Given the crowded lineup of big names playing this weekend, Jandek was probably not the first one on most people’s minds — unless you’re me. I rarely see repeat performances of any one band, mostly because set-lists tend to be repetitive and, for the many artists, if you’ve seen one show, you’ve seen them all. But Jandek is different, which should come as no surprise to anyone.
There is no such thing as a central corpus of “greatest hits” for the man from Corwood, first of all, because Jandek has never produced anything even close to resembling a “hit” (for better or for worse) and secondly, because live, he never plays a single work twice. Each piece has never been heard before and will never be heard again, unless you count the possibility of it being played back on one of the many live Jandek discs. It’s hard to say how much of each live performance is choreographed and how much is truly spontaneous, but one thing is for sure: there ain’t no set-list for fans to swipe.
After speaking to a representative from Corwood, before the performance, I learned that this year’s FPSF performance was not going to be recorded by the label and re-released as a live album, like most other Jandek shows normally are. This made me all the more determined to be there.
When I showed up at the Saturn stage, a small crowd was gathered there, but I was still able to wriggle my way to the front rail to watch Jandek work, up close and personal, as I always try to do. Just as I had heard through the not-always-reliable grapevine of the internet, Jandek was accompanied by a drummer and bassist while he himself was equipped with his familiar black, off-brand-looking, electric guitar and line-six amp (I smell the opportunity for a wonderful celebrity endorsement).
The bassist was billed as “Mike Watt,” but I did not assume, when I first found out, that it was the Mike Watt of Minutemen fame. But indeed, there he was, all the way from California, or wherever he lives now, sweating his ass off in Houston, just to play with Jandek, at 12:50 in the afternoon.
The set started off very rhythmically, cohesive bass and drums with Jandek providing alien scratches and pluckings, but all in a harmonious cadence. Then Jandek began to play in a more frenzied, unhinged manner, leaving Watt and drummer in the dust for a minute or two, but within a few, it became thoroughly musical once again. Watt’s contributions were admirable, because while he didn’t act like a ham, he also didn’t timidly pussyfoot around Jandek in a fawning, awe-struck manner as some people do. At points there was a definite clash of styles, but the intensity made the experiment all the more interesting to witness.
One of the highlights of the gig was the fact that Jandek had announced, through some indirect channel, onto the internet, that he would also be singing at this engagement as well. The past two Houston shows have been conducted without more than one or two spoken lyrics, and arguably, Jandek’s tortured, introspective poetry is, for many, perhaps the most compelling part of his artistry.
At one point the lyrics lined up in a humorously appropriate fashion, almost as if he were addressing the audience, “It’s too hot!” he bellowed with his bluesy smoker baritone. But then it was obvious that he hadn’t finished his thought yet, as he completed it with, “It’s too cold!” By the time he arrived at the bulk of his singing, he let Watt and the drummer take over as the rhythm section. And in the few seconds between his own ceasing on the guitar, and the start of his crooning, it was obvious to see that Jandek was grooving and really enjoying the music, as he rocked a bit and bobbed his head. I say this to dispel the silly myths about Jandek being a robot, or a lunatic, or not having feelings, or whatever other garbage passes for first-hand knowledge on the web these days.
His humanity was clearly on display, despite the distant, desolate lyrics, and it felt very intimate in that sense. At the end of the set he even embraced Watt, which is not entirely surprising, since the two have performed together once in the past.