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September 15, 1994 - Image 17

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The Michigan Daily, 1994-09-15

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The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc.- Thursday, September 15, 1994 - 7
The Jesus Lizard will walk on water, cure lepers and play some music

I1

By TED WATTS
The Jesus Lizard is a Chicago
band. Like many other Chicago bands
they are on Touch and Go Records.
Like many other Touch and Go bands
they are a rockin' type of guitar/bass/
drums/vocals band. They are argu-
ably one of the biggest influences on
I the other Touch and Go bands. So,
ne might think that it would be use-
ful to examine them in depth, espe-
cially in light of their imminent ar-
rival.
The bands from which the Jesus
Lizard stem include Rapeman, Cargo
Cult and Scratch Acid. Scratch Acid,
which included Lizard vocalist David
Yow and bassist David Sims, had a
handful ofreleases and is usually cited
Es the most obvious musical precur-
sor to the Jesus Lizard. Ultimately
Sims, Yow and guitarist Duane
Dennison got together to make the
Lizard's first EP, "Pure." With the
rapid addition of drummer Mac
McNeilly, the band assumed a form
entirely recognizable to even the most
recent fan.
Oddly enough, some of the most
*centfans have been theBritish music
press. "Right now, they seem to like
us better than ever," said Dennison.
"In the past I think Melody Maker
always really liked us and NME was
kind of aloof, but now they both re-
ally seem to like us. It's crazy. Trends
tend to come and go really fast over
there, yet I don't think we've ever
been part of anything over here."
Nonetheless, the Jesus Lizard has

steadily risen in the ranks. In the past
they've played at the Heidelberg here
in Ann Arbor (not that odd consider-
ing Dennison was born here, grew up
in Plymouth and went to college at
EMU), and are now big enough to
headline at St. Andrew's.
"I think there are some things about
the Jesus Lizard that are pretty basic
and there are things that are unique,"
explained Dennison. "Obviously, with
guitar, drums, bass and vocals there's
only so much you can do, but at the
same time the guitar sound is fairly
clean and the bass usually fairly dis-
torted, which is exactly the opposite
of what most bands sound like. And
people really like Dave Yow - sort
of an Iggy Pop meets Nick Cave kind
of character."
Yow has become almost a folk
hero in England. All kinds of people
support his stage antics, from club
owners applauding his destructive
tendencies to the press printing head-
lines like "Yow Totally Mad" in a
loving way. His on-stage chaos spills
over into his lyrics as well, resulting
in indecipherable odd compositions
much of the time.
"The music is pretty well struc-
tured," Dennison said. "What will
usually happen is myself or David
Sims will come up with a riff or chord
sequence or something, take it to prac-
tice and run it by everyone to see how
it goes. Sometimes we work differ-
ently. Like 'Mistletoe' on 'Down'
was built off a drum beat that Mac
came up with. In general, someone

starts something that we all add to.
We don't just 'get high and jam,'
although there's nothing wrong with
that. It's just not what's best for us."
The energy of a Jesus Lizard show
can often make one mistake the mu-
sic as unstructured. But even the
show itself has some underpinning
patterns, explained Dennison: "We
try to grab people right away, to get
the momentum rolling. Then there
are some slow songs in the middle of
the set so that Mac on drums and
David on vocals can get a rest. It's
also hard to keep people's attention
if you keep hammering all the time.
Then we try to peak out again at the
end. It's kind of sexual, don't you
think?"
The Jesus Lizard is interesting in
its packaging as well. The last two
albums and some recent singles have
been graced with the beautiful sur-
real art of one Malcolm Bucknall.
The father of a friend of David Sims,
Bucknall has graciously allowed the
band to use his wonderful art, like
the falling dog on the cover of the
current album, free of charge. There
is also the oddity of all of their al-
bums being four letters. "It makes it
easier to decide on a title," remarked
Dennison. "So many albums have
either a sentence or are like a movie
title or a book title. This way we can

avoid that and provide continuity.
There is no hidden agenda."
The Jesus Lizard has indeed pro-
vided continuity with their changes
over the last five or so years. Now that
all of the members of the band are
over thirty, they show no signs of
relenting musically, in spite of

Dennison's profession to listening to
more jazz. But the band tends to move
outside of the normal structures.
Dennison's words convey this clearly:
"We're not grungesters. We're not
slackers. I think we've effectively
avoided being part of anything."
They're their own thing.

The Jesus Lizard will be playing St.
Andrew's Hall this Saturday with
Pegboy and Stanford Prison
Experiment. Tix are a reasonable
$8.50, but it's18 and up only. Doors
open at 9p.m.

Above we see the Jesus Lizard at rest. Below, we see the selfsame organism at play. A fascinating dichotomy,

F I

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I

The Jesus Lizard
Down
Touch and Go
Thirteen tracks of genuine interest
here. The previously seen on 7" "Fly
on the Wall" starts off this it o' plastic
with some finely bangin' rock and
tuff. Because of personality conflicts,
"Down" is to be the last Steve Albini
collaboration with the Lizard, as well
as probably the best sounding one so
far.
The odd thing is that all the songs
are really hard to remember. While
hardly lacking in diversity, there is
something wholly difficult in remem-
bering what tune goes with what name.
'Hey, was that 'Din' or 'The Best
Parts?"' But hey, it doesn't really
matter when they all sound good.
Examine "Destroy Before Read-
ing." First, it's pronounced "reeding"

Wz,

and not "redding," so it refers to the
act related to words, not the British
rock festival. But there is nothing in
the song related to anything like read-
ing. The chorus is "I found my paddle/
I found my paddle around midnight,"
so no clues there. There really doesn't
seem to be much of anything that the
song is talking about.
Here is probably the essential clue
to why the songs are impossible to
mark: they aren't really about any-
thing. No meaning, no connection.
But the sound is almost like the
Cramps in a less '50s kinda way.
Albini's drum recording style is great
on "Mistletoe" as well as most of the
other tracks. It's a good, good sound.
Get it.
- Ted Watts

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