I had the extreme fortune of attending what I'm believing to be a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience this past weekend -- I found myself a mere fifteen feet from the elusive Jandek. The *free* show had been on my calendar for months and I walked into the Mendelssohn Theatre feeling as if I was about to have a religious experience. Before I begin, I want to state that I am in no way a Jandek scholar and everything I know about the artist has been culled from the dustiest corners of the internet (the internet has many corners, by the way). I've known about his music for years and never imagined that I'd see him live.
But let's rewind a bit... I showed up to the theatre about 45 minutes before the doors opened. I figured that this would be a show of mixed attendance -- the hipsters, the blue hairs, the freaks, the geeks, the curious, and the cheap ones looking to kill a couple of hours for free. Looking back, it seems like a fair demographic breakdown (there are also combinations -- how many can you come up with?!).
Humans are easily herded, but after grabbing my event poster and WCBN programming guide, I broke from the crowd and opted for the farther door since it was wide open and apparently invisible to everyone else. While I was a little bummed that the center had filled up within the "I-can-read-the-name-on-his-guitar's-headstock" range, I gladly accepted my place in the second row of the right block of seats. Just imagine my surprise when the curtain ascended and at the right-most of the stage was the black-clad enigma himself, dead in front of me. Without an introduction from an emcee or so much as a word or nod to the audience from the man himself, the performance began.
From the music that I heard that night (and in the past) from Jandek, his harpischordist, his trumpeter and his interpretive dancer, I feel like I can comfortably say that he is not everyone's cup of tea. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's nobody's cup of tea because it's not even tea at all -- his atonal blues are like the aggregate of all the soils from which all herbs that make tea spring. It's basic, it's gritty, it's complex and pure at the same time. I think that a lot of this purity comes from minimal influence from the outside (from his MySpace "I think my sound is very personal and internal. I don't think i really sound like anyone in particular." Understatement alert!)... it seems that Jandek crafts music like he's never heard it before and it's beautiful, like watching a baby discover their hand. Furthermore, his well-documented low-key status seems to help and it reminds me of N. Senada's "Theory of Obscurity" in action, although he's not prone to hiding his face, just himself.
Instrumentally, improvisation seemed like the word of the night all across the board, though I'm sure his word's are one constant in his performances as he flipped a page after each song. I think that after 53 albums from one man (collective?) in thirty years, it's fair to carry some lyrics (e.g. I've got 3 neckties and a glass of gin/I change my necktie every hour/I'm watching the declining level of liquid in my glass [paraphrased from memory]).
One particular phenomenon that I'd like to recall is the mass exodus after every song. Mixed in with the applause were hushed Excuse Mes and lurching theater seats, springing back up towards the ceiling. I do not understand these people. Who and what did they come for? What did they expect? Had they heard Jandek's work before or were they merely looking for a taste of the man elusive as Bigfoot and simply found out the hard way that they couldn't hang? I tend to think it was the latter, but what I know is that to appreciate him is to truly invest yourself in his work. It's a trial in patience and tolerance -- overall, I think Westerners are conditioned to want a hook or a groove, but you're left wanting with his music, and I like that.
By the end of the two hour set and roughly 8 fifteen-minute songs, the show ended as he stood from his stool, unstrapped his five-string, hollow-bodied bass and walked off the stage with a Standing Oh before him. The crowd dispersed and I headed outside to the rear of the theater to catch a glimpse of the man/myth a bit closer. After mulling around for about 15 minutes and catching him through the Green Room window, he emerged with his guitar and black attache case (his notes, I think) in hand. There he was.
Here he comes.
I had my poster in hand ready to ask him to sign it, but something about that seemed to cheapen the experience. Instead, I just extended my hand as he approached with his face hidden by the brim of the black hat he'd worn onstage. He stopped, crouched just enough to set his guitar down, and we lightly shook. He did this all with his head down and disappeared into the parking structure.
The experience couldn't have ended better.