It has been roughly eight years since The Jesus Lizard last performed, let alone, as their original quartet, and they are as ready for this as ever. Comprised of frontman David Yow, guitarist Duane Denison, bassist David Sims, and drummer Mac McNeilly, the return of arguably one of the most important groups in noise-rock to date comes as a welcome surprise. It is not farfetched to surmise that in the current climate of growing political tension, global unrest, and pressure for change, people need an outlet to channel their emotions. Sometimes people desire a cathartic release, maybe even a form of temporary escapism from time to time; enter the Jesus Lizard.
For most fans, a Jesus Lizard show is a way to enter another realm, to transiently circumvent some of their day-to-day stresses. And similarly for the artists themselves, a live show allows the band to enter their own concocted “world” during each performance. “I’d like to think, and I may be speaking for myself, but we all probably feel the same way, that when we play, we escape into our own little world,” says guitarist Duane Denison enthusiastically. Obviously, we all have opinions of politics, society, and economics, but when we’re performing, we’re playing these songs more or less the same way they were written twenty some-odd years ago. So in a sense, this is kind of its own little world where we get up there and recreate it anytime we perform. If anything, it’s a nice diversion from realities of adult life.”
A huge factor for the band’s reunion and extended tour dates has been driven by the Houston-based festival Day for Night. “They just made a ridiculously great offer and so everyone said sure. If we are going to go through the trouble of rehearsing and getting together for that show, we might as well fit in a few other dates around that time,” says Denison. “We’re not playing nearly as many as we did in 2009. None of us do music full-time anymore. We all have commitments, jobs, and families so we kind of work around that. We had our first run of rehearsals this weekend and everything fell into place pretty well. We’re as ready for this as ever. I think people hopefully will be surprised and I think the show could be even better this time around. One of the nice things about doing this is when people ask me why we’re doing this and I can say, ‘well, because we can.’ Were all in pretty good shape, good health, we get along, and we still play well. These shows have sold out so quickly and there’s so much interest in them; like the other day, we put a 30-second teaser of our rehearsal space and it has already gotten over seventy-thousand views.”
Formed in 1987, the group originated in Austin, Texas, and has put out revered and iconic albums like Head (1990), Goat (1991), and Down (1994) until their disbandment in 1999. They parted ways for personal pursuits and to raise families until nearly a decade later in 2009, when the original four members reunited to promote remastered editions of their Steve Albini produced Touch & Go albums. Most fans as well as the members themselves thought that might have been their last run. Denison confesses, “I certainly thought the last time we played together was probably it.” Though now, depending on how the upcoming tour goes and how everyone feels, the group will play it by ear whether or not there will be future projects. The 58-year-old guitarist continues, “There certainly seems to be a lot of interests in us making new music, but we’re completely playing it by ear. We’re all at different points in our lives and this may not be the most important thing to all of us in our lives at the moment. But, when we are together and we’re all on stage, it is the most important thing in the world. I don’t know, never say never.”
These veteran rockers have put together some of the most kinetic, unhinged, and turbulent live rock performances to date. Fans planning on attending any one of the group’s current string of shows going down from December 8-17th, can expect nothing less than the classic manic and skillful performance that characterizes much of their legendary shows. Denison jokingly teases that fans and devotees are sure to see “high decibel derring-dos from America’s sweethearts.”
To paint a picture of what their shows have become known for, in 1994 the group had a show in Dallas, Texas where someone from the audience threw a beer bottle at Yow’s head. He was knocked unconscious for a few minutes as the band continued to perform and Yow bounced back and carried on singing. In 1992, the Jesus Lizard had a show in Zurich, Switzerland where Yow was hospitalized after jumping off stage and the crowd failed to catch him. By the time the ambulance got there, the frontman wasn’t speaking coherently. However according to Magnet Magazine, Yow was supposedly trying to articulate to the medic wheeling him out that he had a really nice mustache. Though they will most likely not be able to pull off audacious stunts to the extent they did in their youth, fans can look forward to daring, skillful musical chaos in true Jesus Lizard fashion. Even in Noisey’s Found Tapes clip of one of their 2009 historic reunion shows that took place in Nashville, it is evident that these guys have, and most likely never will, lose the drive, fervor, and passion to perform as the Jesus Lizard.
In retrospect of these crazier performances and the contagious energy that erupts from them, Denison recalls, “For me as the guitar player and one of the band guys, we are the ones keeping the music moving, adding to the sound and noise level. We kind of keep it together while the chaos is more centered on our singer. It’s always more fun and exciting when the audience is singing along, gyrating, and they know where the changes are. Hopefully they’re not just going crazy and using you as a backdrop.”
Their influence on rock and roll isn’t just bounded in their live performance antics, but also in the longevity and relevance of their music and the relationship they have with one another. Denison hopes that what people take away from this current run of shows, is that “they can say ‘Wow, these guys are not young men anymore, but they’re in pretty good shape, still play pretty damn well, and continue to work together.’ Whenever I look at bands that have been around for a long time, there are always people coming and going, lawsuits, and ugly stuff. We’ve managed to avoid most of that and maybe people will pick up from that and take us into their hearts once again.”
Denison, in reflection, humbly downplays his appreciation of the band’s influence over the decades. “I think that some of it is just Internet-driven. People continue to read and hear about us. Every now and then I’ll hear bits and pieces of our styles in contemporary rock, but I don’t think it’s quite as pervasive as other bands since we were for the most part an underground band. I definitely hear bits and pieces of us here and there in bigger bands but that’s how it works, you know? There are probably bands that are even more obscure than us that might be saying they hear bits of themselves in the Jesus Lizard.”
The band plans on relying solely on their talents, the music, and their exclusive performance qualities that devoted fans look forward to instead of extra effects like pyrotechnics or props, for this upcoming string of shows. “We have so many more songs to choose from, from various eras. You always have to pace your set and plan your set list based on where you might want to have some pauses or, for instance, where I might have to stop and change my tuning and little details like that. Other than that, it will just be us four guys playing rock songs.”
Catch the Jesus Lizard while you can at one of the six shows they’ll be playing in December.
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