Jandek review by Kate Silver Oct 28, 2006
Not long ago I worked in a record store in Minneapolis with a Jandek section to rival the Dave Matthews Band display at your local Best Buy. It took several re-orders (they were surprisingly popular) before curiosity drove me to choose from the cheapie discs with stark photographs of that guy, like Boo Radley-meets-Danny Partridge, and play Staring at the Cellophane (1982) on the store’s stereo. “Michael, ” drafty and detached, wasn’t the loneliest sound I’d ever heard (I kept a copy of Big Star’s Third handy), but certainly came close. After that selling Jandek records became something of a joke: “Can you recommend a Jandek record? ” “What’s the most accessible Jandek record? ” To my ears it’s not the most difficult music. Every so often he stumbles into a great melody.
Like many, I imagine, seeing photos of his first performance in Glasgow came as a shock. Not only was he live onstage, but he’d aged! When you’re repeatedly faced with photos of someone in their twenties, they take on a Peter Pan-aura.
My reaction to him in the flesh was even more visceral—barely a wisp of a man, dressed in black with a fedora concealing his twisty pencil-neck. I tensed up a bit. The group—including Quasi’s Sam Coomes on bass, drummer Emil Amos (Holy Sons) and two unidentified women, all from Portland—walked onstage without a sound. But the quiet-loud clang that came immediately after was rapturous; crisp, meandering chords mirroring Sun City Girls and the Dead C. Coomes’ leaden bass, when played on the high end, stood in for a rhythm guitar. Between vibrant snare fills, Amos joined him for an unexpected groove, leaving Jandek to pick away at his piercing, precisely de-tuned electric guitar.
Jandek’s vocals are barely aged from the nubile redhead we’ve seen; dragged around the same muddy gulch as the Delta blues gone awry: cooing and nasal, like early Dylan trailing his consonants through “How you build rock houses for young girl’s dolls. ” Then he went Ginsberg and the whole thing—rumbling bass, fedora, xylophone, “a whisper of the music wafting in the air ”—was a little much. As was the vocal team-up of the two women, which sounded like the Shining twins had formed a band. Apart, they added just the right element of mystique when approaching his vague lyrics ( “I return to the habit of just loving you ”) with a hint of charisma. Jandek spent most of the performance with his back to the audience, in part to cover his one-note styling. As a friend pointed out, the set’s loose blues with a jazz structure was so well rehearsed it came off effortless. Near the end Amos lay in front of his kit and thumped the bass drum, rocking his feet in count. I was so caught up in the subtle grooves and builds that I forgot Jandek was even there. They’d swelled into a marvelous experimental group. And then with the same switch of the amp they dematerialized. No encore.
Kate Silver is a writer and Seattle Weekly contributor. She recommends Telegraph Melts.