Last Night: Jandek At Big Star Bar

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Photos by Jason Wolter
Jandek
Big Star Bar
April 1, 2012

The first time I saw Jandek live, I learned to leave whatever I had been expecting in another room. That was Rudyard's in April 2009, and I had been expecting (correctly or not) some kind of solo Bill Callahan-like avant-folk implosion, and got a trio playing a solid 75-minute slab of granite-thick funk.

This time I had a vague idea of what was going to happen, thanks to Ben Wesley's interview in last week's issue. This time, after three separate pieces of music across two solid hours Sunday at Big Star Bar, I still don't know what to think. But it was definitely something.

Joining Smith were three local musicians: Wesley and Mike Naus, who records electronic music under the name Vertigo Blue, both on keyboards; and SPIKE the Percussionist, who was working some kind of complicated sequencer/piece of equipment that to call a "drum machine" would not be doing justice. Before the show, Spike said that the four of them had rehearsed for a couple of hours earlier that day, but other than that the performance was completely off the cuff.

So a few squelchy keyboard warmups, an enormous bass pulse to give things some structure, and then a slamming techno beat took hold and they were off. Occasionally a playful-sounding keyboard line would creep into the mix. Much later the music resembled psychotic rockabilly surf jazz, or at least that's what I wrote down. It was pretty visceral.

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This time it was easy to understand why people like Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore have such reverence for Jandek. With a distorted, metallic tone, it was fascinating to listen to what Smith was doing with his guitar - listening to him navigate whatever he was hearing in his head, you could read how he steering from one change to the next on his face. It was like listening to a side-by-side translation at the UN or something.

He interspersed these passages with a gruff three-part vocal recitation of sorts. (I wouldn't call it singing.) The first was a series of free-associative lines introduced with the words "love is": "Love is like the fading sun," "love is a bright afternoon," "love is like the birth of spring."

The music was about as far away as those pastoral, serene images in the text as you can probably imagine, until the players took a brief pause and started in on hate: "Hate is another day with you," "hate is a fence around the house," "hate is the bottom line," "hate is what I have for you." Perhaps the irony, or the point, is that to Jandek love and hate sound like the same thing.

After another pause, the third piece lasted a full hour and did not seem to have any discernible theme. From what I wrote down (and it was hard to tell what Smith was saying, especially in the third part), it seemed to be a conversation with someone: "Tell me your secrets," "just tell me," "if I told you, they wouldn't be secrets anymore." Was that a punchline?


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Big Star Bar

1005 W. 19th, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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6 comments
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Michael_jozwiak
Michael_jozwiak

The first song was about 30 minutes long. Specifically, it sounded more Industrial than Techno unless you consider Industrial Musc falling under a broad term of Techno.

The first song was reminiscient of band Wire in the 1980s with Jandek doing the lead vocals in place of the Wire's lead vocalist.

The second song lasted about 25 minutes and was early 1990's Techno. All afternoon, Jandek was strumming/slashing his guitar in a late 1970s/early 1980s kind of way. Think lead guitar for Gang of Four or even early B-52s.

The third song and final song lasted about 1 hour and 7 minutes. The third song musically was more of the same as the second song .

While drowsing in and out listing to the last hour and 33 minutes, the music became mind-numbing. It was like listening to a several minute music loop. Maybe the most attentive music listeners caught the subtle changes in the last 2 songs, I did not.

Finally, the most important question that comes to mind is: At a Houston performance, Jandek has endurance, do you?

Katy
Katy

I saw Jandek when he ducked into the Quaker Meeting House (unannounced) in 2006 to play with Lorren Connors and Alan Licht during the 2nd half of that show.

I was standing outside during the Conners/Licht intermission, smoking a cigarette when a guy came wandering up pushing a grocery cart with a guitar in it. Turned out to be Jandek - a Houstonian without a lot (any?) Houston shows to his name at the time. 

I was mesmerized by what followed. My brother spent the rest of the week trying to explain to me why what I had just seen was "history"...

I'm thrilled to see he's decided to continue coming out of his shell...

Michael_jozwiak
Michael_jozwiak

According to Wikipedia, that may have been Jandek's first known live appearance ever.

Michael_jozwiak
Michael_jozwiak

The 2006 Conner/Licht performance was NOT Jandek's first live appearance. I misremembered the Wikipedia article.

Katy
Katy

Even better!

I wish I could have appreciated it more. I don't do drugs and I'm not a musician, so extremely long pieces without structure - the one hour and seven minute type that you mentioned above - are really overly challenging for me. 

John Cage would probably say I shouldn't worry about fastening my attention onto it at all times. But that's easier in my bedroom than at a public venue. 

Cdub
Cdub

Gods & Goddesses bless Jandek. 

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