The Church Of Jandek

September 09, 2005

We should start by saying that the most amazing thing about Jandek is that he looks as anonymous in person as he's actually been his whole career. After staring at him for an hour on Wednesday night, we're not sure if we would recognize him on the street, unless of course he was wearing that dark black shirt buttoned all the way up (other reports claim the shirt is purple) and that black hat with the tan leather tassel. Your man is insanely skinny, probably about 60-ish, and seriously menacing in his confident shyness—he's self-contained in the strictest sense.

Jandek's band consists of a pretty great drummer who plays sort of like the most straight-ahead free jazz drummer you can imagine—lots of tom pounding and out of time cymbal work—and a double bassist armed with a bow. We were seated Indian style on the floor behind a huge column on our left and behind some dude in a chair who refused to let us sit in front of him on the right so we couldn't see shit, especially not the bassist. Really the whole experience required a deep asceticism that we're not really down with—I mean shit, sometimes you have a beer before a show and might need to go to the bathroom, or maybe you'd like to whisper something to your holmie about the music. Regardless, insane reverence was the order of the night, from the treatment of Jandek as a fragile deity (the crowd awaited his entrance through a trap door in the floor in silence) to the extreme discomfort (an audience jam packed into a small circular room, seated on the floor).

The music was cool. When Jandek picked up his guitar he tuned it to some kind of homemade non-tuning, then proceeded to hit precisely the wrong note at every moment throughout the night. I mean that's the whole thing, isn't it? Jandek has his own very specific brand of nonsense; a nonsense so well organized (or pointedly disorganized) that it ultimately makes it's own sense. In other words, it's as far from chaos as a perfect melody. His singing is kind of a droning half-sing, and is well matched with the understated bowed bass. So you have a sort of tribal pounding from the drums matched with sliding wrong notes from the guitar on one hand, and the low stasis of the bass and voice on the other. The way it organizes the room, bouncing off the walls and coming to you in all directions, puts you in a mind space that's like church really—there's nothing to pay attention to because you're watching a ritual rather than events with a plot, so what you're left with is your own private thoughts. Or, in the cases of quite a few people sprinkled around the audience, you're left nodding off into sleep.

About fourty-five minutes into the set our legs hurt and we had, indeed, had a beer before the show and did, indeed, need to go to the bathroom. Badly. So when a song ended, we got up to leave during the applause, which required quite a bit of leaning and careful stepping and one dude getting up to make room but trying to stay under the camera filming above him. We whispered a lot of apologies. The room was quite small and it was quite an awkward thing to have to walk right by Jandek to get out—he seemed to sort of wait for us to make our exit before starting the next song. We felt bad, and the audience seemed to be losing its collective mind that we were leaving (he never performs ever!), but we have no excuse. And do we need one? We had seen Jandek and immersed ourselves in our own weird thoughts according to his own weird sounds, and it was great. But ultimately the night held other things, too.

Posted: September 09, 2005
The Church Of Jandek