"This is a job for a stupid man . . . "
October 10, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Twenty years ago today: "I'm calm now / I've calmed down / but I'm shaking . . ."

(Some links may be NSFW)

On Oct 10, 1992, The Jesus Lizard released their third album, Liar. The band, from Chicago by way of Texas, consisting of David Yow (vocals), Duane Denison (guitar), David Wm. Sims (bass) and Mac McNeilly (drums), was one of the most important and influential underground rock acts of the 1990s, and Liar represents them at the height of their powers.

The band united two very contradictory sounds: the compositionally complex, machine-like assualt of the three instrumental players, and David Yow's vocals, which delivered disturbing lyrical imagery and stories of desperate characters in a uniquely unhinged, chaotic style. The sum of these parts was a force to behold.

Yow and Sims had previously played together in the seminal Texas art-punk band Scratch Acid, which pioneered the whiskey-and-LSD aesthetic that the Jesus Lizard took to such glorious heights and depths of surreal psychedelic sleaze. Drugs, violence, bodily fluids and visits from the police were the trappings of an average night with this band.

Inevitably, a major label contract came along to dilute their vision and energy, and the band broke up soon after. They reunited for a series of shows in 2009, but have said that this was probably their last fling together.

Some quotes:
“Pattdown, the Jesus Lizard was easily the best group of musicians I’ve ever worked with in terms of aggregate talent and ability." - Steve Albini

"On the Jesus Lizard albums Albini recorded, singer David Yow sounds like a kidnap victim trying to howl through the duct tape over his mouth; the effect is horrific." - Michael Azerrad

"From the first few seconds, in which "Boilermaker" leaps out of the speakers like a crank-addled mugger armed with a tire iron, Liar captures the Jesus Lizard in gloriously manic and muscular form, and if it sounds a bit less grimy and psychotic than Goat, the album that preceded it, this is still the musical equivalent of a ranting lunatic you would never dream of sitting next to on the subway." - Mark Deming

Videos, for each of the songs on Liar, in order:

1. "Boilermaker" (fan video, Exit/In, Nashville, TN 07/09)
2. "Gladiator" (fan video, Satyricon, Portland, OR, 11/92)
3. "The Art of Self-Defense" (cartoon fan video)
4. "Slaveship" (odd fan video)
5. "Puss" (official video)
6. "Whirl" (Peel session, 1992)
7. "Rope" (audio only)
8. "Perk" (audio only)
9. "Zachariah" (old west fan video)
10. "Dancing Naked Ladies" (fan video, Metro, Chicago, IL, 12/09)
posted by chaff (31 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Sometime around 1997, I watched David Yow lope onstage at the Metro shirtless. He downed the back half of a beer, tossed the can aside, duct taped a mic to his hand, then dove into the pit to spend the entire set crowd-surfing. This remains one of my all-time favorite live music moments.
posted by fitnr at 10:47 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to get hipstered for this but I liked "Goat" better.

A few tracks:

Mouth Breather

Monkey Trick

posted by josher71 at 10:48 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Twenty years already? I don't believe it.

Someone should do a Metafilter post about Travis Bean guitars.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:52 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I worked with the 2 Daves at The Filling Station Restaurant on Barton Springs rd. for a while in the early 80's. Dave Yow invited me to come see his band Toxic Shock at Studio 29 (now the Texas French Bread on 29th st. I still have the flyer that Dave drew) one night, so I went out of curiosity. He was playing bass, & his then girlfriend was singing. All I can really recall is that I was not impressed. I mean, I thought they sucked.

A few months later, Dave said "Hey, me & Dave started a new band, & he's playing bass & I'm singing now." I shrugged my shoulders, thinking it might just be on the level of Toxic Shock, & whatever. About a year later, I was running sound at The Beach Cabaret up at 29th & Speedway, & Scratch Acid played one night. By this point, they were big enough to fill the place to overcrowded, & had their own sound man so I just stepped aside after helping to set mics & run cables & HAD. MY. MIND. BLOWN. Scratch Acid's recordings do NO justice to the immense power of that band live. I will go to my grave professing them to be the greatest Austin act of all time.

