[Jandek] Esse Percipi: Jandek at Gateshead, 22 May 2005

Darin Mitchell susseddm at hotmail.com
Thu May 26 11:31:00 PDT 2005

“In art, all who have done something other than their predecessors have 
merited the epithet of revolutionary; and it is they alone who are masters.”

He was not introduced. Jandek walked quietly on stage appearing tall, pale, 
gaunt and dressed in dark attire. His silence was deafening. He moved slowly 
and confidently throughout the night. He appeared to be in complete control 
of his body. A friend remarked that his actions were very “calm and smooth, 
almost fluid.” Two young men also dressed in dark clothes accompanied him, 
although I had the distinct impression that they did not regularly dress in 
that manner. While he unzipped his guitar the other two men moved into 
position. They barely moved. I remember thinking that the drummer actually 
looked scared. Both of them looked like two young boys getting ready for 
their first confession with a priest.

The three men were given a warm reception. Jandek did not turn around until 
the clapping stopped. When it finally did, silence again swept the room. 
Jandek pulled his guitar strap around his body, turned around and move 
towards the front of the stage.

My two friends and I came a very long way to see this show. We sat to the 
left of the stage in the first row that went out vertically from the stage. 
My best friend sat in the second seat beside a Japanese woman who listened 
to the first few songs with her eyes closed. A man that sat in the front 
horizontal row, in the last seat on the left, took notes quickly. I think he 
was writing down the lyrics. Another man, who sat in the middle of the first 
row, nodded his head up and down to Jandek’s music. But I could not perceive 
a beat or steady rhythm in which to do so. Perhaps he heard what I could not 
hear. A woman dressed nicely in black took pictures from the first row.

We arrived at the show at 4:45pm. Jandek was supposed to take the stage at 
5:30pm. I asked the doorman at 5:05pm when the doors would be open. “When we 
get confirmation from inside,” he said. Shortly after we entered and took 
our seats a man and a woman walked on stage. The man told us that he wasn’t 
going to say anything about the artists performing. He said their music 
would speak for them. He also remarked that he could see the anticipation in 
the faces of the audience. The woman asked us to respect the artists wishes 
about not taking any pictures, video or recording. The only time I noticed 
anyone doing otherwise was when Jandek finished his set and walked towards 
the back of the stage. A woman took a couple of pictures.

No words were spoken between the musicians or between the musician and the 
audience. The first song had about a 2-minute instrumental before Jandek 
sang any words. My memory recalls him beginning, “Depression, I’ve come to 
bring you depression. Depression, there’s no way out.” Indeed, if this was 
what he said, then I thought it was rather humorous. The bass player and the 
drummer were both excellent musicians. I thought the drummer might have had 
a jazz background.

Jandek was always very controlled. He gently swayed as he played. He 
appeared to only communicate with the bass player. He gave slight nods.

Before the first song, Jandek tried to untangle his guitar cord. It seemed 
to take longer than usual to unravel a guitar cord. Jandek took his time, 
and he never once shook the cord. He calmly tried to untangle it. I recall 
looking over at my friend and he just grinned. It seemed almost absurd at 
the time. There were 300 people, best guess, transfixed on a man trying to 
untie a guitar cord.

After the first song Jandek handed his guitar to a man off the stage. Jandek 
then stood in front of the music stand and appeared to read over some notes. 
At this point I had no idea what he was doing. He quietly fiddled with his 
fingers. He looked over at the bass player and gave him a half smile. 
Similar to untying the guitar cord, the audience was transfixed. My thoughts 
floated. Anything could happen here. Spoken word poetry? Tell a story? I 
even thought he was finally going to say, “Hi, my name is Jandek and I just 
wanted to say….” But probably not. Eventually, the man from the side gave 
Jandek his guitar back and I felt sort of silly wondering what he was doing 
when he was simply waiting for his guitar to be tuned. My friend told me 
later that he could hear the guitar being tuned at the side of the stage.

As the show progressed Jandek became more spirited. He howled into the 
microphone. He moaned. He spoke of death and murder. He sang a song about 
sitting on a barstool and about his appearance that I thought was funny. His 
lyrics kept falling to the floor. The first time this happened he picked 
them up as the song continued. This happened a few times. His hands never 
shook due to nerves as the picked up the papers. At one point he read the 
lyrics off the floor.

The first guitar chord I saw him play during the first song was a bar chord 
played with his thumb which he did by putting it over the top of the neck. 
Richie Havens was the first person I saw do this when I was a kid.

Jandek played 12 songs and it felt like it was over an hour long.

When the show was over we walked out the doors. I heard a few people remark, 
“that was crazy,” and “just insane.” I was just happy to be outside.

Personally, I thought it was the most painful performance I have ever heard 
in my life. I was relieved when it was over. I wondered if this was exactly 
what the artist wanted us to feel (“I’ve come to bring you depression”). 
When we left the venue one of my friends turned to me and said, “M., I know 
you are a big fan of Jandek but I have to say that I f-u-c-k-i-n-g hated 
that; I fucking hated every second of it. And I can’t go back to see anyone 
else perform” My other friend said, “There were moments when there really 
was something unique going on. It was kinda cool. It was hard to listen to, 
but there was something there. I liked the lyrics. He can turn a good line.”

We went to England for an adventure. I have listened to Jandek for a very 
long time. My purpose for the trip was to see him perform, which of course I 
did, and it was worthwhile. My two friends do not listen to Jandek, although 
they have heard of him, and both of them thought the trip was worthwhile.

After a bite to eat I returned to the venue and saw Shuji Inaba perform. I 
thought the first song he performed was idiotic. But I am so happy I stayed 
for the entire performance. After the first song I can say that Inaba 
greatly impressed me. He is a talented guitar player, inspiring and, aside 
from that bizarre first song, wonderful to experience.


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