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NewCityNet Basking Lizard

The Jesus Lizard evolves.

By Dave Chamberlain

MAY 4, 1998:  Were you to put on The Jesus Lizard's first EP, "Head," in a room full of fans, and then play the band's new record, "Blue" (Capitol), followers of the reptile might not even know they were listening to the same band. Change is good, change is necessary. Change is what members of the Lizard had in mind when they went into the studio to record their seventh full-length. "Blue" is a significant departure from skins the Lizard has long ago shed, and though the band still remains in rock's far left field, the record represents a positive move away from the full-on, aggro sound the band spent nine years cultivating. It's been two years since The Jesus Lizard released a record, and since then the band has added a new drummer (Jim Kimball, formerly of Mule and the Laughing Hyenas), and consciously spent more time on the writing and recording process.

"It seemed like we had done so much touring," says guitarist Duane Denison, "that we didn't really have time to write new songs. With 'Blue,' we wanted to take more time and write and do demos. Plus, we wanted to experiment more."

To that end, the band enlisted the help of original Gang of Four member Andy Gill. "We had definitely decided we wanted to make a different-sounding record," says bass player David Wm. Sims. "Andy seemed to be a guy who could help us accomplish that." The most marked difference on the record is the lack of lead singer David Yow's trademark gurgling, glass-torn throat wrenching and overall vocal chaos. Instead, although not quite offering up melodic singing (but damn near on "And Then the Rain"), Yow's tongue clearly is forming words, perhaps attaining a semi-melodic chant.

"Blue" is also distinguished by a subtly textural effort that adds to-but doesn't replace-the band's normally straight-forward, plug-in-and-go approach. This twist is apparent on the first three songs, in which an almost atmospheric tint laces the space between drum, bass, guitar and vocals. According to Denison, although live versions of the songs by necessity vary, the band is pretty faithful in reproduction. "We add a few more effects, some more atmospherics coming straight out of the guitar, just to add a little more texture. I want to add a sampler," Denison jokes, "so, say David gets a concussion or something, we have the vocals sampled and we can just kick him off the stage."

Considering The Jesus Lizard's live show, and especially Yow's trademark self-abuse, crowd surfing and overall mayhem, are concussions are problem? "He's been knocked unconscious a bunch of times," Denison contends. "Not a bunch of times," responds Sims. "There was that time he hit the floor in Switzerland so hard, we had to cancel a couple of shows. That may have been a concussion."

After nine years of what could be termed a brutal, heavily audience-interactive live show, is the Lizard slowing down? "I don't think so," Denison says. "There will still be shows where I'll tell David, 'You don't have to beat yourself up quite so much.' But to me a successful tour is when there's no injuries, no arrests and no lawsuits."

And with crowds expecting the unexpected, have the shows become more violent in the past nine years? "If anything, it seems like it was more violent when it was a fairly new thing," Denison says. "But now it seems like there's more of a protocol. Don't kick people smaller than you in the face. Don't land elbows-first on girls' heads. Even with security there seems to be more of a protocol. But not always. Damn, at the House of Blues in New Orleans, I saw a bouncer who must have weighed 300 pounds pick up this kid who weighed like 100 pounds and just throw him out the door."

Nine years in, are the band members tired of being The Lizard? "Everybody has days when they're sick of their jobs," says Sims. "But all in all, I'd rather be [part of the Lizard] than most other things I see other people doing."

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