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Music Production: Jandek Night
11/05/2005 Jandek Night: at Kiva Han

Any Jandek fans near Pittsburgh are encouraged to start polishing up one to three songs for the third annual Open Mic Jandek Cover Night. Anyone can show up and play, but you have to cover a Jandek tune. Let's face it--there's enough in the oeuvre that you can surely cover something.

When: Jandek Day (Saturday, 11/5/05), 8PM-whenever (we'll likely be over by 10:30, so you can still get to Ubu at the Regent)
Where: Kiva Han coffee house, at Forbes and Craig (by the Carnegie Museum), Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
Who: mainly you, I hope, though I'll be doing some covers myself.
How much: Free, but buy something to show your support for this fine independent business.

There'll be a small PA (two small amps, but it's all we need), and I'll have microphones and a place to plug in an instrument. The space is way too small to accommodate a full band, so solo acts are best, though in a pinch we can handle a duo. I'll record the whole evening, and later we can get you CDs. I'll also have a Web browser open to Seth Tisue's fine Jandek site's lyrics page, so you don't have to worry about memorizing. So come on by and do a tune or two in tribute to Houston's International Man of Mystery.

Kiva Han, Forbes Avenue & Craig Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. 8PM. All ages, FREE. Anyone can come and perform, but you have to cover a Jandek tune. Map here: Map

Well this was quite the glorious evening--"another victory," as Mr. Funky likes to say. The evening didn't start so well, though, with my having to circle around quite a few times before finding a parking space. Apparently there was some big to-do in Oakland, but I was oblivious to it. The thought did cross my mind, though, that Jandek Night might be overrun with people who expected Jandek to be there, and who would be bitterly disappointed and angry that I hadn't arranged it. Luckily, the most likely scenario was the right one, and we were largely ignored.

After I actually parked and got into Kiva Han, I saw that Unfinished Symphonies was in the house (at least his keyboard was), so that was a good sign. As for others, no one yet, and it was about 10 minutes to show time. Still, that was ok, as I hadn't set anything up yet. I was carrying a somewhat heavier rig than usual, with both the now-resurrected EHX pre and the backup DMP3 for vocals, two mics, small mic stand, and Line6 DL4 in addition to the usual. And that extra Pignose amp as the other half of the PA. Quite a load.

I set up the pseudo-PA and the other gear while we waited for audience and other performers, and people did indeed filter in--J-night regular Justin, Bob from the Gothees, one young gentleman with whom I've been working on some drone/doom metal, and a student from Carlow and a friend of hers. While she didn't know anything about Jandek's work, she's in an experimental/electronic music class, and attended this event as research for a paper. It seems that this was on the list of approved events compiled by the professor, which surprised me. It was almost like a mark of legitimacy for this humble guerilla event. (It'd be interesting to read the resulting paper. Or maybe it would be full of brutal truths.)

I was hoping that J-night regular John Eastridge would appear, but it was not to be. On the other hand, we did get Weird Paul and My Boyfriend the Pilot, who had promised to perform something. We'd have at least three mini-sets, possibly four, so off we went.

Rob started his set with a Jandekian keyboard version of the Beatles "Birthday"--with slow drum machine rhumba, on the assumption that J-Day was Jandek's birthday. (I've heard from some people that it's October 26 or 27, but seriously, it might as well be J-Day for all we know.) Very nice. He followed this up with a straight, upbeat pop version (with a bit of a Burt Bacharach twist) of "No Slow Ones" (Telegraph Melts), and he finished with a solid bluesy B3 version of the new Khartoum's "New Dimension." His vocal delivery on this was just perfect (including the audible smile on "I'm the vulnerable kind"), and the keyboard was glorious. Seriously, listening back to these versions, particularly the last one, Rob's genius just leaps out of the speakers. Very well done. Keep an eye out for any Unfinished Symphonies gigs, and maybe he'll slip one of these Janky tunes into the set if you ask nicely.

