#81. Los Angeles Saturday (2015).
We are now in a long run of Jandek live albums – 17 of them, to be exact – that jump around in the timeline, but mainly feature the Rep’s late-career muse, Sheila Smith. She’s on 13 of these 17 albums, including this one, and she’s appeared on stage with the Rep more than any other musician. She’s a fun and engaging performer, able to improvise swaths of lyrics on command and match the vibe of whatever the Rep is doing, but it’s clear that she means more to him than just that. So much of this album and the ones to follow mirror the back-and-forth found on Modern Dances, the flirtatious and fun banter of two people who obviously thrive on one another. For years Jandek listeners wondered what the Rep’s relationship with Nancy might have been like. Now we can see a similar one play out before our eyes.
I say “before our eyes” on purpose, because Los Angeles Saturday remains the only Jandek album not yet issued on CD. It exists in DVD form only, and it offers a good opportunity to talk about these Jandek DVDs. Most of the live albums have an accompanying visual component, which means that hours upon hours of footage of the Representative from Corwood exist now. To me, these concert films are the final nail in the image of the Rep as some kind of tortured recluse. Even within the concerts we have available since 2004, though, the Rep has slowly opened up more – his initial M.O. was to never look at or acknowledge the audience, but on Los Angeles Saturday he’s smiling and clearly enjoying himself. And I think the difference is the other Smith.
Los Angeles Saturday was recorded at the Echo in Los Angeles on May 24, 2014, just one month after the Brussels show, which was one month after the St. Louis show. We are not far into Sheila Smith’s tenure as a Jandek fixture, but she owns this recording. The two Smiths are backed up by guitarist and violinist Emily Curran, bassist and sometimes drummer Kris Bernard and drummer Marcus Savino, and the Rep and Smith trade off guitar, bass, drums and singing. It begins like most shows from this era, with the Rep on acoustic guitar and Smith on drums, playing two despondent and long laments.
But when the band arrives, and Smith takes the microphone, the proceedings take a turn for the riotous. The back-and-forth on “I Got It,” “Tell Me True” and “I Changed My Mind” is delightful, and it’s even more fun to watch than it is to listen to. I mean, the Rep dances and bops across the stage, enjoying himself in a way we’ve never seen, and the moments in which the two Smiths look into each other’s eyes are magnetic. This is the most romantic Jandek performance, and having it available only on DVD means that the visual element cannot be divorced from the music. This is how it happened. And it’s oddly beautiful.
No tracks available online.
#82. Dublin Friday (2016).
One of the few pre-Sheila Smith live albums to come out during this period, Dublin Friday documents a solo acoustic show at the Douglas Hyde Gallery on June 13, 2008. The Rep performs an hour-long piece called “He Said Nothing,” which is broken up into eight sections. It tells the story of a jealous man listening to the paramour of the woman he loves babble on, with contemptuous people hanging on his every word. Some of it is venomous, all of it is well-written and funny. “He said nothing, and they acted like he was saving the world…”
Musically this is very similar to other acoustic guitar and vocals recordings, but there’s something oddly magical about this one. It casts a peculiar spell. I have no proof that this un-nameable quality is what caused the Rep to consider this one for early release, but it captivates me every time I listen. The guitar seems to be in standard tuning, the dissonance entirely brought about by the way it’s played, and the Rep sings this one in a more restrained voice. The entire thing sounds relaxed and comfortable, like the Rep telling us as story.
I can’t explain the web this one spins. It is, to date, the last Jandek album to feature just acoustic guitar and voice, though it was recorded before Houston Saturday 2011, and it would be tempting to consider this the ideal performance in this style. There’s an ease and a confidence to it that comes through. I criticize the solo-instrument studio albums, but there’s something about watching and listening to the Rep do this inimitable, trademark thing live that is still thrilling.
Listen to “He Said Nothing Part Five.”
#83. London Residency (2017).
Sheila Smith’s ongoing tenure with Jandek begins here, with a three-night residency at London’s Café Oto in February of 2014. She’d shared the stage with the Rep twice before this – in 2012 for the Houston Thursday punk show and in 2009 for the performance that will see release after this one – but these three nights were her full initiation to the project. London Residency collects all three shows in a beautiful six-CD box set, and all together this thing is four hours and 50 minutes long. Listening to all of it is a daunting experience, but it also makes the case for Smith’s continued participation nicely.
The two Smiths are joined here by bassist Jack Lowe and drummer Justin Clay (of Galveston, Texas band Darwin’s Finches). As per usual with this era of Jandek, the musicians all swap instruments at different times, the Rep playing electric and acoustic guitar, keys, harmonica and drums at different times. There’s a tremendous variety to these sets, as the band nimbly delivers slow acoustic numbers, mid-tempo keyboard-accented pieces and raging punk. All three shows start slower and build their way up, the Rep opening the first and third with acoustic sets (“Trash Man” is a new chapter in the Rep’s self-loathing, and he runs through “If I Waited Twenty Hours” from What Else Does the Time Mean in the third show) and the second with “I Laughed,” which sets his sing-speak narration against odd acoustic slide guitar.
