“I CAN SWIM! I CAN’T SWIM! I CAN SWIM! I CAN’T SWIM!”
As he barked the chorus aloud, The Jesus Lizard grinding through a scorching rendition of “Seasick” to the delight of the evening’s attendants at the Union Transfer, vocalist David Yow was the body-surfing engine that could. A stage tech feeding the cord for his microphone into the crowd, Yow was passed along as far as he could go before making his journey back to the rest of his band. That night, it wasn’t the first time Yow found himself writhing atop a sea of roaming hands. It certainly wasn’t the last.
Saturday, September 8th, The Jesus Lizard, one of the most notorious rock bands of the 1990s, performed for a sold-out audience, tearing through reaction-inducing selections from their catalogue to grateful applause or enthusiastic physicality. The third night in a series of shows spurned by an invitation to this year’s Riot Fest, the band’s distinct mix of hostility and coarseness as intact as it ever was, the noise was terrific, the playing was solid, and the theater at hand was captivating to say the least.
Following an ethereally-charged performance from the night’s opening act, the Southern California desert rock of All Souls, the combined energy of guitarist Duane Denison, bassist David Wm. Sims, drummer Mac McNeilly, and Yow, was striking. From the moment they entered the stage, Yow exclaiming, “Aw, shucks! Stop it!” to the applause they’d garnered, the output was relentless. Beginning with “Puss,” a track from their 1992 release, Liar, Yow almost immediately threw himself into the crowd, taking advantage of the human cushion a sold-out crowd will supply. “Thank you for your support,” Yow said to everyone, following the first song.
The bulk of The Jesus Lizard’s set that night consisted of material from 1990’s Head, 1991’s Goat, and 1992’s Liar, songs like “One Evening,” “Mouth Breather, “Nub,” and “Monkey Trick” earning elated reception. During “Boilermaker,” Tony Tornay, the drummer from All Souls, ran out from backstage and hopped into the crowd, evidently inspired by the energy.
“What are you doing after the show?” Yow asked the crowd just before they launched into the first encore. About five songs in, Yow pulled his shirt over his head and proceeded to sing “Then Comes Dudley” while his face was covered. He slowly gyrated and fondled the air with his hands. By the second encore, he was pushing his jeans down past his waist. Spoiler: no nudity was achieved.
The band finished off their set with a three-song third encore, “Dancing Naked Ladies” the last song we heard that evening. “See you in Detroit on Friday,” Yow said before the band exited the stage for the third time.