[Jandek] San Francisco review

Shervin Fatehi fatehi at berkeley.edu
Sun Jan 13 12:29:44 PST 2008

Hey all,

The show last night was pretty weird -- in a delightful way -- for  
me. (A friend who was present for Brooklyn Wednesday set 1 suggests  
that it was very similar, though, which I don't really see.)

The Swedish American Hall of the Café du Nord is a venue nestled up  
above the Café itself, with wood paneling, walls lined with chairs  
and even a couple thrones, and a very small stage that just had room  
for the performers and their gear. There was a set of red curtains  
set up at the back of the stage which, when taken together with the  
blue light and blacklight directed at the stage, gave the whole scene  
a vibe right out of Twin Peaks.

The Rep and the band were surprisingly unpunctual, finally showing up  
to perform around 8 PM -- one has to wonder whether he's becoming a  
prima donna. (While I'm casting aspersions, here's one that's  
justified: There was a recurring, nasty [and sometimes pretty loud]  
buzz throughout the night that obviously was being produced by some  
faulty piece of the PA -- certainly not the best sound I've heard in  
a venue, and it really brought me out of what I found to have been  
the coolest song of the night when I most wanted to be in it.)

My impression of this particular performing unit of Jandek was mixed.  
Early on, Tom Carter was really hewing too closely to extended bass  
figures that didn't really gel well with what Ches Smith and the Rep  
seemed to be trying to do. (This did have some benefits, as I'll  
mention below.) Smith, on the other hand, brought some of the same  
sensitivity to the percussion that Eli Keszler brought to bear at the  
end of the Boston show -- playing everything from the egg shaker to a  
gong to barehanded snare, bowing cymbals, etc., in search of a range  
of tones and timbres -- except *also* with a real rocking foundation.  
His just seemed to work better. And the Rep was in fiiine form. His  
guitar sounded as though each string but the second-lowest had been  
tuned to one note, and that string was tuned to a note a half-step  
lower, which I found kind of interesting. It sounded pretty much like  
a tuning Lee Ranaldo might pick for a Sonic Youth song.

The set started out with a barnstorming rocker in which the Rep  
exhorted us to "call the fire department" and "put this thing out."  
We declined, though, and so the flames get growing, the wind kept  
blowing, etc. He was really into this and (actually) many of the  
other songs played last night, bobbing up and down to the rhythm,  
leaning back and crouching a little, inching up onto his toes at  
times, and generally tearing it up.

This was followed by a slower song in the style of the recent studio  
albums, another barnstormer -- "Stop me! Arrest me! Sting me! I want  
to get STUUUUUUNG-GUH!" followed by some pretty hilariously clichéd  
lines about arrows of love and so on -- another slower song, and then  
a huuuge surprise: a very slow song that reminded me of the very  
early albums -- keening vocals, a careful, string-by-string pattern  
of picking that always managed to stay just this side of tonality,  
etc. It was a total joy to hear.

This intrusion into the live show and the present day of an older way  
of things would continue throughout the show, including a surprise  
appearance by the Rep's harmonica -- a delight for me, insofar as the  
harmonica-heavy songs are some of my favorites in the repertoire.  
Other *lyrical* themes that would crop up also included some classics  
-- wanting to be alone, being alive but feeling as though you're  
dead, finding individuals attractive but feeling isolation from them  
geographically or existentially, etc. After skipping a few pages in  
his trademark copy shop bound (I think) volume of lyrics, the Rep  
finished it out with some interesting imagery of tromping through a  

An interesting moment came after one of the searing songs that  
started off the night -- somebody in the crowd shouted something to  
the effect of, "Get down with yourself, Jandek," and the Rep, already  
smiling in satisfaction, very nearly broke out into a real grin. He  
nipped that in the bud almost instantaneously, though, and put back  
up his wall of grim disinterest.

This was, like I said, a pretty great show, and the first and last  
pieces are pretty much the closest thing the Rep's produced to honest- 
to-goodness rock songs -- that I've heard, anyway -- and I think  
you're all going to be pretty pleased with this set once it gets  
released. It was being recorded, too, so hopefully you'll get to see  
the cool ambience.


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