And in each show, the intensity builds to an explosion. Sheila takes the mic for most of the louder material, and her lyrics are to the point and funny. “I hope that when I die I’m wearing a t-shirt that says ‘see you later,’” she shouts, and gives us the prototype of her “Maybe You’ve Died” on “You Didn’t Respond.” The Rep moans his way through slower pieces like “The Stars,” which benefits greatly from Smith’s keyboards. The standout show here is the third, which delivers the most variety: a longer-than-usual acoustic set, Smith’s wry poetry on “Am I Alive,” either Clay or Lowe singing on the mad “Vagabond King,” an extraordinary 22-minute dirge called “The Day of Dread” and a wistful closer in “Somebody I’m Not.”
There’s a ton of material here, and it would be impossible to dig deep into all of it. But London Residency is a landmark Jandek live release, both in terms of its sheer size and its historical significance. It’s also a fascinating listen, demonstrating how loose and freeform this era of the Jandek saga will be. Sheila Smith makes her mark here for the first time, writing herself into the Jandek story, and she leaves no doubt that she belongs here. This chapter of Jandek is still happening, and it’s a joy to hear the Rep so open, so inspired.
A word about Corwood serial numbers, since this is the first time they truly come into play. Every Jandek album has a serial number, beginning with Ready for the House, which was numbered 0739. As far as I know, London Residency was the first one to be issued out of order. Occasionally, the Rep will leave a gap – he will put out something intended for later in the collection, and number it accordingly. In this case, London Residency (0821) came out after the next two, but was always intended to slot in here. It’s a strange system, one that would under other circumstances make this his 85th album, but we go by the order on the official discography, which is arranged by serial number. I know, this is truly in the weeds, but it illustrates the sometimes logic-defying nature of listening to Jandek.
No tracks available online.
#84. New Orleans Monday (2016).
And here we go all the way back to Sheila Smith’s first on-stage appearance with the Rep, a performance recorded at Dixon Concert Hall at Tulane University in New Orleans on March 16, 2009. This one actually provides an interesting auditory and visual clue as to how Ghost Passing was recorded, since it features the Rep on piano and Smith on theremin for an hour. The piece is called “The Fantasy,” further linking it to Ghost Passing – it may as well have been called “Fantasy Zero,” for it is the prototype of the six pieces contained in that set.
Like the six Ghost Passing pieces, this one is a musical conversation, the Rep and Smith varying the intensity of their playing to match each other throughout. This performance gives off the same otherworldly vibe they would conjure in the studio (and who knows if Ghost Passing was recorded before this, shortly after, or years later), and is just as wild a listen. It could be argued that if you have Ghost Passing, you don’t need this, but the DVD is something to behold. Watching Smith in her first musical back-and-forth with the Rep, with no words needed, is enlightening.
This was also, I should mention, about the time that the aforementioned I Know You Well, the full-on Jandek documentary, was released. It’s remarkable, and almost fully peels back the curtain on the Rep as a person and an artist. It’s available on Vimeo on Demand, and is very much worth a watch for those interested in the music above the mystery.
Listen to “The Fantasy.”
#85. Austin Tuesday (2017).
In addition to spotlighting the Sheila Smith era of Jandek, this run of live albums focuses on the Rep’s performances in his home state of Texas. Seven of the 17 concerts documented in this stretch happened in Texas, including this one and four of the next five. Texas shows are not infrequent – the Rep has played 20 of them since 2004 – but each of these feel like events, even more so than shows in other places. I often wonder what the Rep’s reputation is in his home state, and how his work is looked upon by his fellow Texans.
Austin Tuesday was recorded on February 16, 2016 at the Austin Public Library, of all places, and is a chamber music show of constantly interesting dimension. In addition to the Rep and Smith, who alternate on piano, violin and vocals, the featured performers here are Maegan Ellis (a member of the Austin Civic Wind Ensemble) on clarinet, Elaine Barber of the Austin Symphony on harp, and Eric Lyday on drums. Lyday, it must be noted, is the subject of one of the funniest newspaper corrections of all time.
The show itself is a slow and patient thing, as you might expect. Barber’s harp provides the foundation, with the Rep and Smith’s keyboards there for accent more than rhythm. The Rep’s scratchy violin playing on songs like “Ultimate Bet” must be heard to be believed, and it contrasts nicely with the tuneful clarinet work from Ellis. The Rep’s lyrics are dark and poetic, Smith’s more lighthearted. (Her first line: “I’ve got seven pounds of honey, I’ll have to store it in your room.”) Lyday accentuates with deep bass drum hits and cymbals, but lets the orchestral instruments move things forward.
The most successful pieces here find the Rep and Smith trading off vocal lines, as they often do. “Happy Girl” is a little joy, the Rep describing the title character, Smith wishing she was her, and the Rep confirming “that is you.” And closer “The Man With the Hat” is a pure delight, the two Smiths openly flirting, trading French lines. “Je veux tenir ton chapeau!” “Allez-vous!” I can’t help but smile. Austin Tuesday is a small-scale show, but one with plenty of pleasures.
