In the early '90s, the Jesus Lizard burned their brand onto the indie rock scene with a signature sound which combined searing guitars with screaming vocals. They were one of the classic Touch and Go bands and a staple of post-punk.
They started in Austin, Texas when guitarist Duane Denison convinced former Scratch Acid bassist David Yow to sing vocals. David Wm. Sims was brought in as bass player and they soon moved to Chicago where Steve Albini produced their first EP “Pure” in 1989.
Drummer Mac McNeilly was brought into the fold and the band began performing live that same summer. They released four powerhouse albums for Touch and Go: “Head,” “Goat,” “Liar,” and “Down.”
Steve Albini produced all these albums with his typically heavy crushing master's touch.
David Yow (whose distinctive screams have been compared to a kidnap victim howling through the duct tape over their mouth) is quite the front man. On stage, he is a constantly moving presence, stalking the edge and often leaping into the crowd. At some shows, he loses all his clothes.
In 1995, the band signed to Capitol Records and did a number of performances at Lollapalooza.
Though the Capitol years were fraught with internal turmoil and personnel changes, the band recorded two albums and an EP before breaking up in 1999.
Ten years after their break-up, the original lineup began playing shows again in 2009.
Saturday night the Jesus Lizard came to the Fillmore. It was fitting that KUSF presented the event because they used to play the hell out of this band back in the day.
The show started with a blast of sound like a flash fire and 15 seconds into things, singer David Yow was already in the crowd.
In fact, he body-surfed through almost all of the show-opening “Puss.” This was followed by a bone crunching “Gladiator.”
“Jesus Lizard is all about the interaction between the structure of the band and the randomness of the lead singer,” a nearby fan commented. To a certain degree, this is true.
The band grinds away like a precision machine while Dave yowls, moans, mumbles, and screams over top of them. At their best, they set up a kinetic dance between pure forms of rhythm and noise.
Some songs were all pounding bass and drums, where every instrument was a form of percussion, even the vocals. And about those vocals: Dave Yow is one of the most deranged and original stage presences I have ever seen.
There were times where his behavior was so staggeringly erratic that I almost wondered if the real lead singer had called in sick and this was just some homeless person the band had hired off the street out in front of the Fillmore.
Over the course of the night he must have spit five gallons of loogies onto the audience and stage.
He was constantly crowd surfing. At one point he rode out into the crowd so long and far that singing eventually became impossible and it was like watching an astronaut overextending his tether.
They played a freight train version of “Nub” and a “Boilermaker” that was all roaring spidery walls of guitar noise over tight rhythmic structures.
They played most of “Liar” and a selection of other greatest hits. The set ended in a big psychedelic meltdown that was equal parts rhythm and pure squalling white noise. It was primal, primitive, heavy—a perfect way to end the show.
They came back and raged through five more songs, including incendiary versions of “Monkey Trick” and “Thumper” before ending with a cover of The Dicks song, “Wheelchair Epidemic”. It was lots of good '90s fun.
Jon Longhi left the show with ringing ears and a happy heart.