Two weeks ago tomorrow I was in Chicago for the Jesus Lizard’s first show in ten years*. I pretty much flew home just for the event. Not that I don’t go home every year to see my friends and family, but I never go in fucking July, that is for sure. I moved to get away from the 6 months of winter and 4 months of Humidity, the height of which usually begins in July. Anyway, the show was amazing to say the least.
It was Pitchfork’s annual music fest and although there were plenty of other great bands the other two nights I was only in for a few short days so I was keeping it simple; only the vitals. The Flaming Lips were Sunday and I’m sorry I missed them, especially with a set-list decided by the fans, but David Yow and Company more than made up for it.
It was still light out when I saw guitarist Duane Denison walk out on stage, followed by bassist David Wm. Sims, original drummer Mac McNeilly and finally good ol’ David Yow. If you’ve ever seen the Lizard live you know Yow spends most of his time in the crowd, hoisted above heads, swimming sometimes as far away as the bar at the back of the house while nervous security guards frantically try to rope him in with his extra, extra, extra long mic chords. Yow gave an impatient hello and then promptly informed the crowd, to quote loosely, ‘we are playing two nights at the Metro on November 27th and 28th – it’s a better set up for what we do, so tonight when you leave be sure to ask for your money back’. No sooner were these words spoken than the first note of PUSS hit like a hammer and Yow threw himself into the crowd.
Ahhh, I thought, it was good to be home.
Because this band is my home, in the same my that my friends and family are. The streets I grew up cruising around on, the bars where I left my divots in the floor. A band like this, they are like the Cubs and the Sox rolled into one and it took me both backward and forward in time to see them live again surrounded by four of my very best friends.
To me the Jesus Lizard are the best live band of all time. Yep. And I don’t just say that because Yow throws himself into constant mortal danger every single goddamn time they play. Well, yeah, okay that does put them ahead by a foot or two over other acts, but it’s also the gritty, dirty and heavier-than fuck way the other four members of the band, the aforementioned Denison, Sims, McNeilly, and Mac’s replacement Jim Kimball for a while there too deliver their hammers-wrapped-in-razor-wire sound spot on show after show. It’s as if a bunch of fans of Nick Cave’s The Birthday Party decided to try and kill people with Jazz.
I got into the Lizard a bit later than some of my friends. I remember buying the split cassette single for Nirvana’s Oh the Guilt in high school and finding a raucous, noisy song called Puss on the flip side. I loved the tune, how could I not? with it’s garbled and slightly sideways approach to aggressive expression the likes of which I had never quite heard before. And yet something kept me from, no pun intended, diving into the band completely. It was ’92 and I was a dope smokin’ metal head – hence I related mostly to power chords and cleaner, on-the-top vocals. I lived and breathed by Slayer, Pantera (I got over that real quick. Jocks with guitars plain and simple) and, to other extremes, Black Flag and Fugazi. Al Jourgensen’s distorted vocals were probably the closest thing I got to Puss’s kind of madness. And so I remained on the sidelines, enjoying the band when I heard it but never quite pledging my allegiance. That’s okay, I was young and stupid and had not yet developed the bourbon-soaked sophistication to appreciate the Lizard’s sound.
That all ended around the time Shot came out, the band’s first album on Capitol Records. My good friend, we’ll call him Mr. Brown (some guy on some other job is Mr. Black) made me a mix tape from various Lizard albums, beginning with the opening two tracks off 1992’s LIAR***, Boilermaker and Gladiator. I put it on one morning after downing a large black coffee from DD and suddenly I ‘got’ it. Jesus! How had I not seen it before? The pure insanity, like rock and roll was coming apart at the seams around this mighty four-piece of madmen clawing, shouting and pounding their way into the most inspired and adrenaline-producing indie rock I’d heard to date. By this time I was already waaay more open minded, due largely to Mr. Brown and his mix tapes.
Then I saw them live.
End of story. I immediately became a believer and have been ever since.
Metal ebbs and flows in my eyes but the Lizard are always within arms reach when I feel I need to wake up, ride into battle or get so drunk I fall over and crack my head open on the floor.
Yow would be proud.
* Not exactly true – they played a warm up in Nashville three days beforehand.
** Touch and Go, recorded by monster tone master Steve Albini.