By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
The Jesus Lizard's David Yow moans, yells, squeals and sweats his way through a concert, surfing the mosh pit in a violent effort to prove that, even if he can't sing a lick, he's still got more balls than anyone this side of Henry Rollins. In fact, for the price of admission, the Lizard's king will often show you his balls.
The Jesus Lizard was pegged by Rolling Stone as this year's Lollapalooza "sleeper"--an indie noisemaker pushed to the verge of a commercial breakthrough by its spot on the megafest lineup--but its music is often upstaged by Yow's concert antics, which include an arsenal of penile manipulation tricks with names like the "tight and shiny" and "pig drinking red wine from a trough."
Recently arrested at the Cincinnati Lollapalooza date for twisting his wee-wee into a pretzel, the unrepentant Yow whipped it out again in Detroit a few days later, this time without consequence. Yow's been doing his Jim Morrison impersonation since the early Eighties, when he fronted Austin psycho-rockers Scratch Acid (think of a cyclone with lead vocals).
Thankfully, there's more to this Chicago-based sonic juggernaut than Yow's dick. The sound, for example: a powerful guitar/bass/drums cacophony that resembles Big Black shacking up with Birthday Party for an evening of ritual torture. Add Yow's atonal howling (which seems puked up through a throat blistered from swilling Ajax), toss in lyrics that could give Manson nightmares, and you've got a workable soundtrack for the apocalypse.
At its best, on a broiling masterpiece like "Puss," the Jesus Lizard kicks ten tons of ass; at its worst, the band is simply unlistenable.
Behind the mayhem, says guitarist Duane Denison, the men of the Jesus Lizard all lead unremarkable lives--even Yow. To hear Denison tell it, behind the fa‡ade of a seething mess who sets himself on fire while bellowing lyrics about excretions and autoerotic fatalities, Yow is merely a nice guy. A regular guy. A guy, in fact, who flaked out on the following Q&A for the most pedestrian of reasons.
"You probably think he's laying face down in a pool of his own vomit, right?" says Denison, standing in for the vocalist. "He's actually doing laundry."
New Times: We heard from your agent that David was busted in Cincinnati. What happened?
Duane Denison: He got arrested. It had to do with part of the body being exposed, but I really can't talk about it because it's still up in the air.
NT: Has jail time fostered in him a new respect for the law?
DD: I wouldn't say that.
NT: Are you ever afraid his stage show detracts from the band's music?
DD: I don't think it does. Most people who like the band listen more for the music than the spectacle. David's antics draw people visually, then after a while they realize there's some interesting stuff going on musically. Hopefully.
NT: But don't you worry about being known more for your lead singer's exhibitionism than your musical ability?
DD: Yeah, and that's why sometimes he backs off. On the other hand, we're a commodity and we have an obligation to deliver what we're known for. I don't have a problem with that.
NT: So, is David a side-show freak or a singer?
DD: A showman, definitely. And I'm sure he would tell you the same thing. There's a difference between being a singer and a vocalist. Some of my favorite vocalists, David included, are not necessarily great singers. Mark E. Smith from the Fall, or Howard Devoto. Or Nick Cave when he was in the Birthday Party. None of those guys were great singers, but they all had interesting vocal deliveries. David is more like a percussion instrument. Sometimes he isn't as clearly articulated in a live performance due to various levels of inebriation.
DD: No, no, no. We all pretty much despise GG Allin. David's gotten the Iggy comparisons because he's a muscular little guy and you've got three guys in the back-up band. I think we're a lot more advanced than the Stooges ever could have been. I'm not knocking the Stooges, but I think David sounds more like David Thomas from Pere Ubu with a bit of Lux from the Cramps. Another thing that makes David different is that he doesn't take himself seriously. He doesn't have any heavy "rock star" baggage to carry around, like, say, Trent Reznor. I don't know how that guy can be the Prince of Darkness every day. We take our music seriously, but we don't take ourselves that seriously.
NT: Given the nature of your live show and the band's perverse sense of humor, is it difficult to make the transition from the stage to real life?
DD: Not at all. We keep the two apart. The way we act and feel onstage is designed to release energy and to get ourselves off as much as the audience. To me, that has nothing to do with real life. We're a bit older than most bands and it's taken us a while to get where we are. We've all had crummy jobs, we've all gone through hard times, so that helps keep everything in perspective. If we were 21 years old and never had a job and then suddenly we're superstars, it would be easy to have this arrogant attitude. We're all just too well-grounded in reality to be like that.