I started DJing at KDVS in Davis, CA in 1987. Even then I remembered the peculiar looking Jandek albums in the stacks. Blurry pictures of the pasty young man and even blurrier music in the grooves of those records. Jandek didn’t garner the same amount of airplay as Negativeland, Camper Van Beethoven, or Savage Republic, but his records weren’t completely ignored either. At least they weren’t ignored at KDVS, whose playlist was among one of the edgiest in the country. Admittedly, the allure for many of us has been the wonderful mystery surrounding Him. If you don’t know the back story, take a look here.
About six years ago, a few friends organized a weekly Jandek listening session. We would meet at the Gentleman’s Club and listen to one of Jandek’s albums. A “discussion” would follow. Sometimes there was a tent. And every once in awhile, a call would be placed to Corwood Industries, and a voicemail would be left letting Jandek know that were still listening. A rogue midnight screening of Jandek on Corwood at the Tower Theater was the culminating event in the year of deep Jandek times.
We were all surprised to hear that one of Jandek’s rare one-off shows was to be held at the Veteran’s Memorial Theater in Davis on November 12. Not surprising, it was the folks at KDVS who were putting this on. Apparently, Jandek has been arranging for local musicians to accompany him at these one-off gigs. Christian Kiefer (guitar), Alex Jenkins (drums), and Greg Brucker (double-bass) were the Jandek Players for tonight. I’m most familiar with Jandek playing guitar, but for this show he would play keyboards.
The lights dimmed and out strolled the Man in Black. He looked like a pasty Sicilian hit man who hadn’t seen sunlight nor sandwich in years. With his corner of the stage remaining dark and his black brim hat, he retained some of the mystery that was lost in recent years with his first ever live appearances. And as he started working the keys, he conjured up a Phantom of the Opera aura. The first song was instrumental, and with the accomplished chops of his collaborators, things were sounding less tortured than most were expecting. But then came the second song. As the first words rolled out of Jandek’s mouth and filled the theater with his trademark atonal moan, the one hundred or so listeners knew that it really was him.
Jandek and Co. preceded to work through pieces usually ranging between 5-10 minutes long each for nearly two hours. Some could be classified as Jamdek, while others might suggest Jazzdek. My favorite song was a pseudo-trad. Chinese sounding-piece in which all the players locked in a hypnotic, yet notey groove. While the songs all retained a fairly improvised feel, it was obvious that they had all rehearsed together a bit. During particularly sparse vocal passages, the listener could hear trademark Jandek lines about lost love and being alone. The mind reels of what a romantic relationship with Jandek is like. Is it surprisingly normal? “Honey, let’s go out and grab some fajitas and the rent the new Sandra Bullock movie.” Or is it rare and awkward as one might expect?
Kiefer was the only one who had mobility and tended to be the only visual in the performance. Some of his guitar parts seemed taken from the standard manual of How to Play Experimental Guitar. In Kiefer’s defense, finding the Jandek Zone in a one-off setting is a tall order. Jenkins’ percussion was varied, tasteful, and interesting. He plays with a variety of people around Sacramento and was a good pick for Janstock. The man, himself, leaned into his keyboard playing and seemed genuinely immersed in his songs. He’s a soul man.
One of my favorite aspects of the show was how uncomfortable everything felt in between each song. Jandek and players didn’t utter a word in between takes and there was nary a “Tell a joke!” or “Nice tits!” shouted out from the seats of the theater. Not even a request for a particular song. There seemed to be an authentic fear of what might happen if anyone dare speak. Would Jandek send an electric eye laser into a wise acre, immediately turning him/her into a smoldering pile of ash? No one dare risk it. Mostly, I don’t think any of Jandek’s fans would necessarily want to hear him say anything. It would just ruin it.