Crucify and mortify
"Boilermaker," the track that kicks off the Jesus Lizard's 1992 album Liar, explodes suddenly and unexpectedly, as though the first couple of minutes were lopped off; you're placed immediately into this volatile blur, a man screaming "I'm calm now" over this monstrous guitar riff that comes out of nowhere and rages on indefinitely. It's a moment that defines the Jesus Lizard: an overwhelming sound, a wretched scream, words that contradict the "melody," songs that strip off the meat and bore straight through the marrow. The Jesus Lizard, five years into its existence, ranks as perhaps the greatest rock band ever formed in Texas that claims Chicago as its home: the band traces its lineage to two other revered noize outfits--the Austin-based band Scratch Acid, which featured Jesus Lizard bassist David Wm. Sims and singer David Yow during its mid-'80s existence, and Steve Albini's post-Big Black snuff-disco-metal outfit Rapeman, which also featured Sims. (Guitarist Duane Denison also lived in Austin for a while, and drummer Mac McNeilly graduated from Texas Christian University.)

The Lizard are among the most brilliant studio bands around; at a time when the lo-fi crowd gets the credit, the Lizard are like a post-post-punk Zeppelin, mutating a guitar till it sounds like a dozen, tweaking Yow's screech till it curdles, fueling the rhythm section till it roars. And Yow is the perfect frontman, adopting the guise of the lunatic who's fed up with his life ("I'm tired as shit every day at my job"), driven mad ("I'll kill you now"), obsessed with sexual perversion ("No mason or bricklayer he, but a trowel was in his ass"). He's even given to whipping out his weenie on stage, doing the "Tight and Shiny" with a fistful of testicles.

Yet for a band with a rep as being the greatest concert in all of rock, the recently released live Show--their first and only turn on a "major" label, Giant--ranks as their weakest outing: recorded December 19, 1993, at CBGB in Manhattan, the record reduces mania and catharsis into tepid genre exercise. Where the band is numbingly loud and powerful on their studio-recorded albums, the Jesus Lizard of Show is emasculated, the songs sounding like faint shadows of their original counterparts. (Appropriately enough, no reference is made to Show in their Touch and Go-provided discography, sent out with the also recently released Down). But digital never captures the live experience, especially one from a band that redefines "balls-out."

The Jesus Lizard perform December 16 at the Orbit Room. Pegboy and Kepone open.

--Robert Wilonsky


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