Jandek at Elias J. Halling Recital Hall, Mankato, 10/20/12

Jandek at Elias J. Halling Recital Hall, Mankato, 10/20/12
Photo By Darin Kamnetz

Elias J. Halling Recital Hall
Performing Arts Center, Minnesota State University, Mankato
October 20, 2012

The enigmatic outsider musician Jandek made his first ever live appearance in Minnesota on Saturday night, delivering a stirring but somber 1 hour, 45-minute performance at the intimate Elias J. Halling Recital Hall on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato. The notoriously reclusive Jandek, who has self-released over 60 albums since the late '70s but rarely plays live and grants no interviews, surprisingly stuck to the piano throughout his entire set, while flanked by a talented quartet of local musicians who added a minimal, free-jazz vibe to Jandek's pensive, elegiac numbers.

See Also:
Obscurity rules, or how I learned to stop worrying and love Jandek
Mystery White Boy: Investigating the legend of Jandek.

The group came on stage without a word, and took a brief moment to settle into their surroundings before easing gracefully into the first track. The stage was center lit, but all five musicians formed a semi-circle around the outskirts of the light, remaining in the shadows throughout the performance.

The mournful first number began with an easy bass line from Craig Mataresse, before the rest of the band joined in, and Jandek's simple, lilting piano lines gently colored the melancholy instrumental tune along with the soaring French horn work of Brian DeGayner. The track gradually eased to a close, with the rest of the band checking with Jandek to see that the song was truly finished. And as the band paused to begin focusing on the next track, there was oddly no applause from the crowd, which only added to the cool artistic tension of the start of the show.

The second track was a decidedly more upbeat affair, driven along by the sprightly drumming of Adam Patterson and the understated electric guitar work of Charles Gillett. Jandek's raspy, spoken vocals seemed to arrive from the center of a dark cloud, as he wistfully intoned: "I wish that I could control time--make it go slower when things are good, and make it go fast when things are bad. Maybe happy people can do that. I don't know why it's the opposite for me." His evocative, stream-of-consciousness lyrics added some depth to the often spartan material, with the band consistently muting their arrangements so that his vocals can be heard.

Jandek at Elias J. Halling Recital Hall, Mankato, 10/20/12
Jandek at Elias J. Halling Recital Hall, Mankato, 10/20/12
Photos By Darin Kamnetz

The applause that came after the second number seemed to release the anxiety that was lingering in the room like a fog, and only served to make the lack of an ovation after the first track that much more awkward. From that point on, it seemed that the band grew comfortable with the room and formed an unspoken bond with the audience, as we all began to realize how truly unique and special this evening was.

Jandek led the way on the third piece of the night, seemingly carrying on a conversation with two disparate sides of his own personality in the process: "I don't want me anymore. I don't want to know that I exist. I think you're being too hard on yourself." The band's tumultuous arrangement began to swell amidst inscrutable lyrical bombs like, "Thinking is hazardous," "This dirge is out of control," and "Disarm the robots." And, with his head bowed low over his piano keys so that only his customary black felt hat was visible, Jandek was offering no easy way in to his songs or their meanings. And his dedicated fans wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

The austere arrangements of the band did begin to sound a bit similar as the set progressed, with Patterson's drums consistently leading the way while Jandek's muted piano fills would drift in and out of the numbers according to his whim. His plaintive lyrics often focused on loss, either in the physical sense or regarding the inevitable passage of time, with Jandek bemoaning, "The mental solitude of remorse on a sea of torment, motionless and dry. Unrelenting in your tragedy." That solemn, free-form poetry formed a strong combination with an artfully restrained, post-rock rhythm and melodies from the band, with brassy flourishes coming from DeGayner's pleasing French horn as he buoyantly augmented the songs.

Jandek at Elias J. Halling Recital Hall, Mankato, 10/20/12
Photo By Darin Kamnetz

"The genie is out of the bottle!" Jandek exclaimed on the night's second-to-last number, and indeed that proved to be true to those fans who have yearned for years to see and hear exactly what Jandek looked and sounded like on stage. And Jandek seemed to opaquely address the event with his final vocals of the night, "I came to the end and the beginning revealed itself. I am not aware of belief. I can't call anything an experience."

With that, Jandek slowly left the stage to a standing ovation, a small but knowing smile etched on his bearded face. And while Jandek can openly call into question whether or not something has definitively taken place, the lucky fans in attendance at the Halling Recital Hall on Saturday night won't likely forget the evening for quite some time to come.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: As with most of the audience who had never seen Jandek perform, I had no idea what the show was going to be like. While I was surprised at the fact that he didn't play guitar at all, the rest of the show matched up pretty well with my hazy notions of how the show was going to go.

The Crowd: A large contingent of Twin Cities folks who were curious to see Jandek live in Minnesota for the first (and hopefully not last) time.

Overheard In The Crowd: My friends on the way into the venue--"What do you think the crowd is going to be like?" "Have you ever been to a record convention."

Random Notebook Dump: The Elias J. Halling Recital Hall was a quaint, intimate space, and the perfect room to see Jandek perform in. Kudos to everyone at Mankato who was involved in bringing Jandek to Minnesota at long last. And, apparently the performance was recorded for a future release, so keep an eye out on Jandek's Corwood Industries regarding availability.

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