Thought, experience and memory from a brain in a jar, one that sometimes has control over a thirty-two-year-old Londonite.

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Location: Herne Hill, London, United Kingdom

19 October, 2005

Upset The Rhythm

Went to see Jandek last night at St Giles-In-The-Field. It was the second church-set gig I've been to, always a weird atmosphere, but definitely fitting for the bill.

Rhodrid Davies opened. He plays his harp with a bow, and sticks, fair bullying the sounds out of the instrument. He was accompanied on a violin under similar levels of distress. The overall impression of the piece was of two instruments desperately searching for a common language with which they can communicate. When they do, it is under an intense duress, as though they were locked in an unhappy partnership from which they daren't escape.

Jandek was remarkable. His persona is that of a mysterious travelling performer. Fifteen minutes after Davies had finished, and with the congregation chatting away to themselves, Jandek appeared in a dark purple shirt, black trousers and black fedora, carrying his guitar and a bound notebook. He took slow, slightly overlong steps to the chair and sat. The audience took some time to even notice that he'd arrived.

There was a comical length of time before he found the right page in the book. If you've heard him play (dark drawn out vocals over improvised guitar) you would be forgiven for wondering exactly what might be in the book. This again adds to the mysterious nature of the performer. Ian noticed much leaning forward on the part of various audience members whenever Jandek retuned his instrument. Apparently the exact way in which the guitar is tuned is a topic of debate; it's certainly "wrong" but few can tell exactly what the tuning is when its there. From my knowledgeless starting point I suspect that the tuning and the page finding has more to do with performance than any kind of musical exactitude. We are to go along with the notion that he knows where he is going and when he has arrived, but that it is such a singular journey that we couldn't possibly join him for it.

The songs were deeply melancholic but shot through with occasional bleak humour made all the more engaging in that the audience is left uncertain as to how funny Jandek wants his songs to be. The set, some 70 minutes, felt like half that. With much shifting in pews to maintain posterior circulation and improve my limited sight of the man, I failed, along with everyone else, to get much of a fix on Jandek's face at all. The shadow falling from his fedora turned most of his face into a featureless beige. Occasionally one could make out his eyes, but that was about it.

At the moment I'm reading about the history of stage magic and so am perhaps more mindful than usual about the space in which such performances take place. I felt there was a little of the magician in the framing of Jandek's performance - the way in which he came out of a particular door, played his songs without any explicit acknowledgement of the audience, then left through the same door, never being seen anywhere else prior to or following his set. Robert-Houdin said that a conjurer was "an actor playing the part of a magician." It is no criticism to say that Jandek is an actor playing the part of a musician.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

the guitar was in standard tuning i thought he was maybe trying to make a point by playing the strings openly before each piece but he did have to re-tune.made me realise he really IS an amazing guitar player

4:47 pm  
Blogger Hamilton's Brain said...

I think his guitar skills are more or less unquestionable, the way Picasso was a fantastic draughtsman and so chose to paint the way he did, not out of a lack of talent as so many assume. And please don't (not that I assume you are) think that I don't think he is a musician - that would be like saying that Houdin wasn't a magician.

8:20 pm  

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