I don't know if I ever saw Scratch Acid again after that, but the Jesus Lizard used to come around to The Cannibal Club, or whatever establishment Brad First was operating at the time, so I caught them a few times, too. I don't know what the fuck you call what they play. It's not punk -- because it's just too good to be punk. It' not Metal because it's too raw to be metal. It's not grunge because, ugh... reasons. They were just The Jesus FUCKING Lizard.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:54 AM on October 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

And fuck the critics, I like Shot.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:58 AM on October 10, 2012

I love the Jesus Lizard, and seeing them live at ATP NY in 2009 was amazing. David Yow is the best live frontman of all time, I remain firmly convinced - he prowled that stage like a man half his age, diving, sweating, screaming, and owning the audience in a way I never expect to encounter again.

Great post, chaff.

I'm with josher71, though - Liar is a great album, but Goat is better.
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:59 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Dave made up a joke at work one day:

"Where do crazy people ride their bikes?

On the psycho path."
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:00 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never been crazy about their studio work but Jesus Lizard is hands down one of the best live acts I've ever seen.
posted by padraigin at 11:17 AM on October 10, 2012

Jesus Lizard was one of my two favorite bands in high school (the other being their contemporaries and frenemies, Shellac). Of the two bands, the Jesus Lizard has aged much better, and their ouvre is much much more listenable today than Shellac's. I had an occasion to interview David Yow for a project i was working on one time, and he kept answering every question by very sweetly saying "okely dokely." the cognitive dissonance was almost overwhelming, but it was a great first impression. He seemed like a real nice guy.

Shot was reviled because it sounded so different than everything that came before it, but there are some classics on that album. I'll go to my grave happily vouching for "Too Bad About the Fire".

His performance in the never completed video game Duelin' Firemen bears mention.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 12:20 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jeez... I saw them at some point in the 90s.... David Yow threw lit cigarettes at us in the crowd. I thought that was pretty cool.
posted by ph00dz at 12:29 PM on October 10, 2012

> I'm going to get hipstered for this but I liked "Goat" better.

I don't know what hipstered means but David Yow likes Goat better too

He's also downright gentlemanly in person
posted by churl at 12:43 PM on October 10, 2012

I like the Jesus Lizard.
posted by brevator at 1:03 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I played "Monkey Trick" one late drunken night for a friend whose tastes run more to alt-country and jazz standards. She said, "They sound like their hair is on fire, and they're trying to put it out with their guitars."

Thanks for posting this.
posted by Angharad at 1:18 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I loves me some Jesus Lizard, but I've got to echo Devils Rancher on Scratch Acid, headliner in the pantheon of mind-blowing, genre-redefining bands whose influence far exceeds their fame (cf: Killing Joke). Skin Drips. Greatest Gift. Cannibal. The drums. The bass. Oh my.

And hell, I even like some tracks off of Pure, drum machine and all: Blockbuster.
posted by googly at 2:53 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

So this is where Ministry got its ideas.
posted by telstar at 4:21 PM on October 10, 2012

So this is where Ministry got its ideas.

Well, they were part of the same Austin-Chicago scene at the time, so yes.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:11 PM on October 10, 2012

Nice post. Living in provincial Victoria, I never had a chance to see them live, but I did enjoy playing the Lizard during various late-nite campus radio shows. Awesome band.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:12 PM on October 10, 2012

I think I've seen JL live more times than any other band. Plus the two Scratch Acid reunion shows. One of the greatest bands of all time in my pantheon. Really Yow was one of those people who became the best at what he was doing by doing something totally different.

