Monday, March 26
Better than: I don’t know, a seance probably?
Jandek played marimba stiffly, percussively, as if trying to repair the instrument musically. His face seemed in a muscular freeze, half-absorbed by beard. Vaudeville Park, an apartment-sized performance space in Williamsburg, was lit in such a way that it maximized the shadows of the performers, doubling and tripling them—Jandek’s hunched migrations across the marimba, moving into the small jumps of guitarist Alan Lewandoski, flickering, one shadow deepening the next, grading darknesses. Bassist Michael Hafftka grinned every few minutes, widening pearl, finding joy in the deep tangles. Two cameras, set on each side of the band, filmed the show on Panasonic Omnivision VHS.
Jandek started playing shows in 2004, after 26 years of strange, untuned recordings. His 68 records feature an expression that seems to have passed through a few layers; you hear a voice and amusical strumming, and the whole affair sounds as if haunted into the record. A band plays on some of the recordings, but the aloneness of the sparer Jandek records is so intimate that the albums seem less recorded and pressed than pulled directly from the person. There’s an anti-intimacy to it, though. There’s no available Jandek narrative, no imaginative way to think of it as the sound of a person unlocking themselves from sanity. There’s just dissonance, arranged slightly, distantly. There’s a man, his songs and his photos, floating just beyond context.
Jandek, on record and in past live performances, only sort of sings. More accurately he moans, or he shouts in a curt way. He reads his lyrics from a stand but they still seem to spontaneously emerge. They briefly travel from his mouth to the air and amplifier, a face that sheds lyrics. At Vaudeville Park, Rachelle Lalonde assumed this role, delivering what seemed Jandek lyrics in Jandek ways. There’s a theater to Lalonde’s voice, though, an opera to it, wavering tones that summon drama from an overwrought place. It was revealing. Lyrics about “looking for a boy in the trees” obtained an air of Flannery O’Connor, a sort of frail terror that also contains a veiled comedy. Maybe the key to Jandek is that his songs should be understood as goth songs.
For the last two songs, Jandek moved from the marimba to Hafftka’s bass. He laid the instrument across his lap, treating it as if it were a slide guitar. For a show that had mostly been brutally insistent, his playing was suddenly mood-based, a calm travel. He seemed to have entered a fretless peace. Ian M Colletti pulled from a theremin the sound of a peripheral whale. For the first time, it seemed, there was gentleness.
To stay engaged with a pernicious, noisy performance can take considerable effort and strain. If you break from it, reanchoring happens in a harsh, unhealed way. When Lewandowski bent his guitar strings, the whole physiology of the band and crowd bent as well. Near the end of one song, someone in the audience dropped a coin. It made sense. It felt natural.
Critical bias: I like staring at something weird until it makes sense.
Overheard: “I wish I’d gone to a better college.” “Me too.”