Paul and Min were up next, and needed a bit of a tech hookup--they wanted to use an additional backing track on Min's PowerBook, but I didn't have any additional 1/8" stereo to 1/4" cables. No problem--I could transfer it to mine and drop it into Live through a computer-to-computer 802.11b network...right? Oddly, I couldn't set it up to use hers as the host, but I could set up mine as the host and transfer that way. It may have killed the momentum a bit, but then that's the nature of J-night--if anyone can come and play, then I just have to deal with the resultant curveballs. It was well worth it, though, as they did a hilariously theatrical "Painted My Teeth." Paul hammered on an appropriately tuned $8 electric (powerful pickups--I had to bypass the preamp), which had a paper plate attached to the headstock, to which was affixed a photo of the young Jandek from Follow Your Footsteps, while Min held a La Joconde/Medusa painting in front of her face. Paul delivered his lines with a beautifully unhinged enthusiasm, and they dropped in some beautiful ad-libs ("Charles Schulz painted his teeth!" "What the fuck? You stupid dumbass!"), all to a powernoise-processed loop of Jandek and John on drums. At the appropriate moment, Paul pulled out a marker and, yes, painted the teeth of the Jandek photo. Nice.

We talked Min into doing a solo piece, but since she had the backing track in Garage Band, we just mic'd her PowerBook, which had to be kept low or else it was feedback city. Still, even against these obstacles, she turned in a fine, stirring pop/disco/symphonic hair metal version of "Wild Strawberries" (Six and Six).

I did my set on uke this year again, starting with "Janitor's Dead" (very similar to "Niagara Blues"), and again used the Line6 to hold down the rhythm playing while I soloed. I bungled some things, like closing the loop a fraction of a beat too soon, and having a bit of a hesitating vocal delivery. Fairly early in, my hands were pretty sweaty, which undermined my sense of oneness with the music a bit. The solo wasn't bad, though, and I definitely got applause playing part of the solo with my teeth and again when I got up and held the uke up to the Pignose speaker for feedback. After this point, my vocal was stronger, too, so perhaps I just needed more rehearsal or something. Afterwards, Rob observed that he was afraid I was going to smash the uke, what with the Hendrixian teeth-playing and feedback. I had, however, two more songs to do, so that wouldn't have been too cool; also I don't believe in smashing instruments. Or, rather, I believe the practice exists, but I don't agree with it. I'm fairly sentimental about my instruments, actually.

Next up I did "Open E," which was similar to last year's "Carnival Queen," but my voice was in better shape this year, and my uke playing on this, while simple and minimal, was effectively wandering, alienated and "other"--not quite Byron Coley's famous "notes get picked like scabs," but it worked. It's a good song.

"Only Lover" is a favorite for me, but I think I didn't do it justice this year. I'd sped it up a bit too much, and my vocal isn't quite hallucinatory enough, plus there are a lot of wrong notes in the end section. Oops. Still, I had some moments--the sostenuto on the "so" of the "cantaloupes" line, and a few other places when I slowed time a bit. Overall, though, too perky, or competent, and not enough invested in the fever dream of the lyrics.

And we were done by 9:30 or so--another sucessful gig. Quite the victory, in fact. Glorious, even.

I played some actual Jandek for the room while I packed up the gear. It turned out that most of us were heading to the Regent for the live Pere Ubu film soundtrack, though I dropped the gear at home first before going over there with Rob. That was a good performance, too, although I don't know if it hit the peaks of Jandek night. One thing's for sure--if someone had dropped a bomb on the Regent, Pittsburgh's cutting-edge cultural live would have been wiped out...though as Rob observed, Pittsburgh wouldn't have noticed.

11/05/2004 Jandek Night: at Kiva Han

A couple of years ago, the mayor of Houston, TX, declared November 5 to be Jandek Day, in honor of Jandek's long, if obscure, involvement in music. Last year, we decided to have a tribute on Jandek Day, an Open Mic Jandek Cover Night in which anyone could show up and play, but they had to cover a Jandek tune.

