Jandek‘s performance at Capital Ale House last Friday was, hands down, the weirdest show I’ve ever attended.
And I had an absolute blast.
A week ago, I had no idea who, or what, Jandek was. Then last week, we published an article titled 15 Questions Jandek Won’t Answer.
Since Richmond is the type of town to have anywhere from three to six fantastic acts playing on a given night, I figured spending one Friday to see an artist that seldom plays live at all would be an experience I wouldn’t forget.
Curiosity got me to the gig, but I left with even more questions after the performance.
Next door to Capital Ale’s downtown restaurant, Richmond Music Hall comfortably seated about 100 avante garde fans that night. Excitement was palpable in the air. Few photos were taken. The crowd remained attentive and almost entirely silent for nearly 2 hours during the performance.
As Jandek’s backing band (comprised of local musicians PJ Sykes of Hoax Hunters on guitar, Chrissie Lozano of Piranha Rama on bass, and Gary Stevens of Mutwawa on drum machines) each came onstage, their identities were cryptically masked by shadows against a stark dark blue backdrop.
The trio arhythmically riffed off one another -droning, ethereal guitar licks lulling over gentle buzzes and bass grooves – for nearly 10 minutes. The room was transfixed.
Then, a man with a briefcase emerged from behind the curtain to thunderous applause.
Songs, in the loosest sense possible, lasted 10 minutes each. Each soundscape had a beginning and end – defined by a performer known only as The Rep (from Corwood Industries – Jandek’s label since the project’s inception in 1978) or his on-stage partner, Shelia, taking a seat at chairs on either end of the stage.
Between those bookends, a symphony of eclectic sounds emitting from instruments and amplifiers certainly occurred.
Whether these arrangements were practiced, or simply brilliant improvisation between experienced artists, we may never know. Regardless, their musical range was impressive and captivating.
A huge part of Jandek’s appeal was how cryptic each aspect of the performance was. The Rep’s movements and features were obscured by a fedora and a pinstripe slacks combo.
A collaborator named Shelia, according to Jandek lore, appeared from the shadows to sing and dance as a counterpoint to The Rep across multiple songs.
Everyone onstage donned all-black, adding to the mystique. There’s no other way to describe what I witnessed – I felt like I had found myself in this slam-poetry scene from An Extremely Goofy Movie if Tom Waits brought interpretive dance and a DJ rig to the stage.
Surprisingly, the mysterious vibe made me appreciate single notes like never before.
A solitary cowbell hit mid-set, completely out of the blue, had me giddy. More than a few times per song, a dissonant sound or brief groove would catch my attention before disappearing from the rest of the night.
This fleeting, subtle dynamic was responsible for the most attention I’ve seen a single room give to a performer in years. It was impressive. It’s stuck with me, and will for a long time.
Lyrically, the songs were as compelling as they were bizarre. At one point, The Rep sang “No one’s gonna obligate me at 2AM” with zero context or followup, and honestly? I feel that. Simple lines and musings like these peppered the performance – statements that could be anything from anywhere – nonsense, complaints, diary entries, casual observations.
Was Jandek reading these words from the podium or coming up with words on the fly under the ruse that they were written down? What does it all mean? What happened at 2AM to necessitate that lyric?
I left this spectacular night with even more questions for Jandek than answers. Among them:
1. How pre-planned was this performance?
2. Are there song titles for these numbers?
3. What was in the briefcase you brought on stage?
4. Did you make up these lyrics on the spot, or were you reading/singing them from notes on the music stand?
5. Why did you turn the music stand light toward the audience?
6. How did you hand-pick the local musicians accompanying you?
7. What brought about your decision to first perform live as Jandek in 2004? Was that actually your first show as Jandek, or did other live performances exist before 2004?
8. Will the inevitable recording of this show (following the format of your back catalogue) eventually be titled Richmond Friday?
9. Since your last performance was Richmond Sunday, can we eventually look forward to a weeklong Richmond collection?
10. Were you in town for a graduation last weekend?
11. If the answer to 10. is yes, did you set up this gig to conveniently offset enormous hotel costs during graduation weekend?
12. Is your hat a fedora or a porkpie hat?
13. Are your songs autobiographical, or are they more vignettes about strangers? A combination of both?
14. Is every Jandek set unique?
15. Did any practice occur beforehand?
16. Did you write these songs on the spot in Richmond?
17. Who is your biggest artistic inspiration?
18. Are you a fan of Duke Silver?
19. Are you a fan of Ron Swanson?
20. Have you ever been seen in the same room as Duke Silver OR Ron Swanson?
21. How many instruments can you play?
22. What, if anything, is in your tour rider?
23. What’s your favorite show you’ve ever played? Where was it? What made it special?
24. Was any aspect of the performance (lyrics, dance choreography, etc) representative of a time in your life where you simply thought to yourself “screw it – why not?”
25. Who is Shelia?
26. Who is The Rep?
27. Of the two venues/shows you’ve played in Richmond so far, which is your favorite and why?
28. Why don’t you sell merch at Jandek performances?
29. Are you worried that, since you have spoken to the press in more recent years about this project that seems to rely heavily on mystique and distance from the listener, that Jandek would lose the appeal you’ve built up around the project?
30. If you could collaborate with absolutely anyone, living or deceased, to comprise your backing band for a single performance, who would you choose? What would they play? Why them?