Listen to “Happy Girl.”
#86. Dallas Thursday (2017).
Three months later, on May 19, 2016, the Rep and Smith set up shop at the Texas Theatre in Dallas for a cool jazz show. The Rep plays bass here, and the Smiths are joined by Chris Curiel (of Dallas band The Free Loaders) on trumpet and Andrew Miller on keyboards. The Rep hands the mic to Smith for the entirety of the 77-minute set, and she sings the whole thing in a breathy, low tone that works well.
With no drums or percussion, this music floats in the air, unmoored. The Rep plays random low rumblings while Miller sticks to an electric piano sound and gives us chiming chords with lots of space. And over all of this, Curiel solos like Miles Davis, blaring at times and restrained at others. This whole thing sounds like something Miles might have put together, aside from the vocals, and the atmosphere conjured here feels like a smoky club sinking underwater. It’s the same mood throughout, but it is a legitimately transporting one.
Here Smith seems to rein in her tendency to sing about whatever is on her mind. I would bet that these lyrics were written by the Rep, particularly pieces like “Despair” and “Love Denied.” They’re as rich with imagery and loneliness as anything in the Jandek catalog, and Smith delivers them with an almost reverent touch. While this can be said of nearly all Jandek live records, this one is like nothing the Rep has ever done, and seeing it live must have been quite an experience.
Listen to “A Dream.”
#87. Houston Friday (2017).
This one follows on nicely from the Dallas show, even if it was recorded eight months later. This show took place on January 6, 2017, at the Lawndale Art Center in Houston, with the Rep and Smith joined by bassist Mark Riddell and drummer Richard Cholakian. On this one, the Rep confines himself to vocals, and Smith plays keyboards, never once singing. It’s something of a mirror image to the Dallas show, since these pieces also float along, with no driving percussion or guitar.
The tone, in fact, is often similar to Manhattan Tuesday, Smith playing eerie organ dirges while the Rep speaks and sings in his lower register. Many of these pieces, like the 12-minute “Wild Places,” threaten to collapse at any time, their foundations are so slim. Riddell is barely a presence, playing to moments instead of to the whole, and Cholakian is there for flourishes, not for underpinning. A piece like “Next Monday” rises and falls on the single-note chimes Smith plays, and that the band manages to stay with it for the whole running time without evaporating is fascinating.
This one creates its own peculiar atmosphere. More than most, this one cannot be used as background. Its utter sparseness demands attention. In many ways the air between the notes is like the fifth band member here, and the whole of Houston Friday comes off as an exercise in minimalism. This is an hour and a half of music that is barely there, and even when things get more intense on the final two tracks, it’s still spare. And yet there’s an indescribable pull here as well, an atmosphere that was probably electric in the room. The spaces between the notes here are every bit as interesting as the notes themselves, and that’s a kind of strange magic.
Listen to “These Things.”
#88. San Francisco Friday (2018).
The guitars come roaring back on San Francisco Friday, a 90-minute show recorded on October 9, 2015 at the Chapel in San Francisco. If you’re paying attention to the dates, we’ve gone back in time again, to the period after Los Angeles Saturday and before Austin Tuesday. This is the eighth show in the modern Sheila Smith era, so she’s integrated into the Jandek project by this point, but the extraordinary jazz, chamber and ambient performances described above are still to come.
This one is much more of a rock show. There are three electric guitarists – the Rep, Smith and Lucas Gorham – along with drummer Josh Pollock and accordion player Mark Gregory. It starts in a far more chaotic way than it means to go on, with the impenetrable “Obstruct Me,” but the band finds their footing on the 18-minute “We Got Waves.” Pollock lays down a slinky beat while Gorham fills an ocean with his slide guitar, and the Rep and Smith engage in their call-and-response lyrical conversation over the top. It’s such an effective mood that when the Rep shouts “let’s go” and the big guitar chords kick in, it feels like tables being overturned.
From there, a lot of this show traffics in standard blues patterns. “The Sounds” is a bit of an event, the Rep describing in the lyrics how creating Jandek music makes him feel and why he keeps doing it. He describes getting his first guitar and playing it for 20 hours straight, just listening to the sounds it made, and those sounds keep him coming back. “The Pharmacy” opens with a guitar part reminiscent of the Knight Rider theme, and finds the Rep shouting about his anger over Gregory’s drone-like accordion. Closer “Desecrate Me” is something of a roadhouse blues workout with a skipping beat.
San Francisco Friday is an enjoyable rock show that doesn’t quite rise to the heights of the performances that came after it. I like that it reaches back to the blues-rock roots of albums like You Walk Alone, but there’s a strange sense of normalcy to that tone as well, and by the end of this album I found myself wishing for something a little more odd, a little less immediate. Basically, a little more Jandek.
Listen to “The Sounds.”
#89. Hamman Hall (2018).