Last year, WRCT DJ John Eastridge turned in some heartbreakingly perfect covers of Later On-era Janky, while Unfinished Symphonies did a gorgeously twisted "Message to the Clerk" and "Time and Space," and accordionist/performance artist extraordinaire Steve Pellegrino did an accordion-flavored cover of "Harmonica." Your humble correspondent supplied a ukulele cover of "Only Lover" and a less-successful indie-rock "When the Telephone Melts." Various other stalwarts filled out the audience for what was a very, very special night. Our numbers were few, but they were all the right people.

For this year, I've made arrangements for the bigger room (Forbes & Craig Kiva Han) for Jandek Day, Friday, 11/5. The second annual Open Mic Jandek Cover Night will be happening. What you need to know: it's a small space. There will be a PA, but probably room for a full band. Drum kits are probably out. I'll have some low-volume amplification, and the all-important reverb for the vocals. I'll have lyrics available on the laptop if you need a refresher.

The first part of the evening will be at 8, with a non-Jandek performances from Kaba Kick, and we'll get rolling around 9:00. But do come out and show some support.

So make your plans now, study the Jandek back catalog, and drop me a line.

Forbes Avenue and Craig Street, Pittsburgh (Oakland--right near the Carnegie). After Kaba Kick, who start at 8. FREE. All ages.

This one ended up being a victory, despite several bad initial portents. Originally (when I set this up at the October 2 show), I'd figured that we'd be back at the Forbes and Meyran store, but shortly after announcing this, Manny mentioned that he was doing a show at Forbes and Craig that night, so we should combine the two shows. At that point, it looked like his show would have a door chaarge to support a headliner from Sweden, but a few weeks later I learned that this person wouldn't be flying over, so we bumped the show down to free, and moved up our start time to 9 from the original 9:45.

I got there early, at 7, to scope things out. Manny wasn't there yet, so I brought the PA down (somewhat to the surprise of John, the owner, who didn't recall Manny doing a show this evening). I set up the PA for our needs, figuring that even if the first act had different needs, at least I'd be ready for a fast changeover. One of my decisions was to have everyone go through the DMP3 into the PowerBook, where I'd use Ableton Live to apply an appropriately Jandekian reverb, and record the set direct to hard disk, too. While I was arranging all this (and waiting), I started talking to some Kiva Han patrons who were curious about the show. I couldn't describe Kaba Kick, but I did talk at some length about Jandek and his Mystique, which proved to be a hook for them--they wanted to check it all out.

At 7:45 I looked at my watch, and with Manny (and Kaba Kick) not in the house yet, realized that a first act was for whatever reason extremely unlikely. And indeed, neither of them showed at any point, a mystery which remains unsolved. Maybe this is appropriate for a Jandek Night show. None of the people who had told me they'd be playing were there yet either, although I knew I could count on Unfinished Symphonies. I wasn't too worried, as I'd told the players that they'd be on at 9, so I just continued the conversation about Janky, checked email, got a coffee, etc.

As we got closer to 9, one Jandek fan who attended last year came; he wasn't playing, but at least with him and the regular customers, we had an audience. I called Rob (Unfinished Symphonies) on the cell phone, and it turned out that he was just across the street having a beer. He quickly came in, so we got started with his set of very pop, upbeat, audience-friendly versions of two recent Jandek tunes and the late-80s instrumental "Lavender." These were all very good, great examples of finding the song within the Jandek aesthetic, and in the case of the recent songs, were really entirely new music for Jandek's lyrics. Shortly after Rob started, CMU DJ John Eastridge showed up, and I felt even more confident about the evening. Between the three of us, we'd have enough songs to call it a full show.

Rob's set was very well received, and perhaps (as he mentioned later) a bit deceiving to the audience about Jandek's style. John's covers, on the other hand, were intensely faithful to the style and aesthetic--he's really channeling Jandek in his performances. Regrettably, we lost a few people during this set, although I suppose that's inevitable. Still, I was digging it, even though I jumped up several times to try to deal with the clipping that was going on--John's Strat has a lot of output.

