The Jesus Lizard at Metro

FINAL UPDATE: Metro publicist Jenny Lizak reports that while Jesus Lizard singer David Yow bruised his ribs when he hit the floor while crowd-surfing, he didn’t break them, and the band’s second Chicago show tonight WILL go on. Her full statement can be found in the comments section below.

SECOND UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: From Jesus Lizard publicist Miranda Lange: “There’s little info at this point other than he [David Yow] sustained a rib injury while crowd surfing. The show tonight is tentative.” More information as soon as it becomes available.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments section below, there are reports of David Yow being more-than-the-usual-bruises banged up when he hit the floor while crowd-surfing during the second encore. Updates are welcome; awaiting official word on his condition from Metro and Jesus Lizard publicity.

One by one, the four members of the reunited Jesus Lizard strolled onstage at Metro Friday night for the first of two triumphant shows, and the applause grew louder as each took his place.

Duane Denison appeared amiable enough as he prepared to wax sinister and ferocious on guitar. Bassist David Wm. Sims spread his legs wide and planted himself on the right, an unyielding anchor for the rhythm section in the face of the coming storm. And Mac McNeilly slid in behind the drums wearing a T-shirt and shorts, looking like a lean and lanky athlete about to run a marathon, which he effectively was.

Finally, the crowd erupted as David Yow sauntered out, hair disheveled as always, thrift-store red shirt hanging over the beer belly protruding from his too-tight blue jeans, the cowboy boots looking innocuous despite his Nevada and Texas roots. “You don’t mean it,” he taunted the cheering fans. “You’re just saying that.”

As the group launched into “Puss”–an appropriate choice as one of the best songs from “Liar” (1992) as well as half of the band’s split single with another influential and unforgettable group of the alternative era, Nirvana–Yow hurled himself into the crowd, riding atop its upstretched arms throughout the tune, kicking and failing while howling like a man possessed.

“One down, fourteen to go,” Yow cracked as the song ended and he finally crawled back onstage. It was as if he’d beaten one assailant and was preparing to take on the rest of the gang.

Anyone who saw the band’s first comeback show in its old home town at the Pitchfork Music Festival last July and thought that maybe, just maybe, it had lost a step since it split up in 1999 soon reconsidered. The Jesus Lizard was merely very, very good at Pitchfork, while at Metro, it was once again the greatest band in the world, at least for an hour and a half.

Sure, at age 49, Yow spent a little less time on the floor, in the pit and in the crowd than he did back in the day; an infamous show at the Vic Theatre in the mid-’90s still looms large in legend for him spending almost no time onstage at all. But the intensity was the same as he channeled the waves of energy created by his band mates and the crowd into a performance equal parts deeply disturbing and wildly celebratory.

He was the prisoner let loose from a cell of inconceivable horrors rabidly turning on his former captors. He was the victim screaming incomprehensibly as some alien force took control of body and soul. He was the front man who for 20 years has challenged writers to come up with some metaphor for the gonzo sideshow that, in the end, you really just have to experience.

Drawing heavily from “Goat” (1991) and “Liar”–with “Gladiator,” “Seasick,” “Then Comes Dudley” and the climactic “7 vs. 8” among the many standouts–the musicians sounded tighter and more self-assured than they did last summer. And they benefited from the confines of Metro as opposed to the baseball field in Union Park; it’s much easier to start a controlled riot in a defined space as opposed to a cheery outdoor expanse.

While it might be true that one fan’s successful encore is another’s nostalgic cash-in, the differences were many and significant between the Jesus Lizard’s return and that of its alt-era peers the Pixies earlier this month.

For one, it’s easier to forgive the Jesus Lizard its lack of new material since it’s on the first round of its reunion jaunt, while the Pixies have been back together but still living in the past for five years now. For another, the Jesus Lizard always was a better live band than the Pixies, who tended to be stilted and static back in the day and are more so now.

Most importantly, though, the Pixies pretty much achieved the fame and the accolades they deserved the first time, while the Jesus Lizard, though wildly popular among its cult following, ended with something left to prove–that for all of the chaos and mania Yow created onstage, there were some brilliant songs and exquisite musicianship at the eye of the hurricane. Now we have the opportunity to appreciate that anew.

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