Fast forward to one of the most recent Jandek shows to come out on CD. This one was recorded at (you guessed it) Hamman Hall at Rice University in Houston on April 21, 2017, which was a Friday. And since Houston Friday was also recorded on a Friday in 2017, the usual naming convention just wouldn’t work. Hence, the first Jandek album to be named after the venue in which it was performed. This one is often referred to as the country show, and it’s easy to see why. The Rep and Smith bring back Mark Riddell on bass, and add Austin Sepulvado on electric guitar and pedal steel master Will Van Horn. The Rep and Smith trade off on drums and vocals.
The instrumentation is certainly country, but the pieces here are a form of windswept ambient music. Every number is slow and sad-sounding, with Van Horn’s beautiful pedal steel filling out most of the space. Percussion is sparse, Sepulvado sticks to minimal picked lines in a clean tone, and Riddell is again one of the most economical bass players you could ask for. It’s not much of a hoedown, is what I am saying. But the Rep’s lyrics seem to anticipate a country backdrop, dipping into cowboy tales: “They was whippin’ up a hailstorm in Amarillo, we was hiding in the canyons around there…’
If there is a complaint to be had here, it is with the Rep’s voice, which is more high-and-lonesome than usual. He strains here for notes in a way that can almost be comical if you’re not acclimated to his vocal style. Smith fares better, her stream-of-consciousness vocals fitting the minor key tone of “Hey There Beautiful” well, and she croons waltz “Just Giving” in her off-kilter way. The tone of Hamman Hall stays consistent throughout, but it’s such a distinctive tone, such an intriguing concept – a Jandek country show! – that it wraps you up in it.
Listen to “Colorado Sky.”
#90. Houston Tuesday (2018).
Houston again. This show was recorded on October 20, 2015, 11 days after San Francisco Friday, at Walter’s Downtown. The Rep and Smith are accompanied by three Houston musicians: guitarist Joe Wozny, bassist Thomas Helton and drummer Ryan Weston. The Rep and Smith trade off on guitar, harmonica and vocals. This is more of a stripped-down affair than we’ve heard recently, and like the San Francisco show, it opens with a pair of numbers that might make you nervous for the rest, particularly tumbling opener “The Wary Stalk.”
The band finds its thunder halfway through “Just Tell Me,” and things pick up from there, but this is largely a dirge-y affair. The Rep bellows his way through the still-point “Absent Minded,” while Smith sings “Havoc,” with its steady beat and root-note bass line. There’s a menacing tone to much of this, especially when the whole band kicks in on a rocker like “Magic.” But mostly this is the sound of restraint, of a potentially powerful ensemble holding back for reasons unknown.
I spoke extensively about the fatigue that set in partway through the single-instrument studio albums. Is there a similar sense of exhaustion when it comes to these live documents? I don’t think so. Houston Tuesday is not the best of these, and it pales next to some of the more innovative live excursions. But it’s still unpredictable enough that there’s no sense of retreading the same ground. We’re 14 albums deep into the most extensive run of live recordings in the Jandek catalog, and each one is still exciting in new ways. Even a mediocre entry like this one has a lot to recommend it, within the universe the Rep has spun for himself.
Listen to “Havoc.”
#91. Los Angeles Friday (2018).
It’s clear by this point that the Rep tries on these ensembles like coats. Some of them fit snugly, others are a little tight or a little loose. Sometimes the ones you expect to work, like the Mike Watt jam that makes up Houston Saturday, aren’t as successful as they ought to be. And sometimes the strangest collective of musicians makes for the most interesting experience. Los Angeles Friday is one of those.
This performance was recorded at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles on August 5, 2016. In addition to the Rep and Sheila, both of whom only add vocals this time, the featured player is Will Toledo, the mastermind of Car Seat Headrest. Toledo is on guitar, while Marty Sataman plays bass and Kyle Mabson lays down vintage-sounding electronic beats, like from the era of Run-DMC. The cheeseball drums are the first sounds you hear on Los Angeles Friday, and they’re startling. A Jandek dance-rock show? In some ways, yes.
In other ways, though, this is unlike anything else I own. (Still not tired of typing that phrase.) The wild card is Toledo, and he spends these two hours creating intricate, gorgeous guitar atmospheres over these beats. The effect is something both grounded and in orbit. Opener “Rap It Like You Should” (yes, that is the real title) sets an otherworldly tone – it’s danceable, sure, but it’s also completely alien music. The band settles in on the 16-minute “The Bus and the Apartment,” a story about nothing much happening – the Rep and Sheila get surprisingly emotional about riding buses around all day. “The American” is a highlight, the Rep arguing that no one just “looks American,” and that it doesn’t matter where you’re from.
The whole thing comes to a head on the monumental 21-minute closer “Things That Never Change,” which is an ironic title for a song that changes tempo more than once. The buildup is convincing, with Toledo working his magic. It’s a successful ending to a very successful show, and the true testament to its unlikely power is that by the end, this collection of musicians feels like a natural Jandek band.
Listen to the first disc.
#92. London Thursday (2018).
And just like that, we’re back in the pre-Sheila Smith days for a couple releases. This smoky, thoroughly enjoyable show was recorded at Café Oto in London, the site of the London Residency shows the following year. It was performed on April 4, 2013, with the Rep on keyboards, his old partner Alex Nielson on drums, John Edwards on double bass and Byron Wallen on trumpet. Wallen is without doubt the featured artist here – he’s a well-known and award-winning jazz player. Edwards is pretty famous too as the bassist for Status Quo.
