Once every ten years or so The Jesus Lizard rears its beautifully ugly head. That is the pattern, at least, that’s been established since the late ‘90s when Chicago’s seminal noise rock juggernauts released what would be their last studio album, “Blue,” in 1998, which was quickly followed by a breakup. In 2009 they reformed for a reunion tour, playing the Pitchfork Music Festival and a series of exclusive nights at Metro. And though they have been consistently dormant for the past decade too (save for a great retrospective book that was published by Akashic Books in 2014), The Jesus Lizard are right on track for their next appearance this month.
THE JESUS LIZARD When: 8 p.m. December 9 Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark Tickets: Sold out Info: metrochicago.com
“When this came up originally, it was just going to be [to play] Houston’s Day for Night Fest,” says drummer Mac McNeilly speaking of the invitation the band received (and accepted) to be a part of the intersectional three-day fest (December 15-17) that combines performances based in light, space and sound.
McNeilly admits the band was given a sizable amount of money to appear, which put the gears in motion, leading to a few more periphery dates (including a stop at Metro December 9) to make it more worthwhile. Particularly since the band — including frontman David Yow, guitarist Duane Denison and bassist David Wm. Sims — are now preoccupied with other gigs and spread out across the country.
“It’s better [pay] than we ever had back in the day when we were a touring band so I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder,” McNeilly jokes, still perplexed at the intense demand — all five club dates sold out almost immediately. “[The response] was way better than any of us anticipated. Especially because we still don’t have any new material; this is all just cranking out the old stuff. So, it’s nice to know those albums made somewhat of a mark, and there are people that are still appreciative of them.”
That shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise. When The Jesus Lizard formed in 1987 in Austin, Texas, soon relocating to the Chicago area and working with famed engineer Steve Albini, they became a cornerstone of the mythical ‘90s indie scene with a series of legendary albums (“Head,” “Goat,” “Liar” and “Down”) on the tastemaker label Touch and Go Records. Two more (“Shot” and “Blue”) followed after a controversial move to big box Capitol Records before the band eventually parted in 1999 as McNeilly left to spend time with his family.
But never before and never since has there been a band quite like The Jesus Lizard, which combines aggressive guitar-driven force and drum-and-bass battle power. Add to that the insane wild card performance art of Yow, who rarely survives a show without being naked and bloodied, and you have a potent combination of visceral debauchery that is nothing short of mind-melting. People are still craving that high, which is hard to come by in the modern hardcore rock scene, and McNeilly says the band wouldn’t be putting on these shows unless they could deliver on that expectation.
“The biggest thing for us is, can we present the songs the way we used to, with the same power and impact, and can we do it physically and with stamina? That’s the first thing that has to be talked about among ourselves before we even entertain these opportunities,” he says, admitting there is still always a concern for Yow.
“He’s taking a risk every time he jumps off stage or gets passed around. While he’s an old pro at that kind of stuff, anything can happen and he’s had some pretty serious injuries through the band’s career,” McNeilly adds, saying that Yow remains confident in his abilities to put on a show that many to this day call one of the best live acts ever.
As to what the future holds, McNeilly isn’t quite sure. “I think we have learned to ‘never say never,’ but I don’t think any of us are looking real far into the future either,” though there’s always the question of producing new music even 20 years later. “If we did decide to write new music it would be because it would be coming from an honest place if we felt we had good ideas we wanted to get out. We are really lucky in the regard that we have found it pretty easy to write together and come up with songs and that common thread will always be there.”