The Jesus Lizard – a fearsome foursome and one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite bands – rocked out the dirty old year in style
As a teen of the 1990s, I really felt I was dealt a bum hand. My mother saw Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Seeds in concert in the 1960s. My sister had the wacky and diverse sounds of the Eighties: synths, big hair, Fred Schneider and Robert Smith back-to-back on the exciting new music television station, MTV. What was I given? Constipated grunge rockers in dirty flannels. Not to mention the dull, college rock jams of bands like Hootie and the Blowfish, Crash Test Dummies, Spin Doctors, Blind Melon, and the white man’s privilege sounds of Blues Traveler.
It was pretty depressing. The decade in clothing was crap too. Ripped jeans and happy face necklaces? I’ve met homeless people who dressed better than these fashion victims.
Besides Nirvana, PJ Harvey, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, I had to look to the past for inspiration. Then I dug a bit and found the heavy bass and slightly incomprehensible lyrics of the Jesus Lizard. Down was my introductory album to singer David Yow’s insanity. The notorious frontman was known to get completely naked onstage and bend over for the audience who always seemed to eat up his antics with surprising pleasure. David Yow, who reminds me of a punk rock Yosemite Sam with his Texan roots, large belt buckle and cowboy boots, first got naked onstage at 1995’s Lollapalooza festival in protest against censorship. Specifically, he was enraged at the banning of the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in Cincinnati, where they were performing that evening. After the show, Yow handcuffed and taken to the drunk tank by the police, who told him, “We haven’t had a rock star in here since Ted Nugent!” Yow was bailed out hours later and a relationship with nudity and the stage was born.
The Jesus Lizard was one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite bands. He famously asked them to headline a show they did together because he felt they were better than Nirvana. They also recorded a split 7-inch together which led to the Jesus Lizard being signed to Capitol Records for a brief time. The always down-to-earth Cobain dressed up in disguise to play three gigs on guitar with the Jesus Lizard. He was eventually outed by a reporter from the Chicago Sun Times. The love was there onstage. Kurt unknowingly turned me on to a lot of my favorite bands, from T. Rex to Roxy Music. As an authentic music nerd, he would talk about all the bands he loved in interviews, instead of just talk about himself. I wish we had more of that attitude today.
In early December, the Jesus Lizard got back together after an eight-year hiatus for a mini American tour, starting in Nashville on Dec. 8, followed by Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and ending in Houston, Texas. Even though I know David, I bought a $150 ticket on StubHub for the show at Irving Plaza after tickets sold out in under an hour.
The band stepped out to a roar of applause. Excited as kids on Christmas morning, we waited for the first words to be spoken and, in a juvenile twist, they were, “I have diarrhea.”
Like a shotgun, they blasted out with a sonic intensity that got everyone banging their heads. W.M. Sims commands the audience with his aggressive bass playing, throwing his instrument up and down with every hard note. He is by far my favorite bass player and definitely the star of the show, next to Yow. Not to demote Duane Denison’s genius guitar chords or drummer Mac McNeilly’s fierce hammering. Every one of these guys is a powerhouse in their own right, which makes this group so special. They originally started in 1987 in Austin, Texas but are mainly known as a Chicago band. They finally broke up in 1999. Other unusual bands like Butthole Surfers and Big Black were their contemporaries.
“Puss” was the first song, followed by “Gladiator,” in which Yow attacked the crowd with a flying 150-pound package. As he crawled back on stage, he said, “And that was the second song,” leading to the massive amount of crowd surfing to come. The Wall Street Journal even wrote an entire article on the 57-year-old’s high-flying ways. Where almost every band that reunites for a gig remains pretty stationary, Yow isn’t worrying about throwing out his back. He prepared for this tour by hitting the gym hard with his girlfriend back in Los Angeles. The fifth song, “Mouth Breather,” is always a crowd pleaser with the line, “Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy, I like him just fine, but he’s a mouth breather.” This song was written about drummer Britt Walford from the band Slint after he drunkenly destroyed Steve Albini’s home while he was supposed to be house sitting.
“I know this is really fast but, I think I’m falling for you guys,” Yow flirted with the crowd, not to mention the women in the front row. The quick wit on this guy is addictive. At one point he asked, “It is very cliché to ask, very Kiss-like, but are there any amputees out there?” Thrashing into the song “Nub,” it’s like we went back in time to before the PC movement. It’s all in good fun and not meant to be offensive, like Dave Chappelle’s humor. In this political and environmental climate, getting out some aggression and having a good chuckle was just what the doctor ordered.
By the end of their 23-song set, we witnessed an extended drum solo, David Yow stage diving about ten times, hugs with the burly security guys, a nod to the fantastic bass player, a woman grabbing David’s ass as he sung to her and a very Johnny Cash flip of the bird while David sang and held his member with his left hand. I had THE time of my life.
Afterwards, a crowd of beautiful women and a few men surrounded Mr. Yow. I chatted with him about L.A. and how, luckily, he wasn’t affected by the fires. He looked up at me and said facetiously, “God, you’re ugly.” To which his friend responded, “She looks like an old man’s balls in cold weather.”
Damn, it feels good to be around my people again.