The Jesus Lizard: Touch and Go Reissues

Music Reviews The Jesus Lizard

Pure/Head – 75/100

Goat – 94/100

Liar – 80/100

Down – 61/100

Best of Jesus Lizard catalog gets deluxe-reissue treatment

In certain shadowy circles of the rock ’n’ roll universe, The Jesus Lizard are The Beatles. And despite the fact that All Music Guide’s entry on the former begins, “Willfully abrasive and atonal…” and that the latter wrote scores of catchy ditties that are etched into our collective psyche, the bands have more in common than one might imagine, especially in terms of influence. Of course, this wasn’t always so. “It’s pretty weird that there are no bands like The Jesus Lizard around anymore,” Pitchfork’s Brent DiCrescenzo began his review of rarities/singles collection, Bang, in 2000. “…The absence of cacophonous, piss-drinking, steel-chewing rock sums up the current climate. Young musicians seem hesitant to frighten and discomfort.” He has a point. Or did, at least, at the time.

Indeed, The Jesus Lizard made subsequent groups classified under the increasingly useless umbrella of “indie rock” look and sound like whimpering newborns, tinkering with instruments containing too many strings, staring into the middle distance and ruffling absolutely no one. After all, this is a band—along with the Butthole Surfers, Royal Trux, Sonic Youth, et al—whose music fits into a subgenre known as pigfuck, a term initially coined as a pejorative by Robert Christgau. (Go ahead: It’s a safe-for-work Google.) Which is to say, you won’t see Grizzly Bear opening any dates on The Jesus Lizard’s current reunion tour.

Given all of the above, it may surprise some to find out that the group’s influence is actually quite pervasive. Bands creating excellent rock records in recent years, bands such as Mclusky and Pissed Jeans, though unique in their own ways, owe a clear debt to Jesus Lizard. Which answers—along with the reunion—the “Why now?” of Touch and Go’s remastered reissues of the band’s finest material.

Following the 1987 disbanding of Yow and bassist David Wm. Sims’ previous band, Texas noisemongers Scratch Acid, Yow moved to Chicago to play bass in a band with former Cult Cargo guitarist Duane Denison. As the story goes, Yow realized he didn’t play bass very well, and brought Sims, who had been playing with Steve Albini (more on him in a moment) in Rapeman. With the aid of a drum machine (soon to be replaced by ferocious stickman Mac McNeilly), on their debut EP Pure, the nexus of The Jesus Lizard was formed.

Starting with Pure (which is now paired with the reissue of debut full-length Head), the Touch and Go reissues comprehensively cover the essential Jesus Lizard, especially as far as non-obsessives will be concerned. Each of these four deluxe packages comes with previously unreleased photos, plus liner notes from the bandmates and the writers who watched them develop. The remastering—led by Bob Weston and aided by Albini (who produced all of the band’s T&G material before acrimoniously parting ways when they signed to a major label) using his original studio notes—is well-executed and crisp. Live tracks, goofy covers and outtakes also abound.

But words can’t quite capture how Goat—as far as records go—really is one of the Greatest Of All Time, a designation that suggests its name was either a) not accidental or b) prophetic. And words can’t quite capture what an astounding, oft-incomprehensible and terrifying frontman Yow is—perhaps best approximated in print by Michael Azerrad in Our Band Could Be Your Life: “Yow sounds like a kidnap victim trying to howl through the duct tape over his mouth.”

A strange mystique surrounds The Jesus Lizard and the four LPs these four bandmates put out on Touch and Go over a span of four years, each album with a four-letter title. Perhaps it’s the same mystique that draws so many new artists to their sound 20 years later—the same mystique, perhaps, that led (fun-fact alert!) Kevin Smith to ask them to contribute a song to Clerks. Indeed, The Jesus Lizard’s story is filled with this kind of unassailable, inborn coolness that’s impossible to pinpoint but also impossible to miss. And it’s a story told in full by these reissues—a story of four young lads who made seismic music that still resonates years after their heyday. A lot like The Beatles, when you think about it.

Listen to The Jesus Lizard’s Goat:

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