It's weird because a lot of people have tried to do it, and usually they sound like douchers. I'm not sure quite how he managed to walk that fine line for so long, but he did. Somewhere I have some PXL-2000 footage of them live.

I keep plumping for my band to cover Nub, but so far no luck.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:40 PM on October 10, 2012

Oh man. I took my mom, when I was about 14 or 15, to a Jesus Lizard show in Chicago (I had to sneak in, which she did not wholly approve of). She was horrified, but has since admitted that she loved it and that it was the best bass tone she ever heard live. Saw em a few times after that, too. Saw Scratch Acid once, and it was incredible.

Then in 09, I went to the Nashville show with some friends. All of us mid-30s, all of us completely wrecked. It felt like watching a rocket take off from an uncomfortably close distance, and I probably lost 15 pounds in sweat. I'll never not want to be Dave Yow.

I also must say that in hindsight, I like GOAT the most, too.

(as an aside, a couple other friends and me used to regularly get drunk and prank call Albini acting like Yow. We would always ramble about being in a ditch, and Steve seemed to like it.)
posted by broadway bill at 5:54 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

So this is where Ministry got its ideas.

I was the uncool guest that arrived first to a party at their house, and they regaled me with Birthday Party albums for a little while when they found out I'd heard the name, but not any of their music. They were both very in to them, though Yow was the more excited of the two, which is probably the case most all the time, anyway.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:14 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

How did I not know this band? I know Cows, I know John Spencer Blues Explosion, I know the Minutemen, I know Black Flag, XTC, Bad Brains, Operation Ivy...how the heck do I not know about this Jesus Lizard?

Phe.No.Me.Nal. Thank you.
posted by NedKoppel at 8:32 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh man. I'm so envious of you right now. Hearing Jesus Lizard for the first time is a singular experience.
posted by broadway bill at 8:36 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Relevant, maybe, maybe not. But I just came across it and it seems fitting: Dave Grohl - What's In My Bag?
posted by NedKoppel at 8:47 PM on October 10, 2012

My Jesus Lizard moment happened in 1997 when I saw them play at Gabe's in Iowa City. David Yow climbed up on the rafters--which were quite low with respect to the floor--and hooked his legs over them so that he was swinging by his knees, suspended upside-down, as he sang the words to "Rope." That was Amazing Sight #1. Amazing Sight #2 was watching my friend Aaron, who had just moved back from Austin to IC, talking with David after the show as they knew people in common. David was and is much shorter than his stage presence ever lets on.
posted by stannate at 9:41 PM on October 10, 2012

This was a helluva weekend.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:14 PM on October 10, 2012

Damn, this looks like another band I need to start listening too. I just don't know enough about American punk/grunge/"alternative" bands in general, especially not "modern" ones (post-1980); forever stuck in the seventies I am.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:40 AM on October 11, 2012

Alla these bands, and The Fall, too, I'd much prefer without the vocals... but I guess that'd be kinda missing the point!
posted by Drexen at 4:05 AM on October 11, 2012

God, I miss the nineties. Last time music had any balls. Makes me want to go smash a ukelele over a hipster's hairdo.
posted by Decani at 4:40 AM on October 11, 2012

Ukulele even. Like I care how the infernal thing is spelled.
posted by Decani at 4:41 AM on October 11, 2012

I saw JL and Jon Spencer BE play together on new years eve. I can't believe I survived that.

At one point I was singing along in the pit and pointing my finger at Yow in a sort of you go man way. He spotted me, came over to the edge, licked his hand, made the "OK" sign, and fucked my finger with it, all while singing.

posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:23 AM on October 11, 2012

It was 1994, I was 15. I had Bleach and Nevermind and In Utero and Nirvana were fricking huge.
I then stumbled upon the Jesus Lizard / Nirvana split 7" and my world was changed. Oh The Guilt was a great song, but Jesus Lizard's Puss opened so many incredible musical doors for me.
posted by Theta States at 7:58 AM on October 11, 2012

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