At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Monday, December 7
Whatever was on the minds of the seven or eight people who walked out during the course of the performance, Jandek’s sold-out show at the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Monday night was some kind of landmark event. It’s incredible to contemplate that there might have been people in the audience for whom this was the culmination of not just years, but decades spent pondering one of the strangest stories in modern music. And there’s no question that once Jandek gets under your skin, you’re in for a lot of pondering.
For most, even the hardiest outsider-music snob or avant-gardist, the show had the incantatory quality of something truly alien, from the moment the gaunt and bony “Representative of Corwood Industries”—as Jandek has conventionally been known since his first, shocking live appearance in 2004—loped unhurriedly across the performance space clutching an attaché case, to take his seat behind a shiny black Godin LGXT guitar.
Flanked by local players hand-picked by the show’s curator, David Ames—a local fan who took the job when established Vancouver promoters showed no interest—the Representative began by cautiously plucking at strings tuned to his own unfathomable requirements, a familiar sound to anybody who’s spent even a few minutes with one of the 60-plus gut-churningly spooky Jandek albums released since 1978 by the mysterious Corwood Industries of Houston, Texas.
Gradually, drummer Jeffrey Allport began to saw at his cymbals, while Rachael Wadham conjured a nauseating creaking sound from a beat-up zither and Josh Stevenson added sickly gobs of colour with a vintage EMS synth. Wendy Atkinson filled out the growing wall of sound with sustained bass notes, establishing an admirably minimal presence throughout the 11-song performance, even when she was dragging a knife across her strings during the stormy fourth number (which, like the others, remains untitled until Corwood gets around to releasing its document of the event).
At times, the unit kicked up a powerful tumult—a rolling burr of sound that enveloped the Representative’s fraught poetry and anxious noodling. At other times he seemed submerged in all the clatter and throb, but that’s to be expected: the whole night was a spontaneous act of creation, and people were bound to get hurt. According to Ames, the outfit had one run-through the previous day.
I doubt that any two people will agree on the highlights, but the relatively sparse ninth number captured whatever it is that makes Jandek’s albums so horribly compelling. It began with the description of a room—carpet, chairs, vases—and developed into a familiar theme of absence.
“It’s been many a year traversing these rooms, contemplating my time, waiting for the partner’s arrival,” moaned the Representative, his delivery lying somewhere between Emo Philips and a tape recorder on the fritz, creating the impression of a damned soul floating above Wadham’s bed of weird scraping sounds. (Among her toys was some steel wool attached to a guitar pickup.) It was definitely the Jandek we know and fear—terrifyingly bleak, and somehow capable of expressing the screaming horror that lurks beneath the mundane consideration of, say, furniture. But it was also just one moment in an extraordinary night. Incredibly, things got even better at the after-party, when Jandek spun some classic deep house at Ginger 62. (Kidding!)