DB HOF NO. 73
The making of The Jesus Lizard’s “Goat”
label: Touch & Go
A legend was born the first time david yow disrobed on stage. In the run leading up to 1991’s Goat, “Tight N Shiny”—a corrosive instrumental from the band’s transitional LP Head—offered a regular excuse for Yow to take a much-needed smoke break and introduce the unsuspecting audience to the art of genital origami. On a typical evening, Yow would adjust his microphone stand down to crotch height, cup his balls with a Vulcan death grip for two minutes while the rest of the band raged on, and cap off the whole sordid exercise by diving into the audience with his pants down around his ankles. This is only the first of at least 1,000 reasons that the Jesus Lizard were the best live act of the 1990s.
Critics didn’t know what to make of the Jesus Lizard. Yow, bassist David Wm. Sims and guitarist Duane Denison had spent time in industrial/hardcore hybrids Scratch Acid, Rapeman and Cargo Cult. Drummer Mac McNeilly—who joined the band in Chicago after the release of 1989’s Pure EP—previously played bass in the noise-oriented trio Phantom 309. Aside from Nick Cave’s notoriously unhinged pre-Bad Seeds combo the Birthday Party, the Jesus Lizard didn’t really have any musical antecedents. The Chicago quartet simply approached grinding noise with a Charles Mingus-esque rhythmic complexity the way they imagined their mutual heroes Led Zeppelin would play it.
Over the course of a stunning five-year run from 1990-1994, the Jesus Lizard recorded four full-length albums with staccato titles (Head, Goat, Liar, Down) with producer—er, engineer—Steve Albini for the Chicago noise-rock label Touch & Go. Picking a favorite from the group is nigh impossible: Liar features some of the best songs (“Puss” and “Boilermaker”) the band ever recorded, while Down is an oft-overlooked and underrated gem. But we give the edge to Goat, for what Decibel writer Joe Gross describes as “one of the best album openers ever” (“Then Comes Dudley”) and because—to hear the band tell it—it’s where the beguiling and confrontational sound of the Jesus Lizard truly started to coalesce.
Ultimately, the enduring legacy of Goat is that it draws you into a perverted world of prison rapists and phantom limbs and completely, utterly envelops you. An overflowing toilet spells catastrophe on “Mouthbreather.” Yow transforms nausea into an anthem with his muffled vocals on “Seasick” (“I can swim! I can’t swim!”) and taps a profane and hilarious Bukowski vein on “Lady Shoes.” Denison—who put together some equally depraved lyrics for “Karpis”—offers the album’s highlight with his vertiginous slide guitar licks on “Nub.” And the rhythm section of Sims and McNeilly add a palpable heartbeat to the brutalist poems with a series of surgically-precise cuts and incisions. As Denison reminded the U.K. weekly Melody Maker after the release of Goat, “Good music’s not supposed to be easy to digest—or easy to listen to.” Hear, hear.
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