Together these people make strange, beautiful music for just over an hour and a half. The basis is jazz – the Rep plays with a Herbie Hancock-style electric piano sound, and the trio behind him make jazz-like noises. But this exists in a middle ground between straight jazz and fusion, as Nielson refuses to simply play a beat – he’s improvising all over the place, following what the Rep is doing, which leaves Edwards and Wallen to fill in the spaces. Both are terrific at this, of course, and though none of this sounds pre-planned in any way, it all comes off well. Wallen especially gets into the groove of this more readily than I expected. He’s great throughout.
There are love songs here and death songs, the Rep singing most in his airy, quieter voice. Right in the middle of the first disc is a new take on “I Know You Well,” one of the signature songs from 1986’s Follow Your Footsteps. This version is more menacing, with Edwards scraping out an unsettling bass line with drum flourishes from Nielson. I wonder if any of the other musicians knew what was happening, or how significant this would be to those who have followed Jandek for the past 30 years. This revisit is fascinating to me. It’s an ironic one to bring back up, too, now that we know the Rep better than we ever have. Do we know him well? I don’t think so, but probably as well as we’re ever going to.
The rest of the show is quite enjoyable too. Jazz seems to fit the Rep’s vibe better than some other musical identities he tries on, mainly because freeform improvisation is part of the music’s DNA. The Rep’s chosen cohorts here improvise really well, and set a downbeat atmosphere for the entire set. Two nights later, the Rep and Nielson would rejoin Richard Youngs in Glasgow for what is, to date, the final performance of the O.G. Jandek trio. It’s no wonder he was in a nostalgic mood. London Thursday is another highlight in a run of albums full of highlights.
Listen to the new “I Know You Well.”
#93. Gainesville Monday (2019).
It’s all the way back to 2008 for the last album in this run of live documents. Again, I can see why the Rep would want this one out there sooner. Recorded on December 1, 2008 at the Hippodrome State Theatre in Gainesville, Florida, this one is a power trio record, but for the first time with a trio lineup the Rep plays bass. He’s joined by Rob Rushin on guitar and Chad Voight on drums, and this is a group that gets one another right away. They play eight long songs over 100 minutes, and this is one that could have gone on for a while longer and I would have been OK with it.
As always, this is music that doesn’t fit neatly into little boxes, but there are hints of doom metal throughout in Rushin’s big, distorted guitar lines and Voight’s pounding on the toms. The seven-note figure that Rushin plays through opener “I Like It” is delightful, and he has more where that came from. He changes tone often here too, playing fuzzy noise one minute and clean strums the next. He’s on acoustic for several tracks, giving “It Seems Obvious” a gentle framework to build around and “The Picture” a repetitive, mesmerizing folk foundation. (This is not the same “The Picture” from 2003’s The Place, alas.) And he puts the guitar through a strange series of effects to create clouds of sound on “The Call Imaginary.”
This is another one on which everything works, in which the Rep finds co-conspirators who understand what he does and adapt to fit. The Rep’s bass playing is typically all over the map here, but with Voight and Rushin providing such a solid grounding, it works. An interesting note, given that this one is as forward-looking as anything he did in 2008: the cover of Gainesville Monday is literally a chair beside a window. It’s a nice touchstone to end this series of 17 live albums, all of which have been enjoyable in different ways, and all of which have pointed toward the collaborative future of the project.
Listen to “Here Now Today.”
#94. The Ray (2019).
Just when you thought the studio albums were a thing of the past, the Rep reignites them with this crazy thing. I can tell you that the Jandek message boards and social media pages lit up with this announcement, the first studio release in five years. Nobody knew what to expect, and I’d say no one predicted what we got. This, to me, is the magic of Jandek studio albums. The live shows are fairly well documented, and you can find out who played what on a particular date, so when live albums are announced there’s already a lot of information about them. Not so the studio records. How many tracks? How long is the album? How long are the songs? What instruments are being played? Who is on the record? None of this information is available in advance. Even the cover is mysterious.
Here is what we got: a single track that runs 61 minutes, called “The Ray.” This one is like the Jandek version of acid psych rock – it’s a huge tower of sound, featuring drums, bass, at least two guitars and some form of synthesizer, over which the Rep sing-speaks a lyric that is part internal monologue and part conversation. Everything is drenched in reverb and echo, and the mix is muddy and off-putting. It feels like falling through thickening quicksand, like it’s closing in and cutting off your air.
I have no way of knowing whether this theory is true, but I think this is all the Rep, overdubbing himself on each instrument. (Some of them could be Sheila too, like the drums.) It sounds like a hermetic effort, like the first Jandek album since Dublin Friday to have been performed alone. In a lot of ways, this, the 55th Jandek studio album, feels like the first, like a dispatch from a lonely musician making the noise he hears in his head. This is also, to date, the last Jandek studio album, and we’re back to wondering whether we will ever hear another one. The Ray is unique, an hour of noise unlike any hour of noise the Rep has given us, and if it is the last of the studio records, it’s quite a way to go.
