[Jandek] Vienna Wednesday

Richard Rees Jones richard.reesjones at gmail.com
Wed Oct 21 00:14:37 PDT 2009

Several months of planning went into this, the first ever Jandek
concert in central Europe, and I’m pleased to report that it was a
great success.  On a personal level, it was also a huge honour and a
privilege to be able to bring Jandek to Vienna; after three years of
concert-going there as a more or less passive consumer, it felt great
to be a witness to something that I myself had helped to bring about.

Once Jandek himself was on board (and note that I very deliberately
refer to Jandek the man; yes, I’m a subscriber to this list and I know
all about the preferred form of wording, but I don’t intend to abide
by it), the key task was to find the right backing musicians.  This
wasn’t so much of a challenge, in fact.  Both Eric Arn and DD Kern
were well known to me; regulars on the thriving Vienna
avant-rock/improv scene, they had proven time after time that they
could not only play beautifully but could also adapt their respective
styles to meet whatever needs the moment required, in the purest
spirit of improvisation.

For me, one of the most exciting moments of the whole evening came
before the group had even played a note.  As I led Jandek from the
backstage area through the audience and towards the stage, the
audience moved aside to let him through; and there was a sudden sense
of expectant reverence as this tall, striking figure, dressed all in
black and with his ever-present Stetson pulled down low over his face,
walked slowly and deliberately onto the stage.

The next ninety minutes passed in something of a blur, as Jandek, Arn
and Kern proceeded to lay down some of the most tense, daring and
original rock music I have ever heard.  Having only met for the first
time that day, the three of them made a virtue of their lack of
familiarity with each other, playing with an awesome blend of
looseness, openness and sheer narrative conviction.  Arn, it seemed to
me, was pretty much writing his own bass player’s rulebook as he went
along.  More often seen as lead guitarist with his own group
Primordial Undermind, he transferred many of the extended techniques
he brings into play with them – bottleneck slide, endless vertiginous
runs up and down the full length of the neck – to the bass, with
savagely entertaining results.  (He also joined Jandek on lead guitar
for one song, which sounded particularly brutal to these ears.)  Kern,
meanwhile, lit up the room with his questing, vital and ceaselessly
inventive percussion.  It’s always a pleasure to encounter a drummer
who actually plays the kit, investing it with light, shade and myriad
variations of timbre.  Chris Cutler does it, Paal Nilssen-Love does
it, and there can be little doubt that DD Kern does it too.

As for Jandek himself, he gave as little away as you might expect.
The last time I saw him, at St Giles Church in London in 2005, I came
away with the distinct impression that I had seen a ghost, so
evanescent and fleeting was his presence.  For all that he played in
Vienna with far greater aggression, there was still something eerie
and spectral about his performance.  More or less alternating between
dirge-like vocal excursions and full-on instrumental freakouts,
Jandek’s guitar work oddly sparkled, with the tones from his black
Godin ringing and cavernous.  Four new songs were played; I can’t
quote any of the lyrics I’m afraid, but the vocals were pleading and
anguished, set off against the deathly walk of the bass and drums.

Dark, turbulent and troubling, then.  A concert like none I had ever
experienced before, but all in a day’s work for Jandek.

Richard Rees Jones

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