Yow's quest for smutty lyrical subversion was matched by the sly, surging machinations of the music behind him. For every instance of balls-out riff rock in their catalogue, the Lizard had a handful of creepy lurchers — disorienting tirades that pounced and stumbled through mirrored halls. Their sound (augmented on record and often live by spartan engineer Steve Albini) was stark, each instrument ringing clear and distinct: Mac McNeilly's drums, dry and effectless; Duane Denison's guitar, crisp and cutting; and David Wm. Sims's bass, the sonic equivalent of a mean drunk who won't leave the party no matter how many hints you drop. Top it with Yow's demented caterwauling and you had an intoxicating mix of nausea and adrenaline.
Live, they were a dynamo, and that due mostly to Yow's unpredictable antics — his wildman weirdness in flailing contrast with the inhuman precision of his band's attack. This was insane art punk that came after bands like Nick Cave's Birthday Party but well before modern-day Lizard-esque rafter swingers like Lightning Bolt, Fucked Up, and Pissed Jeans.
"There were times when I could get away with fucking murder," says Yow. "You know, like, smash some guy in the face, then kiss the next guy, then squeeze some girl's tit, and hit the next guy over the head with a microphone. Or maybe give the next guy a beer. To me, it all felt perfectly natural."
One reason Yow could do whatever he wanted was because his band never screwed up. ("Ever," he adds.) If there's one problem to having a band with perfect execution, it's that fans demand that consistency year in and year out. For Yow and company, this pressure started to wear, especially as they tried to branch out. "It's a weird thing. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. A band like AC/DC are allowed to do what they do and not change, and everyone's happy. Other bands, if you try to change, the fans don't care for you anymore. Or if you don't change, then you're accused of stagnating." Although the Lizard never stagnated, by the time they'd grabbed the major-label brass ring with Shot and Blue, it was hard to tell who their audience was supposed to be — they were too bizarre for the mainstream and no longer producing the psychotic maelstroms of their Touch and Go years. In 1999, they quietly disbanded, leaving a generation of millennial noise-rockers to pick from their corpse.
Now that the '80s nostalgia of the '90s has given way to the '90s nostalgia of the fast-ending naughts, the proper audience might finally be in place. Yow warns us not to expect any new albums, however. "I have no desire to write Jesus Lizard songs. But I've said 'never' before and it has bit me on the butt and made me look like a fool. Let's just say that it's sort of been like hanging out with the old girlfriend. It's cool, I don't want to fuck her. But, I dunno, she's kinda hot."
THE JESUS LIZARD + ANIMAL HOSPITAL | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | November 14 at 9 pm | $25 | 617.562.8800 orwww.thedise.com