No Exit / Summer’s Ready When You Are

Jandek_04_26

Jandek
Boston Institute of Contemporary Arts
Friday, June 8

The Masons
Blizzard of ‘78

Jake’s
Providence, RI
Saturday, June 9

Anticipation nearly derailed my enjoyment of last Friday’s Jandek show at Boston’s swank new ICA. It’s hard to enjoy a performance on its own merits when there are so many years of built-up tension between the mysterious press-shy performer and his notoriously obsessive fans —it’s bound to create an certain degree of tension that is possibly disproportionate to the performer’s abilities. The collective anticipatory tension in the sold-out hall was practically stifling. (Or was it simply that the ICA didn’t think Jandek fans deserved AC?)

To be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Now that I’ve seen him, he remains as absolutely mysterious as ever. He emerged unannounced from stage-right in what amounted to a costume —a mask?— of black from head to toe. Not a word of idle chatter —not that I expected a boisterous “Hello, Boston!” or anything, but no concessions whatsoever were made to the audience. The performance —dubbed “The House of Despair” by one attendee— simply began, with very little fanfare and absolutely no flashiness.

The show that followed was two very solid hours of Jandek and his pick-up ensemble —saxophonist and lyricon-player Jorrit Dijkstra, trumpeter Greg Kelley, and percussionist Eli Keszler— presenting what amounted to a very intense performance. While Jandek —I mean, the representative— did not once acknowledge the audience and retained an almost impassive demeanor throughout— the tonally mercurial lyrics were vividly emotional, leavened occasionally by flashes of wry humor. Throughout, there were non sequiturs and closed doors and despair so dark it veered dangerously close to self-parody.

At the same time, the Steinian repetitions and the pervasive sense of isolation and unease built and built and built towards something genuinely cathartic. By the hour and a half mark, I had grown used to the sometimes halting, sometimes over-the-top rhythm and had become transfixed by the odd spectacle. Some time past that, I was ready for it to be over. (A combination of the content being emotionally draining and a certain performative sameness setting in.) And then, as suddenly as he emerged from the darkness, he returned to it, without a hello or a goodbye.

Which seemed very, very appropriate, all things considered.

I must say here that his ensemble —who’d apparently only met him that afternoon for a lone rehearsal— were absolutely phenomenal. Although they’d never played together as a group before, they certainly sounded incredibly vital and cohesive. The drummer was especially fun to watch. He was almost a one-man band —he had extra cymbals, triangles, a small xylophone, and all sorts of neat instruments to add depth to his already-powerful drumming. Mostly he was just really fun to watch —as a player he was athletic but not leaden, with all sorts of showy but not arrogant tricks in his arsenal.

***

Saturday night I headed out to local haunt Jake’s to see local supergroup the Masons play their record release party with Blizzard of ’78.

The Masons were great fun, in that summery, slightly Noo-Wavey Cars-y way, all big choruses and surftastic keyboards. Tonight the ever-shifting Masons line-up (songwriter Kraig Jordan being the lone constant) included such local luminaries as Dave Narcizo (Throwing Muses) played drums, Don Sanders (Medicine Ball) on guitar, and Jeffrey Underhill (Velvet Crush/Honeybunch) on keyboards.

It was the kind of big-hearted, big-chorused music that you can sing along to even if you’ve never heard it before —it’s immediate, and joyously accessible without being inane. While we’ve all come to expect drearily lowest-common-denominator entertainment during the summer months, the Masons have crafted an effortlessly summery set of songs without condescending to the listener’s intelligence.

Blizzard of ’78 were, as always, rowdy, glammy fun. Singer Pip sported a slightly amended look this time around: between the 70s-drug-dealer-trying-to-go-legit facial hair and the frilly rented tux shirt and frayed vintage two-piece, I had to wonder if Grinderman were holding open auditions. (Maybe Sclavunos was busy with any one of his million-and-one other groups.) Contemplation of dubious costume choices went out the window as soon as he opened his mouth. Day-um, he’s got star quality. He sure as hell can sing —for all the group’s aspirations towards a bluesy, slightly seedy glamour (like a cross between JXBX and the Bad Seeds), there’s something almost angelic about his voice that elevates the occasionally verging-on-generic material.

***

The all-knowing, all-seeing Jandek page. | Buy Jandek records. (And there are a LOT of them!) | The Masons open for the Schemers (!!!) at Lupo’s on June 29th. You can buy their albums from 75 or Less Records.

PHOTO BY JOSHUA HARRIS FROM JANDEK’S 4•26 SHOW.

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2 Comments

  1. John

    Huh…I found Jandek to be pretty, um, feh. Jorrit Djikstra saved the show for me. I found the drumming almost too busy at one point, and thought the trumpet playing was akin to Jandek’s bass playing (kind of insulting to be playing a fretless). Although better than ANY of the records I’ve heard over the years (which I have always rushed to turn off after more than a few minutes). Two hours straight, you almost couldn’t leave, and I think that sense of forced acceptance of his “music” was what I took away from it…

    The new ICA looks like a water treatment plant from the street level. But the pierside was great.

    Nice blog, Andrea, esp. the UT interview…

    • I’m not sure I’ve encountered the lyricon before (unwittingly, perhaps) —but it was a definite high point of the set, which in retrospect held my attention in large part because of the sheer novelty of seeing JANDEK in the flesh. Am I glad I saw him? Absolutely. Would I see him again? Doubtful.

      Thank you for the kind words about the blog! They are much appreciated.

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