The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Scott McKeating , April 26th, 2013 10:35

Scott McKeating gets even further tangled up in Jandek at Glasgow’s Counterflows Festival. Photographs courtesy of Alex Woodward

The basement of Glasgow’s Stereo venue is, as you might expect, down several flights of stairs. Phone signal blind and with the kind of concrete decor normally found in a CIA black site, aside from the obligatory gig posters, it’s pretty much an air raid bunker that sells booze. It’s a stark and welcome contrast to Glasgow’s Centre For Contemporary Arts where the rest of the evening’s Counterflows Festival events were held. The Stereo stage, resembling a post bailiff-raid bedsit, feels more like the right kind of place for a summoning of one of the most famously reclusive DiY underground musicians of our time, Jandek.

Being such a completely singular artist, in both the way he operates ‘commercially’ (his own label, no e-mail, no PayPal, PO Box communication only) and the way his music sounds, there’s a fashionable inclination to view Jandek as a complete eccentric; a man who has either just beamed down from planet Zenno or escaped from Shady Acres Mental Hospital. While the mysteries of his personal life and back-story remain intact through his simple refusal to discuss them, Jandek’s live working methods are easily researchable through interviews with his collaborators about his numerous live shows to date. Depending on the collaborators for the night in question, or the lack of, the sound of a Jandek show has been known to fall anywhere between solo acoustic guitar/voice shows, electronics trios and noise/blues blow-outs. Periodic appearances at UK arts/experimental music festivals are a specialty of Jandek’s, and this show sees a return of the ‘classic’ live line-up, Jandek on guitar, the legendary Richard Youngs on bass and Trembling Bell’s songwriter and C93 affiliate Alex Neilson on drums. This information at least narrows the parameters of what the night’s audience are expecting. A dapper man in black, Jandek is a striking, trilby topped stick-thin figure, belt buckle and shoes glinting, before he picks up his guitar he’s looks like the world’s most likely contender for a David Lynch cameo.

As a performer, Jandek is an almost fluidly casual player and he’s as likely to appear lost in reverie as he is absently strumming or attempting to coax out a tip of the tongue idea. Even when arching away from, and folding himself into, his guitar, Jandek wanders at varying paces around his own concept of melody - a series of brittle-boned wonky chimes that feels like hearing through metal element heavy brine. Songs seemingly form out of nothing, doe-legged stumbling to existence with each of the trio able to lead them into the light through a shared look, a nod or just by getting in there first. The songs are equally as likely to stop out of the velvety blue, drift off into nothingness or end with an echoic shotgun splatter of sounds without any concern for the listener’s expectations.

This set’s heaviest presence aside from the sheer force of what-the-hell-that-is Jandek, is Richard Youngs’ bass playing. For a man who summons up the idea of melodic musical improvisation and ideas of progression and experimentation, the majority of Richard Youngs’ playing here is rivet-punchingly direct. These harder bass lines are often two to three note repeated prods of funkless post-punk fierceness, and it’s these that make the strongest impression of the gig. This engine of Youngs' doesn’t replace the role of Alex Neilson’s drums - never a strict metronomic player anyway he’s even freer to use his kit. Throwing in occasional backing vocal howls to accompany the fighting/fucking faces he pulls as he plays, Neilson has a rakish swagger even when seated at the drums in a plain white t-shirt.

A strange spiralling set that contains mid-length slower songs, bizarro short pieces and grand from-the-edge-of-calamitous psych-rock freak-outs, the gig is still incredibly hard to pin down to a handful of styles even within the context of a power trio performance. As improvised ‘rock’ it manages to give both near simultaneous somnolent nods and frantic explorations of landscapes like the blues, Dylan, the avant-garde, noise rock and psychedelia. Jandek follows up songs about complete and utter existential despair, his lyrics pared down to describing the bare bones view from the edge of the void, with pieces that are little more than two-way conversation songs about candles in cupcakes. There are very few performers who can make transitions between polar-end concepts like this sound perfectly natural placed together at a live show without producing a collective crowd response of "huh?". Where Jandek’s voice has always wavered on the side of the dissonant, his live recordings have captured his slow shift into a Twilight Zone take on mourning-filtered blues. No one really expects Jandek to do an encore, a ridiculous concept even for commercial artists, so when he gives Youngs and Neilson a look to say it’s over there’s no sense of short change in the show’s conclusion.

The momentum that Jandek’s return generated seems to have been slowing for a little while now, those interested in the back-story/spectacle will likely have had their chance to experience Jandek first hand. Even the online obsessive’s are beginning to slow up, their info collating not quite as exactingly anal as when the Jandek myth first became flesh in Glasgow back in 2004. Jandek’s disinterest in courting listeners, generating online interest or pushing for sales seems to have helped him reach an agreeable plateau for him to do his thing. The only thing that anyone could possibly complain that was missing from the show was the sight of The Lady In The Radiator swaying from behind her grill.