Only eighteen months ago, the idea of Jandek playing live seemed inconceivable. And now here he is with that most hoary of rock conventions, the double live album.
Jandek followers who happened upon his unannounced appearance at Glasgow's Instal festival in October 2005 reported the surreal experience of having their eyes and ears tell them something that surely couldn't be. Another surprise was that this supposedly reclusive and depressive musician seemed to be completely at home on stage, and, best of all, the music itself was some of his best, stylistically recalling the unique free-rock sound of 80s albums like "Interstellar Discussion" and "Telegraph Melts", though also of a piece with recent albums.
When another Jandek gig was announced as part of the Music Lover's Field Companion festival at the Sage, Gateshead, there was no way I was going to miss it. The sense of anticipation before the set was tremendous. After the initial short-lived novelty of actually seeing Jandek in the flesh, the sheer power and quality of the music became the focus, and of course that alone is relevant in terms of this release. There are always elements of live performance that can't be captured on a recording - here you don't get the extremely tense several minutes when Jandek, having broken a string, stood looking at the floor in silence while a stagehand fixed the guitar.
Musically, this is very much in the same vein as the previous show, which was released as "Glasgow Sunday", but the sound is clearer and punchier here. The interplay between Jandek's trademark dissonant, detuned guitar playing and Alex Neilson's magnificent free drumming is also more prominent, with bassist Richard Youngs underpinning that racket with subtle, bluesy bass riffs.
While Jandek's recent releases explore obscure and oblique personal and spiritual matters, the lyrics he performs live are, fittingly, more accessible and comprehensible. One could hardly imagine a more concise expression of Jandekian blues than opening song "Depression". "All of a Sudden", with it's refrain of "Oh, you hurt me bad", is similarly elemental, as is his confession "every morning I get up, I want the day to end" ("Every Morning"). There's also flashes of black humour, in the self-pity of "Other Side of Town", and when the murderer in "Locked Up" complains "why do I have to die?" as he's led to the chair. More violence comes with the homicidal threat of "Mangled and Dead". Finally, we're left with the more poetic melancholy of the atmospheric "Shadow of the Clouds".
Even having attended this performance, I'm surprised how well it works as an album. Despite its length, it's easy to listen to all the way through, and ranks alongside the greatest Jandek records. As will the release of the following night's performance of a heart-wrenching piano-led suite called "The Cell" in Glasgow. But that's another story.
10/10 -- Paul Condon (28 June, 2006)