Authored by Dale Nickey:
ST. Louis Friday (DVD)
Recorded Live at The Billiken Club St. Louis Missouri – (March 21, 2014)
Corwood Industries (0816)
Stamp Out Reality…..
In 2004 Jandek crawled out of his carefully maintained crypt of self-imposed obscurity. Gradually, like a racehorse revving up to full gallop, he has released a dizzying catalog of DVD’s documenting his live performances throughout Europe and North America. It is doubtful Jandek’s globetrotting is supported by his record sales. So we are left to wonder how The Representative of Corwood Industries underwrites his cacophonic crusades. Jandek peels off layers of mystery only to add others.
I was bestowed a review copy of “St. Louis Friday” recently. Jandek’s live performance DVD’s do not serve the same function that they would for a more conventional artist. His live performances do not document or codify his accumulated repertoire. They are simply field recordings of new (mostly improvised) music with the added stimuli of moving images of the man in holy communion with his muse.
On “St. Louis Friday” Jandek continues a methodology that I first witnessed at his live performance in Los Angeles a couple years back. Which is, assembling a cast of local musos to play improvised free music without a net. All under the watchful eye of free-radical poet/performance artist Sheila Smith.
Sheila Smith is now Jandek’s muse, collaborator and onstage foil. She can be found behind the drum kit, at the keyboard or in The Representative’s face; taunting, seducing and speechifying. For this writer, comparisons to Yoko Ono are probably as unfair as they are unavoidable.
The cinematic aspect of “St. Louis Friday” is puzzling at best. The video quality is a colorless wash of underdeveloped whites and grays. There are two explanations possible. The videographer pooched it by hitting a wrong button on the camera, and Jandek said “screw it, put it out anyway” or Jandek decided the music performed was best represented with snuff flick production values. Yet another unanswered mystery.
Our hero opens the proceedings parked in a wooden straight-backed chair with an acoustic guitar, fiddling around trying to find an open channel to that peculiar, inexhaustible muse that he mines so consistently. At the doorstep of his seventieth year, the subjects of mortality, aging and entropy are clearly front and center in his mind. Indeed, his lyrics right out of the starting gate declare, “My body is wasted”.
On the second song, “The Capsized Boat” Jandek is clearly more preoccupied with narrative as his guitar playing is far more absentmindedly percussive. Jandek seems entranced with the reverb effects produced by the partially plucked steel acoustic guitar string.
At the beginning of the third number, the woman we presume to be Sheila Smith takes her place behind the drum kit and contributes some off kilter fills in support of “Fishing Blues”. Jandek tosses out lines such as, “Throw your dead bait out again” and “this ain’t no pleasure cruise” which would seem an obvious allegory to the vicissitudes of everyday life, or (then again) the piece might be about a rough day at the ocean.
Smith switches to keyboards as a bassist and drummer take their respective places on stage. Jandek lays down his guitar, commands the microphone, and barks out verse in the manner of a circus ringmaster. What follows is a nuanced and involving improvisation, with Smith contributing some atmospheric noodling and note clusters set against an alternately hyperactive and meditative rhythm bed. Jandek bellows, moans and entreats nobody in particular for unconditional love while stating his determination to …”raise my head above it all”.
“Shadow life” sees The Representative strapping on an electric for one of his signature guitar, bass and drums freak-outs. After a couple minutes of dissonant improvisation, Sheila goads him on with some up close and in your face dirty dancing. Jandek turns in an impressive performance on guitar; letting his expert rhythm section do their share of heavy lifting while Jandek’s shifts his focus to single note work reminiscent of early 60’s garage/surf music run through a wood chipper. Sheila takes the mic and starts throwing down a spoken word rant against her man who has ‘no shadow’. The piece goes 10:33 but feels shorter and grinds down to a cogent and surprisingly coordinated conclusion.
“Where Were You Born” continues with the same instrumental format as “Shadow Life”. However, the improvisations have shifted from a solid rhythmic foundations to something more stuttering and abstract. Smith interrupts her verbalizing intermittently to slink across the stage and get up in The Reps face. Smith is either smitten with The Representative or she’s taunting and teasing him as one would a laboratory rat. Half way through, the rhythm straightens out and Smith’s inquisition continues. “Where were you born, Where are you from. Let’s get married.”
And so it goes….
It’s hard to predict or imagine where Jandek will land in the pantheon of artists that have strapped on a guitar and displayed their wares on stage, on record and film. As Jandek hurtles into his seventies, he is immune to the paralysis of perfectionism, and oblivious to the opinions and expectations of the listener. Jandek is an archetype; as such, he stands in rare and exclusive company. You can expect only pure undiluted art from Jandek; and like any concentrated mixture or potion, the taste is sometimes bitter and overpowering. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not good for you.
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