The Jesus Lizard is an alternative rock band formed in 1987 in Chicago, Illinois. After the breakup of the band's first incarnation, Scratch Acid, singer David Yow relocated from Texas to Chicago and teamed up with former Cargo Cult guitarist Duane Denison. Finding his abilities on bass guitar lacking, David Yow recruited ex-Scratch Acid bandmember David Wm. Sims for a new project. The band used a drum machine for their earliest recordings and performances before adding drummer Mac McNeilly after recording their first EP Pure.
Formation and the Touch and Go years (1987–1994)
Through 1994, the Jesus Lizard's studio recordings were recorded and engineered by Steve Albini. Albini typically kept vocals "low in the mix," or much less prominent than was typical of rock and roll recordings. In Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad writes that "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." (Azerrad, 344) While appreciated as a unique vocalist, Yow was more often cited for his confrontational antics on-stage. For example, on the band's first few tours Jesus Lizard's set list included an instrumental titled "Tight and Shiny". Yow would set the mike stand at waist-height, drop his drawers, and stretch his exposed scrotum tightly across his testicles. The band thundered on, while the song title's relevance crept into the audiences' mind as they had a clear view of Yow's distended genitals and their "tight and shiny" appearance. In 1994, David Yow tried out his acting chops in Jim Sikora's independent feature "Walls In the City" with the soundtrack done by Denison Kimball Trio and released on SkinGraft Records.
The Capitol years and breakup (1995–1999)
The Jesus Lizard signed a contract with Capitol Records in 1995. The band also recorded the song, "Panic in Cicero" for the Clerks soundtrack, and made appearances at Lollapalooza. The release of Shot in 1996, recorded by GGGarth, moved the band into new territory on all fronts; artistically, sonically, musically, and lyrically.
Mac McNeilly left the band in 1997 for personal reasons and was replaced by Jim Kimball, who appeared that year on the Jesus Lizard's self-titled EP (their only album whose title is not a four-letter word) on Jetset Records. The EP featured production and engineering by Andy Gill of Gang of Four, John Cale, and Jim O'Rourke.
In 1998, the band released Blue, recorded by Andy Gill. A departure for The Jesus Lizard, this was another step in the direction of Shot. During the following tour Kimball was replaced by Brendan Murphy. Later that year the band announced that they were breaking up. Their final gig was at the Umeå Open festival in Umeå, Sweden, on March 27, 1999.
In 2000, Touch & Go issued a CD of 7" tracks and rarities called Bang. After the split some of the members moved on to other bands. Denison plays with Tomahawk, continues to play with Kimball in the Denison Kimball Trio (which is actually a duo), and backed up Hank Williams III on a couple of tours. In 2006 he formed U.S.S.A. with ex-Ministry bassist Paul Barker. The band was signed by former Babes in Toyland bassist Maureen Herman to the Fuzz Artists label in 2007. In 2006, Yow and Sims reformed Scratch Acid, along with Rey Washam (Rapeman, Ministry) and Brett Bradford for the Touch and Go Records 25th Anniversary Festival in Chicago. A week before the Touch and Go Festival, the reunited Scratch Acid played to a sold-out crowd at Emo's in their hometown of Austin, TX.
After The Jesus Lizard, drummer Mac McNeilly played drums in P.W. Long's Reelfoot recording "Push Me Again" and touring with Long. McNeilly also continued to play along with his wife in their band Mouse. McNeilly recorded with Steve Albini in February 2007 for Denison's Fuzz label mate Greg Garing. Bassist David Wm. Sims relocated to New York City and now works as an accountant. Vocalist David Yow moved to Los Angeles to work in graphic design for an advertising agency. Yow has joined the Los Angeles band Qui.
The Jesus Lizard scheduled a number of shows in 2009 with their original line-up, including appearances at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, and All Tomorrow's Parties music festivals in England, and New York including headlining show in London and on Pukkelpop in Belgium. They are also headlining the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle on July 24, 2009.
Sound and influence
The band took their name from a common nickname for the basilisk, a type of lizard that can run on water. While never finding much mainstream success, The Jesus Lizard have been called "a leading noise rock band in the American independent underground…[who] turned out a series of independent records filled with scathing, disembowelling, guitar-driven pseudo-industrial noise, all of which received positive reviews in underground music publications and heavy college-radio play."
Their music was a scathing mix of piercing guitar, machine-like drums, propulsive bass guitar, and psychotic vocals. Denison's stinging guitar often served more as texture or coloring than as a melody instrument, while the rhythm section's stops and starts were simultaneously precise and brutal. David Yow's frenzied, often incoherent vocals were unique, unlike anything past or present. David Sprague suggests that "Yow's disjointed couplets" are reminiscent of a "preacher speaking in tongues.
- Head (1990, Touch and Go)
- Goat (1991, Touch and Go)
- Liar (1992, Touch and Go)
- Down (1994, Touch and Go)
- Shot (1996, Capitol)
- Blue (1998, Capitol)
- Show (1994, Collision Arts)
- Bang (2000, Touch and Go)
- Inch (2009, Touch and Go)
- The Jesus Lizard - Live (Music Video Distributors 2007)
Biography from Wikipedia