Ask any alternative music afficiando about their feelings towards Jandek you’re almost assured an animated response. Jandek’s life and music are puzzling to even his fans and yet his following endures.
I had the distinct and rare chance to be in the audience for the Jandek / Thurston Moore show at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland this past week. What follows is an introduction to Jandek and a debrief of what the show was like.
What is Jandek?
Jandek aka the Representative from Corwood Industries is an obscure, uncompromising musician who creates music where many would hear only noise. His recordings have been prolific, releasing at least one album almost every year since 1978.
Jandek has given two phone interviews, one with Irwin Chusid in 1980 and a second with Spin in 1985. In 1993, Kurt Cobain’s interview with Spin addressed Jandek: “He’s not pretentious, but only pretentious people like his music.” Someone managed to track him down in 1999 but they were asked to have no one contact him again.
It wouldn’t be until 2004 before he revealed himself at a performance in Scotland. Since then Jandek has performed only a few times a year. The Hollywood Theatre in Portland hosted Jandek once previously in 2006.
The Representative is private, and shields himself from press and fans by the P.O. box of the label, Corwood Industries. You can learn a lot more about Jandek from his wikipedia page, though I would recommend Aaron Goldberg’s Postcards from the depths of a subrban wasteland, which serves as an approachable entry point for learning about Jandek.
I feel somewhat compelled to mention tickets for the show, which were sold only as physical items by the two Jackpot Records locations. Given the hype around the matchup of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore with Jandek, you would have thought the tickets would have sold out earlier than the day of the show. Alas, before the show started there was still someone outside trying to lose their extras. The show began a few minutes after 7pm with no opener.
Jackpot Records owner, Issac Slusarenko took the stage and took a moment to read off a fairly lengthy list of sponsors of which I remember none. Our seats were third row center, so we had a great view. It was clear that Mr. Slusrenko was just a tad on edge, but who wouldn’t be giving an introduction for a living legend. MC confidence aside we likely have Mr. Slusarenko to thank for the LP reissue of Jandek’s original release, Ready for the House.
Mr. Slusarenko made an appeal for everyone to turn off their ringers and that no one take photos or video of the performer. He mentioned that the show was being recorded. I didn’t notice anyone misbehave, in fact people sat very still.
The stage was setup with amps and monitors for both Thurston and Jandek. When they entered from stage right, they both carried their guitar cases and patch chords with them. The audience applauded for a time and silence ensued as they spent about four minutes setting up their equipment. They did not stop to retune instruments.
Jandek wore lightly shined black shoes, black pants, a dark red shirt a watch and a hat. Jandek is very thin. His movements on stage seemed deliberate and could be broken up thusly: he vigorously played his guitar with his right hand. His left was used to build chords. He tapped his foot, though not in beat necessarily, and he bobbed and swayed seemingly independent of all other motion.
During the third and final song, Jandek sat down cross legged, somewhat facing his amplifier. I got the sense that this was his natural practicing position. Craning his body over his guitar, letting the loud sounds wash over his compacted physical form.
If you like Jandek I think it is important to watch him perform. You need to be there and watch for when he finds a bit of the song to fixate on. At those times, despite the dissonance and fog of war created by Thurston, you could hear progressions repeated. Hidden in the noise but set by the pace of his strumming I heard rock and roll. Although sometimes the more trackable Jandek’s strumming would get, the more Thurston would challenge the audience with his own layer of sound.
Thurston Moore was a pleasure to watch, he seemed truly at home on stage with Jandek, which must speak to his own eccentricity as it does his knowledge of Jandek’s style. On the second of the three songs performed, Jandek stopped about twenty seconds before Thurston, giving the audience and Jandek a chance to observe the musician close a song. I’d say there would be a lot of pressure to make the right sounds yet Thurston made the the action seem easy.
I was lucky enough to be accompanied by my friend Lauren, who had heard about Jandek only the afternoon prior to the show. In our ensuing discussion of what had transpired, we came to an agreement that Jandek’s music is sort of “sexy ugly.” Sexy ugly is described by the Urban Dictionary as “someone who is not conventionally good-looking, but possesses an appealing personality, style or talent and is thus considered sexually attractive by many.” Jandek’s music is something you might love to hate.
The end of the performance was very interesting. A couple of things happened. Jandek and Thurston stopped playing roughly at the same time. During the applause, Thurston held his guitar and for the first time and looked intently at Jandek to see if the show was truly over. Watching Thurston’s face you could see recognition that both the show was over and that Jandek was beginning to take down his equipment. People were still clapping.
For the first time, Thurston walked across the stage and spoke to Jandek. I am almost certain that he told Jandek to leave his guitar and that someone would come and take care of it, and that they should leave the stage. Jandek appeared to smile and otherwise respond non-verbally, leaving his equipment and following Thurston back across the stage down the stairs and exiting stage right to continued applause.
The After Party
The set clocked in around 80 minutes and no one seemed willing to move until house music faded in indicating that no encore was forthcoming. As people departed, I could not tell what the general reception was. It was like after a serious movie where people quietly share their opinions while filing out the doors. We did not linger, but instead proceed to the nearby Moon and Sixpence tavern.
Once arriving, I was told by a staff member that the table I had chosen was reserved. I thought nothing of it and moved to another table in the bar sitting with my back to the front door. We were nearly done with our drinks when all of a sudden Lauren’s eyes got really big and her body language said a lot. Something big was happening behind me.
I waited quietly and low and behold a party of six took their seats right next to us, one of whom was Jandek himself. I tweeted afterwards that the energy of having him come in and sit down and see him up close was pretty incredible. It was strange to know that most of the people in the bar had no idea how rare and strange it was to see Jandek in a casual environment. After a while the weird Jandek spell seemed to wear off so we stuck around for another drink to witness Jandek somehow blending in to the bar scene.
Seeing Jandek was something of a dream come true and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in exploring the edge of alternative music and capturing a rare performance.
Since the concert, I had a chance to visit with Gary Houston of Voo Doo Catbox to talk about Rock Show, an iPad app I’ve been working on. Gary coincidentally did the limited run of 100 screen printed Jandek / Thurston Moore posters. You can currently pick these up at one of the Jackpot Records stores here in Portland.