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Denver Friday

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At The Bug Theater in Denver

At The Bug Theater in Denver

Yeah, dude, I was there.

The last Jandek post I made seemed to get people’s attention and, shortly thereafter, I got an email from Marshall: OH OH. I was just reading on Wikipedia about Jandek. It was mentioned he is playing a show in Denver on the 25th. Between moving, working and all sorts of other drains on my watch and my wallet that have come lately, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go, a thought that bummed me out a good deal. Sure enough, though, last night found me signing out of work and strolling my way up to The Bug Theater in anticipation.

The Bug is in the Highland area, just north of downtown, from where I was walking. Walking up Navajo St, one passes through a close group of small-looking houses, a few sort of seedy bars and a large Catholic church before coming upon the theater, on a corner surrounded by small art galleries, like a little cultural jewel. I got there at about six to find the theater doors closed. There was, however, the nondescript sign pictured above, handwritten on what appeared to be scrap paper. The whole thing was perfect.

As I waited for my friends to arrive, small and diverse groups of people began to collect in the area around the theater, from long-haired skate-punk looking kids to middle-aged socialite art-circle couples. The box office opened at 6:30, by which time a small cloud of people had formed on the corner of Navajo and 37th. A man pulled out his wallet for the cash-only tickets, saying he had never heard of Jandek, just came to check it out. A long-haired guy laughed and told him he was in for an experience.

My friends showed up around 7 and we hung around outside, one of several little clusters of people having a cigarette for a little while. Finally, at 7:30, we went in.

There were no tickets–our wrists were stamped with a face that looked like a screaming man. There was a minibar at the rear of the theater, near the entrance, that offered several varieties of bottled beer, candy, nuts, all for “suggested donations,” rather than actual prices. We got some beer and turned to sit down.

The theater itself is small–200 or so capacity; 20 ten-seat rows, perhaps. One of my friends expressed surprise there were seats–I think he expected a more “normal” show environment. At the front of the theater was the stage itself. To one side was a huge pile of amplifiers, mixing equipment, etc. A drum kit was set up in the middle. Several guitars and basses were lined up on one side. The whole thing was framed at the rear by two huge, white columns and a white crosspiece, from which dangled red curtains. The curtains were slightly open in front of a spacey, blue background. The whole thing felt both small–like existing in a little diorama–and out of time, as if a fragment of a past era. Three cameras were set up–one at the rear of the theater, one towards the middle and one at the foot of the stage.

The crowd buzzed and hummed. From the talk, some people seemed to be fans but a fair amount didn’t know what was going to happen. Tom Waits’s Swordfishtrombones clunked along under the murmur. By ten to eight, the tiny theater was nearly full, when a large, excited-looking man took the stage. He announced that the show would begin shortly and that it was “last call” at the minibar. We, along with a number of other people, grabbed one more beer and sat back down.

After a moment, the lights dimmed and the sound of the crowd died out as someone nearby commented it was like a movie was about to start. There was a long and pregnant pause.

Then, 5 people filed out onto the stage–4 men and a woman. Four of them were faces people in the Denver art scene–particularly that associated with Rhinoceropolis–might know. A young, somewhat lanky man took a seat in the front left–this was Karl Zickrick who initially picked up a red guitar, but alternated between guitars and basses. Behind him, the somewhat owlish woman in a blue flower-print dress–Brittany Gould, whose only weapon was her microphone. To the right of her a bearded man–Andrew Lindstrom–sat down at the drum kit, a wild look in his eye. A disaffected looking young man in thick glasses–Kevin Richards–sat next to him and picked up an electric guitar. And in front of him stood the Man from Corwood himself. He looked exactly as I’d expected him to look–the usual button-up shirt, slacks and fedora, and moved with an almost inhuman presence, like watching an alien being. For this show he manned a sleek, black, fretted bass.

Without a word, the songs began to snake into existence, and this is where things begin to get difficult to describe. Put simply, I hope this show gets released on DVD (as “Denver Friday,” presumably), because I’m not actually sure what really happened. For a while, I seriously thought I was having an especially strong acid flashback–the howling sounds took on an eerily organic quality and everything became alive (microphone stands were insect limbs, the instruments were shrieking animals, etc). I was drifting in and out of reality, people around me and onstage were disappearing and reappearing, crawling, snaking moving–the whole room seemed to be growing and shrinking. There was a point where people were trees and the sound was a cloud of spiders moving over them, or a point where the notes were being played on the ligaments and tendons of the collective body of everyone present–weird shit like that. Something would ground me in reality for a moment and then the music would carry me off into this weird inner imaginative recess I didn’t even know I could tap into.

Put simply, it felt like my mind was broken down and reassembled piece by piece. I’ve never experienced anything like that, especially not while (reasonably) sober. Hell, even drugs don’t quite get to the level this did.

In a more grounded sense, I do know there were some cool things going on. The drummer was running chains over his kit, scratching his ride cymbal with the end of his stick, bowing a hand cymbal–all sorts of other nutty stuff. The patterns of the either one or two guitars wound around each other, the female howls added a spookily etherial quality to the whole affair, etc. For the most part the light was dim, but on at least two occasions, it was refracted off a disco ball above the stage that rotated and cast flecks of yellow glow in a spinning vortex around the room.

I don’t know how many songs were played–seven or eight, maybe. I do know that the actual performance went on for about 2 hours and 15 minutes and that afterwards, I almost couldn’t breathe. The performers filed off as wordlessly as they had appeared, the lights went up and the crowd milled outside. Talking on the sidewalk, the friends I went with were all surprised at how intense the experience had been–that it came on so strong and didn’t let up at all. As we drove home, none of us could really think of a comparable experience.

Basically, if you ever get the chance–and it is long odds, but still–go see a Jandek show. The next (and only other announced) one will be in Columbus, OH on 10/10. Even if you have to drive a couple hours to get there, it’ll be worth it.

Damn, son.

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Written by Sarah K

July 26, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Concerts

Tagged with , ,

5 Responses

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  1. Damn, son.

    Glad you enjoyed it. Or is “enjoyed” not the right word for what happened? Sounds intense.

    So I made the mistake of trying to listen to the Jandek CD you sent me while having a headache. Not a wise move! I made it through a few songs before giving up. It feels weird that of all the stuff I listen to, I couldn’t get through that. So I’m going to try again soon — headache free this time. :p Aaannnyhow.

    Marshall B

    July 26, 2008 at 3:42 pm

  2. By the way, magnificently written!

    Marshall B

    July 26, 2008 at 3:42 pm

  3. Oh man, you’re so lucky. I was actually in that area when I was in Denver, I think. Not for long, but there, nonetheless. That sounds like a fantastic experience, a great show fo sho.

    Jacob Z

    July 26, 2008 at 9:59 pm

  4. GUESS WHAT. The Mt. Goats will be in Omaha. If you’ve seen them live, is it worth the four hour trip?

    Jacob Z

    July 27, 2008 at 12:18 pm

  5. I’d say it would be–definitely, if John’s having an “on” night like he did when I saw him in Portland in ’06.

    I’m seeing ’em when they come here in October.

    Sarah K

    July 28, 2008 at 8:56 pm


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