Look Out, America: The Jesus Lizard Is Back
After an eight-year absence, one of the most important noise bands of all time is ready to reassemble.
At 57 years old, David Yow is preparing for a comeback. "For months I've been planning on doing some very serious, stringent workout stuff," he says. "I'm gonna be hitting the gym like Rocky."
For most veteran rock 'n' roll singers, this would seem like lip service, a positive narrative highlight to complementarily coincide with an upcoming tour. As frontman for The Jesus Lizard since 1987, however, Yow earned a hard-won and well-documented reputation for enduring and subjecting himself to abuse both onstage and off. Thus, the group's recently announced reunion, which now includes a series of select dates within the United States (listed below) leading up to the Day For Night festival in Houston, puts him in a position that warrants an additional toughening regimen.
"I'm not going to be able to act like I'm 30," Yow says, humbly downplaying his infamy as an intensely physical performer. "It wasn't easy then, and now it's motherfuckin' hard."
The return of what is arguably the most important noise rock band of all time comes as a welcome surprise to those who've followed them since their 1999 breakup. It took roughly a decade for the original quartet of Yow, bassist David Wm. Sims, guitarist Duane Denison, and drummer Mac McNeilly to play together again, appearing at festivals and concert venues around the world throughout 2009 with their characteristic clamor. At the time, everyone involved seemed to acknowledge that the run, which coincided with some remastered reissues of their adored, Steve Albini-produced Touch & Go discography, could likely be their last.
At one of the New York City shows that year, Yow wasted no time at all in making a connection with the audience. As the band kicked into set opener "Puss," a violent standout off 1992's cantankerous Liar LP, he all but flew off the Irving Plaza stage and into the sold-out crowd. Microphone in hand, he bellowed the lyrics while being manhandled by eager fans, emerging shortly after, considerably bloodied. Clearly out to make the most of things, it was as if The Jesus Lizard had never left or even so much as aged, their raucous and menacing energy preserved as if in amber.
Talking simultaneously with both Sims and Yow, who have known each other for roughly 35 years now, it's clear how hesitant they are to fully embrace The Jesus Lizard's status as an influential group. "I'm not aware of it, but I don't listen to much new stuff," Yow says. Music critics and publicists alike have formed a nasty habit of regularly referencing their sound when describing contemporary acts like Metz or Pissed Jeans.
"It's not a creative way to describe anything, but it's an easy way to make comparisons," Yow says. While not naming names, Sims doesn't get it at all when he does happen to check out some of these groups. "Once it gets said once or twice, it'll just get repeated forever and ever, whether it makes any sense or not," he says.
Though making a new record together seemed entirely off the table after 2009, a situation lamented by a seemingly eager Denison a few years back in a Buddyhead podcast, Sims and Yow revisited their musical history together in Scratch Acid, the seminal band that had preceded their subsequently better known group, with some reunion dates in 2011. Plans to play some 2013 shows in Australia as The Jesus Lizard fell through with little explanation beyond "unforeseen circumstances," an intentionally vague boilerplate that reminds us these are adults with private lives.
To that point, with all four members living in different locales throughout the country, it's understandable why it took nearly eight years to get The Jesus Lizard back together again. The decision to reassemble had to be weighed with and against a number of factors, not the least of which being family and job responsibilities. "The opportunity costs get higher as everybody gets deeper into their post-Jesus Lizard lives," Sims says.
"To a degree, it's how much money they're going to pay," Yow says frankly, citing his demanding day job. "We keep extraordinarily busy and to pry us away from that is not inexpensive."
The way Sims puts it, the timing ahead of Day For Night was opportune not just logistically but holistically. "I think everyone was just ready," he says. "I can say honestly, even after all this time and as long as I've known them, those guys are still three of my very favorite people."
Like Yow, Sims has taken some productive steps of his own in anticipation for the shows, returning to the songs he proudly made together with his longtime friends. "I've been reviewing and rehearsing them the last few days," he says. "Once in a while I just stop and think to myself, man, I'm really enjoying playing this song."
The band has concrete plans to properly reconvene in a few weeks in Nashville, where Denison lives. "For various reasons, it's easiest to do our rehearsals there," Sims says. "Certainly cheaper than New York or LA."
"We'll find a bed to share," Yow quips.
Though the setlist remains far from finalized, Sims assures that fans of their decade-long recording career can anticipate the core material they'd expect from a Jesus Lizard show. "I don't think there'll be any disagreement [about] some of the songs that were always in the setlist and went over well with audiences," he says, indicating that the remainder will likely be hashed out by the guys in Nashville. "We've always been democratic about that kind of stuff," Yow adds.
Notably, their 2009 reunion shows included performances of material from their tenure on Capitol Records, cuts like "Thumbscrews" and "Thumper" off 1996's Shot, the last full-length to feature all four original members and the first without Albini's involvement. Unlike the Touch & Go releases, Shot and its 1998 follow-up Blue have yet to receive reissue treatment. According to the band, that's a non-starter. "By any metric, our deal with Capitol was a failure on the Capitol side," Sims says.
Yow is quick with a follow-up question: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but Capitol doesn't even exist anymore, does it?" While still in operation, the major label's current roster of acts like Gorgon City and Vic Mensa bear no semblance to their wiry, aggressive, weirdo brand of post-punk rock. "I don't think there's anybody in that building that's thinking, wow we should go back to Jesus Lizard land," Sims laughs.
The Jesus Lizard tour dates:
12/8 - Cannery Ballroom - Nashville, TN
12/9 - Metro - Chicago, IL
12/10 - Irving Plaza - New York, NY
12/14 - The Fonda Theatre - Los Angeles, CA
12/15 - The Independent - San Francisco, CA
12/16-17 - Day For Night Festival - Houston, TX