I had to break the posting hiatus to post something about the Jandek live show at Instal in Scotland earlier in October. (Yeah, I know this was a couple of weeks ago, and the blogosphere has moved on by now. The Vitamin B Glandular Show: closing barn doors after the horses have escaped for almost two years!) Hearing the news that Jandek played a live show (!) in Scotland (!!) produced one of those indescribably cool moments when everything you once thought you knew about the way the world works is instantly turned on its head. Once one of the most notoriously reclusive cultural figures ever broke his veil of anonymity for one unannounced show halfway across the globe, everything seemed possible.
But enough of the loner/recluse image, what about the actual quality of the show? It sounded much like Jandek's electric albums, but with a heavier guitar sound and a more forceful vocal style. (Jandek actually sounds like Nick Cave or a more nasally, drawling Tom Waits in spaces live.) The rhythm section (if it could be termed that) was content to lay in the background, punctuating with arrhythmic cymbal crashes and bass interjections at seemingly random times. One of the most riveting qualities of Jandek's music is its intensely private and solitary nature; at times it's like overhearing something you weren't intended to hear and soul bearing to the point of inspiring discomfort in the listener. To hear Jandek being taken out of hothouse isolation and into a live crowd situation is a weirdly moving and riveting listening experience. Once you get past that, however, the concert environment takes away one of the things that make Jandek so unique - the idiosyncratic, almost alien nature of the music. Jandek on record sounds at times like something otherworldly, like what a reticuli gray might play if you forcefed him Jimmie Rodgers and Skip James albums; Jandek live sounds like a weird avant-garde rock band playing mutant blues. But at least this debunks the Chusid-style presentation of Jandek as some detuned, mentally ill freak clanging away purposelessly on a detuned thrift store guitar - the man isn't just an idiot savant, he clearly has a musical vision to carry out.
Obviously, Jandek's not for everyone, or even many people, but it's the type of thing that will inspire cultlike devotion in a small amount of people. Jandek's performances and recorded works are more about spilling out raw emotion and conjuring an intensely concentrated mood of sadness, loneliness or anger; traditional songcraft or musicianship is neglected in the quest to create as undiluted a meditation as possible. And despite the fact that Jandek's image as the invisible unknown loner has now evaporated somewhat in the wake of this live performance, it doesn't dim the fascination with his work: there's resonance in Jandek's search for absolution that goes far beyond the outsider mystique.