…And Don’t The Kids Just Loathe it- J-Bowz Reviews Jandek!
Scotiabank Dance Centre, Vancouver
December 7th, 2009
Once, while I was travelling up to Whistler in the summer, I was at
the half-way point between dream state and awake state. I had my iPod
on and I was listening to Johnny Guitar Watson’s Three Hours Past
Midnight. I was trying to keep awake, then the chair in front of me
started morphing into Johnny Guitar Watson (70’s era, with the hat and
sunglasses). It took about five seconds for me before I jolted awake
again and realize what happened. That’s about the closest experience
I’ve had that could compare to Jandek.
For those that don’t know, Jandek (or, excuse me, A Representative of
Corwood Industries as he should be called (Corwood being a label he
runs) is an outsider guitarist and singer from Houston, Texas
(arguably a great place for breeding weirdo musicians such as Daniel
Johnston and Roky Erickson) who plays in an idiosyncratic, detuned
style as he quietly croons in a haunting voice. Experimental? Well,
to say the least, but they almost have structures of folk and
Tim and I went to the Scotiabank Dance Centre, nearly freezing our
faces off in the night. It felt like trekking through Siberia to us
pansy Vancouverites. It was our first time at the Centre and it was
quite an intimate place, only holding 150 people. The lights dimmed
soon after we sat down and a girl (the opener) came on and…surprised
us with some of her poems. She was gesticulating and emoting all over
the place, yelling out her neo-beat poetry while Tim and I were
shifting uncomfortably and grimacing. Thankfully this only lasted for
two and a half minutes.
Then right after the girl left the stage, the lights changed, and the
band went to their places. Jandek , looking like an extraterrestrial
in a black suit and hat sauntered across the stage to his guitar. No
one applauded or made any noise of any kind. It was like seeing some
mystical animal in the woods and not daring to scare it off.
Then the music started, and it was as if I had a concussion. Jandek’s
detuned guitar and vocals with the band providing noises, drones and
random battering sent me into a trance. I had many mini-dreams (I
even had the feeling of doing a backflip right in my seat once) and
when I would wake up, the music was so free-form and persistent that
it was hard to associate with anything. They were like discordant
The other musicians had an unusual array of instruments. The bass
player would make her bass feedback and drone the entire time and she
would sometimes play it with knives (bad-ass), the EMS synth player
would huddle over his device making high pitch noises, a girl playing
with a modified zither would make it screech to high heaven and the
drummer, bassist and zither player would all treat their instruments
periodically with large bows. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the
synth player used a bow on his synth, too.
However, this was not without interruption. About ten people got up
to leave. I assume those people had no knowledge of what they were in
for. There was also a moment halfway through the set where the sound
guy yelled from the back to the band, “Hold on, stop playing you guys,
I just have to fix this.” The audience looked around and laughed
quietly while Jandek stared at the floor waiting. What the sound guy
could’ve been talking about is that usually every event of Jandek’s is
being recorded and released by Corwood (probably as Vancouver Monday),
so there was probably a problem with the machine. After a very
strange minute, the guy said, “Okay, you guys can just go ahead and
play.” And the band started up again, sending me right back into that
Even though there were breaks signifying that these were 11 individual
songs, and I caught great snippets of lyrics like, “I’m think about
food…what do I eat?…I’m thinking about work…Do I really have to do
that?” the whole thing seemed to blend. The band ended their set and
walked off, with Jandek leaving last through the curtains while the
audience sustained their applause. Afterwards, we got to take an
up-close look at the instruments.
I’ve been to experimental shows before, such as Ornette Coleman
blasting out harmolodics with three bass players behind him and Koichi
Magikami playing a solo set with vocals, theremin and Jew’s harp, but
I don’t think any of them have ever felt this alien before. I would
compare Jandek to the freer work of Sun Ra or Harry Partch. All of
them are very clearly humans and just clearly playing objects that
make noises, but what is about them playing with those little
noisemakers that catches something so otherworldly?
-Julian “Microtonal Lovers Unite!” Bowers
A close look at where Jandek played
Julian will be performing at the Kingfisher Bluez Christmas parties, this Friday and Saturday.
Wait, when did you see Ornette Coleman? Anyway, Jandek looks like an alien and it’s frightening.
February 2008 at the Chan Centre. $76, by SO worth it.
BUT so worth it, I meant.