I was up next, and did uke versions of "Niagara Blues" and "Only Lover", which went down well (with Rob commenting several times afterwards on how my uke prowess has increased since last year). Regrettably, I'd been dealing with a cold earlier in the week, and I wasn't in the best of voice. Still, I had some fun with "Niagara Blues," including popping the chords into my Line6 looper so that I could solo over them, although I played the loop only during the solo, preferring to keep it as real and as live as possible. It was nice to do the loop, though, as I came up with some nice Latin lines for the solo. (Thinking about it now, though, there's a geographical problem with that in this song. Ah, well.) Apart from the voice, there was another problem with a table of girls in the back corner who kept yammering away enthusiastically to each other, which didn't work at all with the spaces of "Only Lover," and I couldn't get as quiet as I liked. I also way overemphasized the "listen to me now, baby" line, but that's live performance for you. I also flubbed the chords in the last section a couple times, but Rob said that he thought it went over better than last year's. (For vocals, though, I prefer last year's.)

Even with that to struggle against, there was a warm vibe from the audience, so I did a third, unrehearsed tune, "Carnival Queen." This extremely introverted number was a lot of fun--I just cranked up the reverb tail, sang from the lyrics online, and improvised some sparse uke playing to match. By this point we'd gained and lost a couple audience members, and the girls had finally left. Happily, we also gained one gentleman whom I've seen at a lot of avant-garde events, and he requested encores, as he'd missed much of the evening so far. We aim to please, so we did--Rob did a joyous, extra-earthly "Time and Space," while John hit another few early classics. I contemplated doing "Janitor's Dead," which is similar to "Niagara Blues," but wasn't confident of being able to deliver the lyrics appropriately, so I instead opted for "Your Other Man," which is similar musically to "Only Lover." Not necessarily the best version of that ever, but it would do, and I didn't have to battle the yammerers vocally.

A fine time was had by all, except perhaps by the people we chased out. So Rob and our audient Justin and I repaired to Kelly's for a round, followed by a stop at the Cage for another and some further conversation, although the smoke set my throat's recovery back a few days. Another victory in the name of Jandek.

11/05/2003 Jandek Night: at Kiva Han

Last year, the mayor of Houston, TX declared November 5 to be Jandek Day, in honor of Houston's original outsider music Man of Mystery. For Pittsburgh's observance of Jandek Day, I've arranged for a Jandek Open Mic Night at Kiva Han coffeehouse, at Forbes & Meyran, in Oakland. (Note that it's Forbes & Meyran, the shop down by the Upstage and Laga.)

Anyone can come and play...as long as you're covering an actual Jandek tune. Our coalition of the Janky currently consists of myself, fellow Jandek list member John Eastridge (doing "Your Condition" and "So Fly, Max" from the early still-learning-to-tune Lightnin' Hopkins/Glenn Branca-esque Later On), Unfinished Symphonies on fake plastic organ (we have a killer, haunted-fugitive version of "Message to the Clerk"!), and accordionist/performance artist Steve Pellegrino. (I've suggested that Steve do "Harmonica," a kind of "Silent Night" in which Jandek screams through the eponymous instrument.)

I'll have some low-power amplification there, but the event will mostly be acoustic. I'll probably have the laptop available for people who need to check lyrics. If you're in the area, come on out, and have a couple tunes in mind. Hey, you can even rehearse ahead of time. Or just watch the show--I'd be surprised if there's a long line of Jandek worshippers around the block.

Wednesday, November 5, 7PM, all ages, free. Kiva Han Coffeehouse at Forbes & Meyran, Oakland, Pittsburgh, PA.

Well, no long line of Jandek worshippers, but there something really special went down this evening. In a way, it started the previous weekend, on November 1, when Mr. Funky had me over to do a Sonic Roulette--his occasional improvisations-with-rules event. Despite the professed interest of a couple folks, I was the only one to show at the Funkies' place (late, as I'd had a number of things going on). But that was OK, because after a few improvs of uke-through-the-PowerBook, we fell into an amazingly disturbing version of Jandek's classic "Message to the Clerk." We also did a number of other interesting things, including a compelling dub tune (uke with short delay, high feedback). But it put us in the frame of mind for Wednesday.