Listen to the whole album.
#95. Austin Sunday 2007 (2019).
Austin Sunday 2007 begins a run of live albums we’re still in, as of this writing. Notably, this one picks up where Richmond Sunday left off – the Rep returns to chronologically releasing his shows here, a practice he has stuck with since, with two exceptions. This one was recorded on March 17, 2007, which my calendar tells me was a Saturday, but no matter. It was only six days after the Richmond show, but 22 releases separate the two in the catalog. Recorded at Central Presbyterian Church, the Rep played guitar and was joined by Ian Wadley on drums, Tom Carter on bass and Shawn David McMillan on harmonium. The latter two have played together on a few records.
I can imagine the Rep sitting on this one for a bit, since it’s not the most impressive show. It’s six songs in an hour, and the power trio at the core both improvises loosely and keeps the tempos to a crawl. The harmonium offers the unfamiliar element here – it’s basically a pump organ – and McMillan slathers these pieces with sustained notes. It’s an interesting touch but it doesn’t do a lot to infuse this with energy. The Rep’s playing is as unrestrained as ever, the thick chords spilling out of his amp, but even so, dirges like “I Think I’ll Go” and “The Way It Is” just kinda hang there.
Lyrically this is dark as well, the Rep announcing on “The Way It Is” that “I don’t like myself, sorry but I don’t, I feel like a failure, don’t ask me why.” “Out Loud” is about putting a public face on misery: “Put on a face, be happy with the crowd, but when you go home, you scream out loud.” The comparatively rocking “Shake Loose” is about throwing off the burdens others put on you, but so much of this album is about the burdens we put on ourselves. As is often the case, the mental discord matches the musical discord. But there are many more successful examples of this throughout the catalog. Austin Sunday 2007 isn’t an essential experience.
Listen to “The Jaunt.”
#96. Berlin Sunday (2020).
All of a sudden, we’re in the year of COVID-19. I mention this because the pandemic has had a clear impact on Corwood Industries. Berlin Sunday was initially announced on the Corwood website’s lyric page, so we knew it would be next. But in March, shortly after the pandemic began, the Rep stopped accepting or sending out mail orders, and Berlin Sunday was removed from the site. The next album announced was in April, and it was Boston Friday, two catalog numbers after this one. There was a hole in the catalog, and no word on when or how it would be filled. It was a weird time.
Corwood did start re-shipping in June, and they did promptly offer Berlin Sunday, first as a DVD and then as a CD, and the releases have come fast and furious since then. We’re up to eight this year with no end in sight. This one sends us back to the future: it was recorded on November 12, 2017 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Germany, and it brings Sheila Smith back front and center. She sings, the Rep plays guitar (and later keys), and they are joined by Ramin Bijan of long-running band Die Turen on bass and Simeon Coster on drums.
This one is slinky. Coster and Bijan opt for a steady, almost trippy foundation, with the Rep sticking to high lead notes while Smith does her thing. At times this feels like the Jandek version of Cibo Matto, with danceable beats and solid bass lines under Smith’s always winning lyric improvisations. There isn’t a sexier Jandek song than “He Do It Best,” Smith singing about spending the night with someone. “I got it all under control,” she croons, then winks and adds “maybe not.”
This whole thing is just fun. It’s always a treat when the Rep has as solid a rhythm section as this, holding things down so he can fly off and do what he likes. His guitar style works well within this framework – it’s not the focus, but it adds to the atmosphere. This one feels like it was recorded in a smoky bar with dancers. The one minor misstep is the closer, “Disequilibrium,” on which the Rep plays keys, and it doesn’t work quite as well as his six-string embellishments. Still, though, Berlin Sunday is a treat. It is also, as of this writing, Sheila Smith’s last appearance in the Jandek catalog, and she shows here why that’s a bit of a shame.
Listen to “Attic Apartment.”
#97. Manhattan Saturday (2020).
Album number 98, Boston Friday, was released in April of this year. Its predecessor in the catalog, Manhattan Saturday, came out in June. This is the way of Jandek. There’s no question this one should come first – it was recorded on April 14, 2007, two months before the Boston show, and brings us back to the chronology of live releases. But if you’re anal retentive, that’s enough to give you a headache.
The music here will likely do the same, for most audiences. Manhattan Saturday is a trio show performed at the Abrons Art Center in New York with Tim Foljahn on bass and Pete Nolan on drums. Foljahn has a ton of releases of his own and has played with Thurston Moore and Cat Power, among others. Nolan is in a bunch of bands and runs his own record label. With Jandek they set a bit of a record: this is the single longest Jandek set ever performed. It runs two hours and 45 minutes and needs three CDs to contain it. Oh, and it only includes nine songs, so each one is a marathon.
