Saturday, April 28, 2007

samurai photographer advances herself.

6 million years ago today,
A message was seen travelling through space -
Transcending time,
Moving faster than the speed of light,
Breaking the sound barrier,
This message was known as the Future Language
And we are here to deliver this message to you… now...

So begins the album Future Language, a record released in 1981 by Von LMO.

I am unsure how this record came to be in my collection, but rest assured, it belongs there. I like to think it materialized there from the black light dimension. Earlier today, someone sent me a digital version of it and I listened to it at work. As I listened, I realized that I need to resurrect Crackpot Idea #296: a Von LMO cover band.

(As an aside: listening to this album at work elicited some of the strangest reactions to my music to date. Even Jandek doesn't faze most of the people who come to the window on the weekend, but for some reason this record made several people comment.)

I saw Von LMO at the Cooler, ages and ages ago. To this day, it remains one of the strangest shows I have ever seen. Von LMO is both a band and a guy; Von LMO the guy is (supposedly) Frankie Cavallo, and when I saw the band they seemed to be a bunch of guys dressed like cholos. Von LMO vocalized, ran around the stage, played a fake white Stratocaster, talked about time and space, freaked out the "normals", and at the end of the set he smashed his guitar and the ones his band were playing. It was incredible.

Along with a bizarre stage presence, there is an even more bizarre backstory and history. Instead of me trying to explain it, you should just read this to get an idea of the madness from a guy who was actually there to witness it in the 70's/80's. I am led to believe that the 1994 version of Von LMO was a much, much tamer one.

How does one describe the music of Von LMO?'s sort of like the sax manic-ness of James Chance crossed with a band like the Dictators, with weird phase effects like, I dunno, Hawkwind? Maybe? The word "skronk" definitely applies here, as well as "insane", "noisy", and "echoey." These guys have a sampling so you can listen/judge for yourself.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

samurai photographer and the representative from Corwood Industries.

st lawrence cemetery
st lawrence cemetery,
originally uploaded by samuraiphotog.
Saturday night I went to see Jandek perform at the Abroms Arts Center (which is part of the Henry Street Settlement.) It was one of the most amazing shows I have ever seen.

Jandek records have been a part of my life since 1989, when I was just embarking on my past-life career as a "rock critic." The magazine I worked at sent boxes of records to radio stations every month or so, and one day I was going through the current selections and was immediately grabbed by the stark image on the cover of one record in particular.

The cover was a black and white photograph of a man, probably in his late 20's, it was hard to tell. He was dressed in black, which only accentuated the fact that he was probably a very pale man, probably with blond hair (because he seemed to have no eyebrows.) His eyes burned a hole in my chest. In fact, when I brought the record home, I had to turn it around because the photograph bothered me so much. I left it on my "to listen to" pile for a few days until I had the time to check it out.

From the second the needle hit the record, I knew that my life would never be the same again. Of course this statement is a cliche, but records very often do change my life. Jandek's The Living End was one of them. It was a guy. Playing guitar. Sort of well, but sort of not. He didn't sing "well" but he meant what he was singing, and something responded in me. Now his words were burning a hole in my chest.

I credit Jandek with helping me to screw up the courage to pick up a guitar. Up until 2004, he had never performed in public - at least to anyone's knowledge. Now that he's been playing sporadic shows, he's shamed me into considering playing live gigs again.

So given this history, I wasn't so sure I wanted to see Jandek playing live. I was used to listening to him with headphones, and if there was ever an artist who needed to be listened to on headphones, it's Jandek. His records require you spend some private time with them, like imaginary friends who sing songs that are often sad but sometimes scary, sometimes fragile and tender.

But who was I kidding? I had to see him play, because I would be kicking myself forever if I missed it (like I did the last time he was in New York, but I couldn't go to those shows because I had to work.) Since every show is like hearing a new album written especially for the occasion, how could I pass it up? I didn't know what to expect, but I was ready to roll with it.

What I got on Saturday was, quite simply, one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life, and I've seen a hell of a lot of shows. Watching Jandek play guitar was akin to peeking through a church window and peering in on someone in the throes of religious ecstasy. It was a little intense to witness something that is usually a very private thing, but it was so compelling that it felt even more wrong to look away.

Musically, the performance reminded me of Fushitsusha in a lot of ways. Jandek is a very idiosyncratic type of guitar player, and a very expressive one. He moved around a lot more than I imagined he would, and his body language suggested that he's the most comfortable playing guitar - nothing seemed forced. Much has been made over the years of his lack of guitar prowess. This performance should dispel those myths for good. I never bought into this "unskilled" mindset; to my ears, the guitar on his records sounded uninformed by formal musical education and more reliant on making sounds that were pleasing to his ears. His melodic motifs, such as they are, are pretty interesting and definitely the product of someone who has thought quite a bit about musical structures and order within songs.

The lyrical content of the songs dealt with some recurring themes, such as jail, alcohol, and god/one's relationship with the divine.

Tim Foljahn (of Two Dollar Guitar and others) played bass, and Peter Nolan of Magik Markers (whose official website seems to be down) played drums. I think they were good choices - Jim White was supposed to play drums but had to cancel, but I don't think he would have done a better job than Peter did.

Improvising is difficult, and improvising with people you have never played with before can be disasterous, but watching these guys made it seem easy. Even with one short rehearsal (which is how I was told these shows happen - there's one rehearsal the day of the show, and it usually bears no similarity to the actual show) it still flowed very smoothly and succeeded in creating an atmosphere of suspension and timelessness - which is pretty much unheard of for a three-hour show.

I look forward to seeing more Jandek shows, to watch how he evolves as a performer, and to hear how his playing flowers as he gets even more comfortable with improvising in a group.

P.S. Remember when I told you about Richard Nickel? NPR aired a piece about him recently, and it is well worth the listen.