[Jandek] Cleveland Sunday

Michael.Goldman at CH2M.com Michael.Goldman at CH2M.com
Mon Aug 22 18:12:02 PDT 2011

I have been wanting to see a Jandek solo acoustic guitar oriented show since he began performing.  Last night in Cleveland exceeded all of the expectations I had.  It was a lesson in 21st century country blues.  The Rep sat center stage and played a small bodied acoustic guitar and harmonica.  The lyrical themes centered spiritual longing and romantic love and the areas of life where the two seem to overlap.  In some piece’s the yearning got downright creepy with lyrics like “I own you” and “You can marry me and leave and you will still belong to me”.  Many pieces were much more lighthearted.  One song was a local travelogue where stated “Man, that was cool as hell, Lighten up” and “Where’s your Governor?” as he told the story of a long walk down Cleveland’s Euclid Ave.  He was downright playful on one number where he clowned with existential themes stating “You think I’m here, I’m not here” while playing the guitar on his lap with a slide, Dobro style.  His most profound lyric of the night was “From the beginning to the end, you’ll have to be your own best friend”.  As usual, the Rep has some heavy things on his mind and as usual expresses them in his poetry the way no else does.
There were also some transcendent moments on guitar.  What he has in common with the Delta Blues tradition is that the guitar is in the background as a prop for the song and the lyrics rather than exist for its own solo spotlight.  Most songs he played with a flat-pick in the style we’ve all heard but on several he played with his fingers in a more claw hammer style, down stroking with his fingers.  On one song he went for broke, strumming with all five right hand fingers in a flamenco style.  Tonally, the chording was sparse and steady on most songs but on a few he adopted more manic technique similar to “Back Porch Shimmy”.  It was obvious when the rhythm had him, he kept time with both feet and would begin rocking back and forth in his chair.  A high point of the night was when in a single song he was playing in 6/8 for the faster sections and 4/4 for the slower passages and managing to keep a groove.  He may not have the chops of a Bert Jansch or Richard Thompson but not many guitarists can pull those timing shifts off.  Time signature changes like that are one of many of the great pre-war blues men’s expressive tools for propelling a song, you have to wonder if he was consciously paying homage to players like Robert Johnson and Skip James.
The venue was beautiful visually and very good sonically and the curator Rob Galo was an extremely nice fellow who took a lot of care in making this a successful performance, even wearing a suit and natty straw fedora for the evening.
The songs were typically shorter lengths in the vein of works like “Moon So Blue” and “Blue Corpse” as opposed to longer ramblings like “Khartoum”.  So in some ways it was a return to form while at the same time it felt new Delta Blues for modern times – as if Skip James had studied under John Cage.  He came out swinging and made it clear why his shows are always worth attending, there’s nothing quite like him.
Michael Goldman
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