One of your humble writer’s least rock & roll moments occurred almost exactly a year ago. On a brisk December evening in Cardiff, David Yow, The Jesus Lizard’s manic, irrepressible frontman, has just plucked an unopened bottle of Jim Beam from the rider of his latest discordant vehicle, Qui. He twists the cap open, pauses for a moment, then turns and offers us the first slug. Except guess which loser is operating a motor vehicle tonight and has to politely decline? Yup, the same loser penning these words right now. At the end of the evening, Yow offers drunken embraces and his profuse thanks. But the moment has gone. We are not as rock & roll as David Yow. And neither, almost certainly, are you.
So what is it about The Jesus Lizard that makes their just-announced (temporary) reformation so spine-tinglingly exciting? Only so much of the Chicago-formed foursome’s appeal can be attributed to Yow’s enthusiastic appetite for destruction. Rather more is down to Yow as an entire entity, though. His Iggy Pop-does-Deliverance demeanour makes him a perfectly rotten frontman, hollering his way through characteristically muffled lyricism that touches on the grimmest extremes of the human condition. Most the time his narrative appears to take place in a small, godforsaken town you wouldn’t want to visit alone, or indeed at all, inhabited by sex offenders, halitosis sufferers and scum you’d cross the road to either avoid or punch square in the face.
Taken on stage, Yow’s steez is inflammatorily brilliant. Among the crowd is his natural habitat. And the man is nigh on indestructible. You can bottle him, puncture his lung, but the guy just keeps hauling himself up and jumping into the audience once more regardless. Musically, however, so much more than Yow’s strangled tones are responsible for The Jesus Lizard’s unique kick. Their hick-riddled gutter cow-punk-blues rides off the clanging riffs of Duane Denison, latterly of Tomahawk, with a guitar tone harsher and more invasive than almost any metal or noise act. David Wm Sims’ bass chugs with momentum that can be heard still in bands like Shellac, while Mac McNeilly sets the bar for every hard-hitting drummer this side of John Bonham.
Over the course of six four-letter albums, plus awesome live set Show and the near-best of that is EP/singles compilation Bang, they are responsible for some of the most uncompromising, rough and ready, compelling rock music of the past 20 years. Don’t just trust us. At Yow and co’s early 1990s height, long-time recording accomplice Steve Albini – engineer extraordinaire and brains behind Big Black, Rapeman (who also featured David Wm Sims) and Shellac – would regularly proclaim The Jesus Lizard were the best band in the world. Kurt Cobain knew the score too, dragging The Jesus Lizard into the charts with an unlikely Top 20 split single. ‘Puss’ faced off with Nirvana’s ‘Oh, The Guilt’, an incredible document only improved by the mildly creepy video that backed up the former track, capturing Yow at his spastic best, jamming a spanner into his mouth in lieu of a microphone.
Irreverent, in your face, but still relevant, in an age of cripplingly dull comebacks and reunions, it’s going to be a welcome day when The Jesus Lizard return to spit in the face of convention once more.
Where to start:
Liar (1992, Touch And Go)
Goat may get the kudos, but its less namedropped successor is The Jesus Lizard's most finely honed album. ‘Boilermaker’ is a brilliant opening rant; ‘The Art Of Self Defense’, recently covered by, of all people, ex-Limp Bizkit man Wes Borland’s new band Black Light Burns, is their most tuneful scree by some distance. And their accidental hit, ‘Puss’, is pure Yow genius, sounding like he recorded the vocals while being smothered under a pillow, fighting back angrily all the time.
Goat (1991, Touch And Go)
So we kinda dissed Goat about 70 words back, but it’s still a fine place to begin with The Jesus Lizard. The chief reason: the two minutes and 17 seconds that is ‘Mouth Breather’. Typically cruel and groaning under the weight of Yow’s black humour, when he darkly threatens “Don’t get me wrong / He’s a nice guy / I like him just fine / But he’s a mouth breather” it’s the making of an anti-anthem that bristles with life nearly two decades later.
Shot (1996, Capitol)
Despite the fact Shot was The Jesus Lizard’s first album on a major label, breaking their studio link with Steve Albini in favour of GGGarth en route, don’t let that put you off. High points ‘Thumper’, torture paean ‘Thumbscrews’, and the straight-out disturbing ‘Skull Of A German’ are arguably their most twisted. And if ‘More Beautiful Than Barbie’ isn’t the perfect soundtrack to getting down to some serious loving, we don’t know what is...