turns thoughout the set singing the lyrics on music stands purposely showing no emotion or drive, letting each his or her lack of struggle to hold onto a note falter.
This was a strange juxtaposition to Jandek's occasional slow paced knee strutter as he concentrated on playing jarring dissonant chords and singular notes in no set rhythm pattern. Guitar resonance was avoided as much as possible. Whenever Jandek made a "right" sound, it was clearly a mistake.
Coomes and Amos were an excellent, dynamic rhythm section that provided the two elements of groove that occasionally blended, only to have Jandek turn around and fire off another round of guitar sickness to obfuscate the groove. Coomes played blues-y bass lines that were the main rhythm foundation, whereas Amos followed both Coomes and Jandek, erratically petting and exploding all over his drum set alternately. Harris and Dennison made for great still life vocal counterparts to Jandek's singing, all coming together on the long, loud, and disturbing song involving a repeating chorus with the lyric "You Belong To Me".
Jandek may not know or care about the early 80's days of Glenn Branca or Sonic Youth, however the louder songs of the set did bring these two artists to mind. There was no way to make other such comparisons with the slower songs. Amos got up during one such song only to lie on the floor in front of his rig as he softly tapped the front of his kick drum with his soft mallets. Amos could have been in a mild trance halfway through -- until, of course, Jandek turned around.
I wasn't sure if my amazement with the show was due to the band's ability to make me feel like I had mentally lost something I did not lose, or the fact that it took me ten minutes after the show to realize I had witnessed The Legendary Jandek as opposed to possibly one of the most unique live bands I've ever seen. Mysterious musicians are fun to talk about, but musicans who are extremely subtle masters of deliberation make one speechless.