Over the next few days, I developed some nail separation on my left middle finger, so playing was painful, until I'd warmed up. But come Wednesday I figured I'd be able to function. Mr. Funky came by during the late afternoon to drop off his mic, stand, small amp, and some effects we'd use on the vocals. Soon after, I loaded up the car, headed down to Whole Foods for a quick dinner from the salad bar, and cruised down to Kiva Han. I actually scored the best possible parking space, in the nearby florist's loading zone. While I was loading in, Mr. Funky came by, and we got the transport taken care of. Set-up took a while longer, as we had to rearrange some furniture as well as get the gear organized. But we did. It had been raining all day, but had tapered off by this point, for some streets wet and shiny with Jandek-appropriate atmosphere.

Sadly, some of the patrons who were hanging when I entered moved on; I guess they didn't want to get educated about Janky. That's ok. Soon we were joined by CMU student John Eastridge, Steve Pellegrino, and Justin (another local Jandek fan I'd hoped to get performing, but he and his girlfriend came to listen). SCLF drummer Ryan Sigesmumnd also came by, so the vibes were good, and we talked a couple customers into sticking around for the festivities. While we waited for the right moment to start, I put some actual Jandek on in iTunes and played it through the little amp.

I offered that we should perform chronologically by Jandek tune, a regimen we didn't actually stick to, but which worked just fine for figuring out the running order. This put John up first, and I plugged him in to the Kalamazoo amp, along with Funky echo box on the vocal. From his very first notes of "So Fly, Max," we could tell that it was right--he was channeling the Man. Rob, Steve, and I were thrilled, so thrilled that we chuckled with delight. (I hope John didn't think that we were laughing derisively, but that wasn't the case at all; it was actually from the beauty of the thing working out so well.) John did a gorgeous version of "Oh Jenny," as well. I'm deeply regretting not having recorded it.

Rob and I went up next, playing our organ and uke-through-the-PowerBook version of "Message to the Clerk." Very haunting, and I got a great feedback tone resonating off the uke's soundhole. Rob's vocal delivery on this one was perfect, really stretching it out. A true interpretation. He did an about-face for his version of "Time and Space," which got the groovy, rhythmic Unfinished Symphonies treatment. Steve Pellegrino next laid down a mighty version of "Harmonica" on accordion, managing to work in the theme from 2001, and to scream into the accordion, finishing the tune on his back.

This was a hard act to follow, but I was the last performer, so I had to. Over the previous days of rehearsal, I'd felt that I had a better handle on "When the Telephone Melts" as opposed to "Only Lover," so I thought I'd do "Lover" first and finish with the strong one. This also was in keeping with the chronological idea, so it was theoretically structurally justifiable. I took a minute to set the Girl delay on the PowerBook so that it was at least somewhat rhythmically related to the tempo, and, with an adjustment of the vocal mic and of the lyric sheet, off I went on "Only Lover."

For a tune that I felt I had no handle on--as well as my public debut as a singer and ukulele player--I got into the groove pretty quickly. The tune speeds up and slows down, gets denser and sparser, and in the quiet sections I sometimes dropped the uke out entirely and delivered them in an echoey a capella. It was in those moments that I could tell I was building an atmosphere; the place was utterly quiet, and I could feel people's attention having been drawn in. Regrettably, one of the walk-ins ordered a latte, so there's some frothing going on during the tune. (In an aside, I noted that one could hear the river to Madrid.) In a couple places, I manage a nice interaction with the uke delay, although in others I seem to be fighting it. Even the voice worked out, and the tune had that epic feel I was hoping for.

I struggled a bit with the changeover to "Telephone," as I had to tweak the guitar's tuning and we had to adjust the vocal mic volume. After a false start or so, I got into it, and while I had energy, I just don't think it was as good as the version I did for the Janky tribute a while back. Still, it went reasonably well, and people dug it. Justin in particular was appreciative of my effort to bring Jandek to the people (or vice versa), bought a couple CDRs, and expressed interest in seeing whatever it is that I usually do, whenever that next is. Ryan, his date (who unfortunately arrived too late for our proceedings), and Mr. & Mr$ Funky and I reconvened over at Kelly's for drinks, discussion, and debate. A fine evening, from the rehearsals right down to the weather. Feel the love.


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