Why are these songs so long? Well, it sounds to me like the Rep just liked playing with these guys and didn’t set any time limits. The Rep’s playing is energetic and full of life here, even when the tempos are slower, and Nolan and Foljahn match his ebb and flow perfectly. This is a monstrously noisy show, and every one of these songs makes enough racket to light your eardrums on fire. It’s ten minutes before the Rep even sings on opener “All the Boxes,” and those minutes are filled with dissonant, almost angry noise. The whole show follows suit – these are big, long, incendiary jams.
As he did a year prior in Chicago, the Rep centers a lot of his lyrics this time on prison stories, further igniting the speculation about whether he ever spent time. There’s a song literally called “Incarcerated,” and another called “No Bond,” on which the Rep shouts “You’re going to County! See you later!” “Action Justified” feels like a prisoner looking back on his crime, while “Chips of Paint” finds this same person looking around his cell, trying to find something to keep his eyes busy. I know that prison stories are a standard element of blues, but it still makes one wonder.
Manhattan Saturday is a long journey worth taking. It does take some self-awareness to end this lengthy set with a song called “Hours of Pain,” but if you like your Jandek punishingly loud, this won’t be painful at all. Plus it features one of the few contemporary pictures of the Rep on the cover. It’s a nice package, this one, and a strong entry in this run of live albums.
Listen to “Chips of Paint.”
#98. Boston Friday (2020).
Two months later, the Rep traveled to my former hometown and set up shop at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The performance, recorded on June 8, 2007, is one that fits with Richmond Sunday and London Thursday in the Jandek jazz file. The Rep plays bass, and he shares the stage with trumpeter Greg Kelley, sax player Jorrit Dijkstra (an associate professor at Berklee College of Music and a faculty member at the New England Conservatory) and drummer Eli Kezler. All of these players are well known within the improvisational and avant garde jazz communities.
The piece they play here has no title. It consists of 12 parts and an instrumental prelude, and it’s all pretty consistent, in that it all sounds like a very talented jazz band falling down a set of stairs slowly. The Rep sets the tempo with his loping bass work, and rather than spirited improvisations, Kelley and Dijkstra give us mournful blasts of melody. (It reminds me of the show I saw in Ann Arbor in 2008, which is coming up soon in the release order, I expect.) Over this the Rep sings about closing the doors and windows and shutting off the light, so he can’t even stare at anything. It’s as dark and lonesome as anything he’s written.
Dijkstra does switch to a lyricon on some tracks, and that instrument is interesting. Basically a synthesizer you play like a saxophone, it conjures up tones and atmospheres that can’t be recreated another way. As an extended piece, this one works well, title or no title, and it’s one of the few Jandek albums to have been recorded in a place I have been. It’s a nice reminder that this is all happening in the real world, even though it sounds like another one entirely.
Listen to “Part Ten.”
#99. Montreal Sunday (2020).
Another jazzy entry, this show was performed at La Salla Rossa in Montreal on June 24, 2007, just 16 days after the Boston show. The Rep is on electric guitar here, but he sticks to a cleaner tone throughout, and he’s joined by sax player Jean Derome, harpsichordist Loren Robert Carle and drummer Ray Dillard, all Canadian musicians with strong pedigrees. There’s no bass to be heard. This is a strange combination of tones, and the music these players make together is slow and unsettling.
The first track is sung partially in French, because that’s what you do when you’re in Montreal. “La Fenetre” (or “The Window”) finds the Rep singing about “streams of sex” while the odd mix of instruments swirl around him. Carle’s harpsichord is never used for rhythm or melody, just to spread tones like fairy dust over the proceedings. Derome mainly sticks to lower registers and plays bracing lines. Dillard improvises, but holds it together, following the Rep’s stabbing guitar playing. The Rep plays the harmonica fairly often here too, like only he can.
There are seven songs here, but most of the focus is on the two longer ones. “Flat Nothing” and “The Light I Know” account for more than an hour between them, and they both build up and up over their extended running times. “The Light I Know” crescendos so effectively that it feels like the showstopper, the Rep giving his all to the lyrics about death and release. (There is one more track, the crawling “Wherever I Go,” and it feels like a coda.) This isn’t a pleasant listen – the Rep’s lyrics are dark as always, and the focus is on his unchained voice – but it is a compelling one. This is one of the more curious Jandek ensembles, and though this was recorded in the summer, it makes me feel like Montreal in the winter.
Listen to “Wherever I Go.”
#100. Fort Worth Saturday (2020).
And here we are. The 100th Jandek album. In some ways I wish there were more of a celebratory aspect to this milestone release, but in others I like the fact that it’s just the next one. This was recorded just a little less than a month after the Montreal show, on July 21, 2007, at the Rose Marine Theater in Texas. This is the prototype Jandek country show, featuring fiddle and banjo player Ralph White (of the Bad Livers), pedal steel player Susan Alcorn, bassist Ryan Williams and drummer Will Johnson.
This one is interesting because we have, in Hamman Hall, the country Jandek sound in its final form. So this one can be seen as a rough draft, from which the Rep learned some things. A striking difference, to my ear, is that this Fort Worth show feels like a Jandek show with country/bluegrass instruments, where the Hamman Hall show (ten years later) feels like a whole new thing. I don’t feel like the Fort Worth performance is quite as successful, though it is intriguing to hear these seasoned players try to fit in with what the Rep is bringing to the table. He sings all of this in his high-and-lonesome voice, and plays harmonica here and there, but otherwise doesn’t contribute musically, so it’s strange that this sounds so much like his style anyway.
