Jandek – “St. Louis Friday” – (DVD Review)’

Authored by Dale Nickey:

More Jandek? Click>>>> morgan / LAlive

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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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Top Ten Countdown: Greatest Cover Songs # 7 (Joe Cocker – “With A Little Help from My Friends”)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Number 7

Joe Cocker – With A Little Help From My Friends

Beatle covers were thick on the ground by the close of the 60’s. However, none shook the earth like Cocker’s version of Ringo’s spotlight number from “Sgt. Pepper’s…..” Cocker’s rave up was one of the highlights of the 1969 Woodstock festival and made Cocker a household name in America. Moreover, his banshee screams and indecipherable scatting launched a legion of imitators; including one John Belushi. Cocker’s performance at Woodstock had an intensity that was almost Biblical. Indeed, after his performance the sky opened and a deluge of rain turned the hippy festival of good vibes into an apocalyptic pig pen. And lo… ‘The Summer of Love’ ended.

Top Ten Countdown – Greatest Cover Songs # 8 (The Moody Blues – “Go Now”)

In at number 8

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Go Now – The Moody Blues

The Moody Blues brand is distinguished by the outstanding songwriting contributions of Justin Hayward and John Lodge. However, in February 1965 the original incarnation of the band scored a chart topper in Britain with a cover of “Go Now”. Originally a 1964 American soul pop single by Bessie Banks, “Go Now” petered out at # 40 on the Cashbox chart in America. It was a fairly dreary and unremarkable record until The Moody Blues (with future Wing-man Denny Laine on vocals) turned it into a noir masterpiece. It peaked at number 10 in America and established The Moody Blues in the top tier of British Invasion bands. After the success of “Go Now”, The Moody Blues returned to the cabaret circuit from whence they came until two new recruits (Hayward, Lodge) joined and catapulted the rudderless band to superstardom.

Watch this early video of “Go Now”. Then look at the Queen video for “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Discuss…

Top 10 Countdown – Greatest Cover Songs # 9 (THE DICKIES – “Nights In White Satin”)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

# 9

The Dickies – “Nights In White Satin)

The fundamental mistake made in many cover versions is a slavish adherence to the original vision/version of the tune. The Dickies wisely take this classic rock evergreen out behind the shed and give it a good lashing. Multi-tracked power chords and stinging lead lines pay homage to the melody and pathos of the original with none of the sugary aftertaste.

Top Ten Countdown – Greatest Cover Songs – (# 10 – Eight Miles High by Husker Du)

Authored by Dale NIckey:

Number 10

Husker Du – Eight Miles High

Approach this version of The Byrds’ classic with the ears of a punk and the sensibility of a forensic investigator. Imagine viewing the muse of Roger McGuinn burnt beyond recognition. On this monumental track, leader/vocalist/guitarist Bob Mould replaces the Coltrane inspired electric 12 string solo of the original with a throat shredding howl that could cause a sudden flux of the bowels if unprepared.

Balls to The Hall (Why The R&R Hall of Fame sucks and why it still matters)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues its reign as the irrelevant pantheon that commemorates all that is famous in the world of ….ahem….Rock and Roll. Never mind that many inductees’ connection to the genre is tenuous at best and non-existent at worst….

Somehow Bobby Darin, Brenda Lee and The Dells have gained admittance while truly subversive and pioneering artists remain on the outs. You all know who they are, Johnny Winter, Jethro Tull,  Yes, The Moody Blues, Bjork, Kate Bush, and Brian Eno.  The British Music industry could fill a Hall of Fame roster all by their lonesome, and that might be part of the problem. America invented Rock and Roll, and as America always does, it eats it’s young and feels bad about it later. The Beatles came and showed us how its supposed to be done. American fans fell hard for The Beatles and the American music industry never forgave them. Ergo, it’s now all about the home team and reclaiming dominion over an indigenous music that “The Biz” initially shrugged off as a fad.

Why do I care? The true music lover reveres the artist and loves the music for the right reasons, correct? Moreover, real musicians and artists know who’s the real shit; so why not let “The Hall” vomit on itself and get on with life? Well, there are several reasons we should care. Rock Music is important. In its imperial phase (1964-1972) it eloquently called ‘bullshit’ on our leaders in a way that a hippy with a bullhorn never could. Somebody in power was shitting themselves; why else would the FBI try to deport John Lennon? And for that matter, why was Elvis made to heel and join the Army at the peak of his powers?

Let’s stipulate to one fact, Rock and Roll is truly dead. This is cool. All art movements have their day and recede into its rightful slot in history. I will get a lot of argument on this of course. It’s the old, “I saw The Rolling Stones at the Rose Bowl and they can kick the ass of kids half their age!” argument.  Well, yes….certain kids….and only so long as they play their repertoire from 35-50 years ago, when Rock was young. Hey Classic Rock fan….what’s the title of The Stones last album? Hey you with the ponytail and the Pink Floyd T-Shirt, what’s the name of that tribute singer who is fronting Journey these days?

Many of our musical heroes of yore will tell you the same thing. The rock that is Rock has already been formed and has long since cooled. The musical canon has been established, never to be improved upon (much like the Baroque period of Classical music). Moreover, any musical developments deploying Bass, Drums and Guitars that seem fresh and new will have been built with tools forged by those who have innovated long before. Hip-Hop you ask? Sorry, it’s still the runny nosed kid brother of the music world, talking a big game but still left wanting for it’s Beatlemania moment.

One incontrovertible truth we learn with age is – history matters. It’s the only road map we have that marks out the landmines in our future. To fully appreciate some of the music of our shared history, you had to be there. But what happens when those who were there are no longer here?

Unfortunately, it’s those who write history that make history. Rock and Roll history is too important to leave in the hands of non-musicians like Jann Wenner (chairman of the Rock Hall Foundation) and his committee of suits, nerdy journalists, and bean counting henchmen. They’re custodians of a legacy they don’t understand.

Morning Music Funnies # 6 – (Kate Bush and Mr. Bean)

After The Beatles disbanded in 1970, a long estrangement began between the British and American music industries. No longer was it automatic that British superstars would be unconditionally loved by the American record buying public. In the late 70’s, Kate Bush achieved a level of fame and ubiquity that totally bypassed the American market. After her debut single “Wuthering Heights” hogged the number 1 spot for six straight weeks, Kate Bush’s image was inescapable. He picture was on busses, billboards and tabloids. Mainstream comedy shows had a field day doing parodies. And, though her early videos basically jump started the music video industry, the only sure path to mass exposure was Television. So Kate dutifully submitted to the ‘dog and pony’ show that included, a network Christmas Special, BBC documentaries and interviews, as well as the Euro talk show circuit. She was also sporting enough to do a bit on Comic Relief in 1986 with British comedy icon Rowan Atkinson (Black Adder, Mr. Bean).

At the close of the seventies, Kate Bush was a name brand recognized by every citizen in Western Europe and much of the civilized world. However in America, cult stardom was the best she could muster. It was reported that she boldly turned down an offer to open for Fleetwood Mac on a world tour during their most commercially successful period. Interesting to speculate how her careen might have turned if she had said yes. However, our Kate doesn’t ‘do’ second banana does she?