the humility of pain
by the time i arrived at anthology film archives at 6:15 pm this past tuesday, a line stretched around the corner. i spotted jon from aarktica further up from me. although we were advised to arrive at 6:30, doors didn't open until over an hour later. when we were finally let in, the first performer at the top of the bill was simply listed as "corwood industries." of course, almost everyone there knew this was the record label of jandek, the mystery man who'd never played a concert before last fall, and the few since then have been mostly in europe. i've been looking forward to this show since before my last entry about it.
to my surprise, the auditorium that held the concert was the same in which i'd seen art-house films before, including one of my favorites, ulysses' gaze. i'd assumed there was a larger hall for special events such as this. in fact it seemed as though the show was slightly oversold, with several people lining the edges of the room. i spotted three professional cameras and a mic high on a stand. stark yellow-white footlights cast tall shadows on the blank white screen, with deep blue ligthing around the edges.
barry esson, the man who's booked all of corwood's shows so far, repeated the advance request of no recording or photography from the audience (hence my intentionally blurry picture above of the line outside the venue). after a brief round of applause for him, he left the stage, the house lights went down, and the room went completely silent. the level of anticipation in most of the people present must have been excruciatingly high; you could feel it in the air. after another minute that seemed to stretch out longer, a door opened at the end of a dark corridor to the right of the stage, and shadowy figures came forward. i later found out from the jandek list who they were. the drummer was chris corsano who plays with six organs of admittance, among others. the guitarist was loren mazzacane-connors, who i'd heard of but had never heard or seen. the upright bassist was matt heyner, who's played in no-neck blues band. tentative applause broke out as they got behind their instruments, which then increased when several moments later a fourth figure appeared. looking exactly like recent live photos, the man known as jandek (it's fairly well known that it's not his real name) radiates an oddness, as though he's somewhat uncomfortable in his body. he is painfuly thin, his black dress clothes seeming to make up the bulk of his frame. a black fedora hid his eyes when he looked down, and when he looked up they were just as ghostly as the rest of his pale, gaunt face.
he sat down behind two gleaming silver korg tritons, an incongruously modern instrument for someone so staunchly lo-fi and basic in his arrangements. however, i was glad, since i'm not fond of the "atonal electric blues" style he sometimes plays (and which reportedly made up the brooklyn shows the next day). as it turns out, he stuck to the same sounds on each keyboard, two slightly different organ patches, one sharper and more dissonant than the other. after the crowd stopped clapping and had once again gone completely silent, he paused and launched into a set that could be called a sort of song suite. that is to say, the music and lyrics were very similar in all 4 or 5 long pieces played. they all began with a midtempo organ figure, followed by walking, murky bass played with the left hand. slowly the other players filled in the spaces, doing their best to distinguish the pieces from each other with their improvisations. his singing style on this night was also closer to the kind i prefer, higher in pitch and relatively more melodic. at many times it seemed vaguely related to the sprechgesang style favored by david tibet of current 93 (although not as melodic, manic, or apocalyptic).
i thought the resulting atmosphere created was incredible. to my surprise, the small sound system was clear and sounded full-range (although i'm sure the medium volume, sparse instrumentation, and dead silence of the audience helped). the spooky music was somehow both like being in a gothic church and a small jazz club. i was particularly impressed with heyner, who would play a different style and string with each hand. corsaro was wonderfully inventive and understated (anyone expecting the unschooled bashing of jandek albums like interstellar discussion may have been disappointed). i wanted to remove the auto-wah from connors' effects chain as it did no favors to the music. however, when he added minimal, tasteful bent notes and tone clusters, he was fairly effective.
in a sense the show was like a microcosm of jandek's entire oeuvre. on the one hand, one can admire the artist's willingness to share with the public what seems to be everything he's ever written, with such a singular aesthetic. on the other hand, there is a lot of sameness, and even to someone like me who's used to "difficult music," it seems like he could use an editor. i'd like to take a recording of the night and chop the best bits together into one long perfectly distilled piece.
there were many moments of weird, dark beauty in the music and lyrics. there was also room for brief flashes of humor, however subtle. in one song/story (when he gave up all pretense of singing and simply spoke), as a child he complains there's nothing to do; his mother tells him to go outside because there's always something to do. "so i went outside," he soberly intoned, "and did things". i had to keep from laughing at that, as well as his lyrical announcement, "i've been depressed." yeah, for most of the past 28 years it seems. regardless of his frequent references to depression, emptiness, nothingness, and a lack of a reason to go on, he did actually break into a broad smile for a few seconds at the end of one of the pieces, sharing it only with the other musicians. other than that, he didn't stray much from a glazed expression or make a lot of eye contact with anyone. he never seemed to really look at the audience, although his eyes were almost impossible to see from where i was. at the end of the set, he stood up stiffly, arms at his sides as if at attention, not moving a muscle, and faced the rest of the band as the auditorium exploded into applause. he turned without any acknowledgement of us and they all left the stage. and one of the stranger and more charged concerts i've ever been to was over, just like that.
the title of this post comes from a recent jandek album.