That said, some of the more successful pieces here are the ones in which the country elements are front and center. “No Dirt” glides forward on a plucked banjo figure and some waves of pedal steel, as the Rep announces, “I’m a new man! I got the Lord God in me!” The ensemble gets more comfortable with one another as they go, so the final tracks are among the best, especially the off-kilter boogie of “The Close.” Even so, this is one of the more scattered Jandek live shows, and the Rep would perfect this style later.
Around the time of this album’s release, several people (including myself) asked the Rep if he planned anything special for his hundredth album. The response was that the 101st would be the anniversary release, and it was, as you’ll see in a second. But I think reaching 100 albums deserves its own round of applause, and I like the idea that the hundredth is nothing special. It solidifies the idea that the Jandek saga will continue apace, with no end in sight. This is just the show that came up next in the rotation, and it happened to land at number 100. There’s a kind of poetic beauty in that.
No tracks available online.
#101. Rudyard’s (2020).
This one is the celebration. Now, I completely understand that Jandek is an unknown, underground musician, and when I say that some Jandek shows are legendary, I know that said legend only travels among a small group of people. But we’re in Jandek’s world here, and within this world, some shows are legendary. Near the top of the list is this one, his first ever hometown gig. Recorded on April 5, 2009 at Rudyard’s in Houston, this one was talked about in hushed tones from the moment the first bootleg clips hit the internet. If the Rep wanted a party for his centenary milestone, he couldn’t have picked a better show to release.
What makes this one special? Well, it’s nothing less than a full-on funk jam. It’s a trio show, the Rep on electric guitar with drummer Tyson Sheth and bassist Keith Vivens, both from Houston. But this is unlike any trio show the Rep has ever given us. For one thing, it’s a single song, the 75-minute “Two O’Clock Sun.” Yes, I said 75 minutes. For another, this one takes the idea of a rock-solid foundation for the Rep’s improvisations to its absolute extreme. Sheth starts off with a full-on four-on-the-floor beat, Vivens joins in with a deeply funky bassline, and the two of them don’t stop for an hour and a quarter.
And the Rep? He makes noise on the guitar, like no one else is around, but the rhythm section is so strong that whatever he does works. About ten minutes in he starts sing-speaking, and man, the crowd in this sweaty little club is INTO IT. Lyrics are impressionistic, each line spaced out for maximum impact, and his delivery pops. Seeing footage of this show is just revelatory. The Rep smiles! He shimmies! He interacts with the audience! It is the most fun he (or anyone else) has ever had at a Jandek show.
I’m so happy to have this on CD and DVD. This is one hell of a show. Sheth and Vivens show no signs of tiring, even as the song passes an hour in length, and their work is so solid that I never wanted it to end. Most Jandek shows are dark and desolate things, the Rep clearly working out some mental health issues while we listen. This one is just pure, unadulterated joy. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a great way to cap off this series of reviews, this deep dive into the catalog of a consistently compelling and fascinating individual and the dozens of musicians who have joined him through the years.
Watch a clip from “Two O’Clock Sun.”
* * * * *
So we’re not quite done, because of course while I was writing this series, the Rep issued album number 102. So I may as well write about that one too.
#102. Grinnell Saturday (2020).
This one goes back to the chronology – the show took place a little less than three months after the Fort Worth concert. But if the Rep were aiming to show off his diversity, he couldn’t have picked a better release to follow Rudyard’s. This one was recorded at Grinnell College in Iowa on October 6, 2007, and finds the Rep on piano, joined by several chamber musicians: Skye Carrasco on the violin, Jennifer Wohlenhaus on the oboe and Olivia Muzzy on double bass. Muzzy teaches bass at the University of Iowa, Wohlenhaus is first chair oboe with the Des Moines Symphony and Carrasco is a rock violinist and an Iowa City fixture.
The piece they perform, like the one played at the Boston show, has no title. It also has no lyrics. Over six lengthy sections, the instrumentalists imagine a strange symphony, one anchored by the Rep’s deliberate piano playing, but not bound to it. The result is quite lovely, the three orchestral musicians playing off of one another well, leaving space for one another. This is sort of like Atlanta Saturday with no lyrics and no percussion, but that sets it apart as a very different thing anyway. It’s further proof that the Jandek project can encompass abrasive, teeth-grinding noise as well as the pursuit of beauty.
And there we are. I am not sure I came any closer to understanding the draw this music has for me, but I hope I gave you a window on what it’s like to follow the Rep’s work with an open mind. He’s already announced album 103, documenting the next show in the chronology – a guitar trio effort recorded in Amsterdam. I have no idea when he will stop, or even why he would. The saga continues, and my strange fascination with it does as well.
Next week, music by people not in Jandek. Definitely Sufjan, probably a few others.
See you in line Tuesday morning.