The Jesus Lizard at the Metro
Chicago, Illinois, November 28, 2009
At first, I thought it was a prop.
Shortly before the Jesus Lizard made their way on stage Saturday night, a crewmember brought out a wastebasket and a chair. I assumed both items were for David Yow; the wastebasket would prove useful if Mr. Yow had consumed too much alcohol before the show and he needed an easy-to-reach receptacle for vomiting.
But the chair?
Surely, I thought, it was something for a cheap laugh. The members of the Jesus Lizard weren’t exactly spring chickens when they called it a day ten years ago, so maybe the chair intended to poke fun at Yow’s advanced age, to remind us that the decade of abuse his body endured while the band was a full-time unit finally took its toll, restricting his mobility to Barcalounger status.
The chair wasn’t a prop—it was a necessity. Yow in a fit of derring-do decided to visit the crowd for the previous night’s performance, only to find him falling some seven feet and bruising a few ribs in the process. An emergency room visit cleared him to perform on Saturday night, but it was obvious that he would be more subdued for this, the band’s penultimate show.
So how can you fairly rate the performance since all cylinders weren’t on fire?
The answer is you really can’t. As much as we’d all like to think that Yow’s sheer tenacity for showing up is a pass for a great performance, the reality is that his antics are indeed a necessity for a great performance.
Without them, you have three outstanding musicians and a fairly one-dimensional vocalist sitting in a chair, screaming lyrics.
As a result, when Yow matter-of-factly muttered, “This is a job for a stupid man” during “Glamorous,” you got the sense that he really believed it every time he felt the pain in his ribs just from breathing in.
The rest of the band seemed to understand that they would need to turn it up a notch to compensate for their vocalist’s lack of mobility. Tempos were placed in to overdrive, quickening in pace and intentionally aggressive in delivery.
Duane Dennison dusted off his trusty Travis Bean guitar, donned a blue cowboy shirt and delivered another reminder of what a great musician he is. With his hair entirely gray now and a darker mustache, Dennison looked like a legitimate country and western troubadour while delivering slashing textures and interloping patterns with his longtime partners.
David Wm. Sims leaned back at the start of each measure, a fitting image since the band pushes hard against his bass support on nearly every song. You could keep time whenever he shifted the weight on his feet and you could lose an eye if you got too close to his bass headstock when he swung it forward for dramatic effect.
But it was drummer Mac McNeilly’s night to shine, as he grinned with every sledgehammer fill and a misguided solo near the end of the set. Misguided drum solo or not, McNeilly seemed to understand the need to crank the show into overdrive with its physically impaired frontman and the significance of the event itself. If this was to be the second-to-last time the band ever played “Seasick,” McNeilly seemed to attack the drums in a way that made it count.
All of this seemed to be lost to the hundreds of gawkers present at the sold-out performance, who watched Yow intently, waiting for him to shrug off the pain in his chest and bring the danger.
He did cave in to the crowd’s taunts on a few occasions and gingerly float on the hands of the first few rows, but each attempt ended quicker than the first.
Which got me to consider how it isn’t just the Jesus Lizard has physically changed in the past ten years off, but the crowd has too. I would gladly provide any youngster my spot up front with the understanding that the crowd at a Jesus Lizard show is more than just an audience. During certain moments, they may be called upon to actually participate and keep the singer horizontal and overhead.
I wasn’t at Friday’s show, so I don’t know the details of the incident. From my perspective, anyone in those rows directly in front of the stage should know that a small, hairy, and sweaty man might choose to reside on top of them for a large portion of the show. It’s up to them to make sure he lands safely and can return back to the stage as needed.
This protocol wasn’t followed on Friday, and as a result, Saturday night’s show suffered.
The general consensus was always “The Jesus Lizard is a band that is best appreciated live,” but the show on Saturday night certainly provides some evidence to the contrary. This was not the same level of performance that I remembered and it wasn’t the kind of performance that I’d want to bring a novice to.
After fifty minutes, the band announced their last song and you could hear an audible reaction from the crowd. It was clear that the band had just annihilated a typical Jesus Lizard set and that Yow would not be medicating himself (he stuck to water the entire night) to the point where he would risk additional injury.
The band made their way back for another half-dozen songs for the encore, and they made a strong case that—even with Yow’s injuries—they are still the same beast that eats bands for lunch and that they still have a voracious appetite when they play together. In that regard, it’s embarrassing to think that what ultimately made the performance a letdown was that the frontman was in too much pain to jump out into the crowd.
But then again, that was always his contribution. As technically inept as Yow is as a musician, he risked life and limb just to match wits with his more musically proficient peers.
No matter how well everyone else played, there’s a feeling of envy that I had after walking out of the Metro on Saturday night. Yes, I wished that I had gotten tickets for the Friday night show instead—the performance that ultimately led to his pain.
At the same time, my memory of shows from earlier years that also make me jealous of those who will be fortunate enough to see them on what will be the band’s proper final performance on New Year’s Eve.
By then, Yow will be fully recovered and those in attendance will be able to get another opportunity to see one of rock’s greatest live acts in action, with the full element of danger in place.
If you are one of those fortunate attendees, please do your part and make sure that little shitmouth stays off the floor.
This ain’t a job for a stupid man, after all.
FTC Disclosure: Glorious Noise didn’t receive a damn thing from the artist, label, or publicist for writing this. Next time, please at least buy us a drink, you cheap fucks.