Dirty old men

The Jesus Lizard return to rewreck rock
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  November 12, 2009

0911_jesus_main
GORY DAYS "There were times when I could get away with fucking murder," recalls David Yow (left). "Smash some guy in the face, kiss the next guy, squeeze some girl's tit, and hit the next guy over the head with a microphone."

They were heady, giddy times: black was white, up was down, and scruffy long-haired drug addicts dressed like John Fogerty were toppling pop royalty on the Billboard charts. The cultural upheavals of the early '90s rang as a signal that some had grown tired of the pompous, preening megalomaniacal myth of the pop star. This shift had unintended consequences, however, as some of the strangest music of rock's storied history wound up on a worldwide stage behind a veneer of what sure seemed normal — regular-looking guys and gals creating really, really twisted music. Exhibit A: the charmed career of Chicago-via-Austin art-noise punks the Jesus Lizard, who, reincarnated, come to the Paradise this Saturday.

Lizard mouthpiece David Yow sums up the chasm between his band's innocent appearance and the demonic demeanor of their music: "Some people did perceive us as dark, or angry, or crazy, or whatever — but we were kind of just . . . normal guys who liked to . . . enjoy stuff."

One can only imagine what lurks between those ellipses. During the band's initial run, from their 1989 debut, Pure EP (Touch and Go), to their major-label 1998 swan song, Blue (Capitol), Yow and company became internationally infamous for 1) putting on the most incendiary live shows of any band around; 2) sporting the tightest rhythm section in rock; and 3) having, in Yow, one of the genre's most perverse (and prolific) minds.

Asked how he developed his reckless on-stage persona, Yow credits the lawless and fertile Petri dish that was Texas post-punk. He recalls the “aura of danger” and the shows where there was “a really good chance that you would leave the venue injured.” So in honor of the welts and bruises meted upon a young Mr. Yow in pursuit of rock nirvana, here are three of the Lone Star State’s most fascinating firestarters.

REALLY RED | These early hardcore warriors mixed pure buzzsaw thunder with King Crimson laser-beam dorkitudes powered by the wounded howls of frontman Ron Bond (a/k/a U-Ron Bondage). Check their sole long-player, 1981’s beyond-essential Teaching You the Fear.

NCM (NON COMPOS MENTIS) | Although their discography comprises all of two seven-inch singles and a posthumous compilation track, Dallas’s NCM are one of Texas punk’s most notorious deathdealers. The 1980 “Ultimate Orgasm”/“Twist the Blade” single is a sick amalgam of bubblegum catchiness, breakneck punk, and sheer noise.

PAIN TEENS | Compared to the sarcastic yuks of so much noisy ’90s shock rock (hello, Butthole Surfers!), husband/wife team Scott Ayers and Bliss Blood were refreshingly sincere. Houston’s Pain Teens offered grim explorations of mankind’s psychic horrors set to increasingly experimental rock. Their 1990 masterwork, Born in Blood, mixes the kink of goth with a metallic howl more akin to no-wavers like Lydia Lunch.

It's all there on track one of that first EP: even as the delirious horror show of senseless and pointless revenge in "Blockbuster" reaches ludicrous lows ("We'll nab your kids/ Take 'em out back on the deck and barbecue their ribs"), it remains swinging and catchy. As psych-guitar flourishes swirl around a taut bass whump, Yow's litany of tortures-to-come is capped with "Do you think you'd like that?/Do ya, motherfucker?!"

"A lot of the songs were based, lyrically, on dreams that I had," he explains. "Or nightmares. I don't know where the more desperate and morbid stuff comes from — maybe if I sought out professional help I'd find out! I've got a pretty healthy juvenile sense of humor. My father was really clever and quite the wordsmith, and I think I got that tendency from him — the combination of my love for Scrabble and my love for dirty jokes."

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Related: Human touch, Photos: The Jesus Lizard at Paradise Rock Club, The Jesus Lizard, More more >
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