Down by The Jesus Lizard: Celebrating 25 years of sonic mania

The Jesus Lizard
(Image credit: Touch And Go Records)

Everybody knows why the Jesus Lizard rules. They’re the Led Zeppelin of the 90s; four perfectly-balanced virtuosic maniacs making the heaviest, loudest, most dynamic and best feeling rock music out there. 

They were firmly rooted in tradition (PiL, Chrome, the Birthday Party) while pushing the noise-rock genre forward beyond what anyone would have considered possible. They were a gateway band to a whole history of amazing Touch And Go Records bands from the rust belt, as well as the even longer history of Texas punk. 

They had all the jokes – everything they did was simultaneously astoundingly serious and maniacally funny. The most fun they ever poked was at their audience, and that’s a lesson I’ve taken with me to this day. You pig people can all go straight to hell.

When I was a teenager, the Jesus Lizard was a difficult band to find. They’d already been broken up for years by the time I first heard Goat. Everyone considers Goat to be the GOAT of Jesus Lizard albums, and rightfully so, with its overhyped kick drum and gigantic snare and absolutely inscrutable songwriting. But it was out of print when I was 17 and all you could find in stores was Down, the one with the dog on the cover. So that was where I really started to dig in at home.

On tour we would listen to burned CDs of all their early albums. My friends and I became particularly obsessed with Yow’s banter on a number of bootlegs (“do you read Nietzsche?” “Yeah like I Nietzsche mouth...fulla my cock!”) but especially on Show, their live album recorded at CBGBs, one of the first places I would get to perform as a young tween learning how to be in a band. It was always so trippy thinking of this legendary, godlike rock band standing on the same stage where my dumb young ass learned how to use a tuner.

Anyway, like I said, Goat was out of print and Liar was hard to find, but Down was everywhere. While I was home between tours I would obsessively pour over my vinyl copy. In my opinion it’s their best produced, best mixed, best sounding record. The drums aren’t as far away, the bass is finally as loud as it should be, the guitars are wider and they take more chances with tonal variation and even a few effects pedals. 

And the vocal sounds, holy shit! I remember reading about Steve Albini cutting the end off a beer can and stuffing a 58 inside to get that weird, boxy, resonant but somehow uncomfortably close and almost dehydrated vocal sound. On other tracks like Glamorous, there would be a gate on the room mics, so when Yow yells, the whole stereo field opens up, and when he drunkenly mumbles, the sound is so close it feels like he’s inside your head. Oh and the song Elegy – good god, what a fucking track. 

People love hot takes and being later-era apologists for bands that got demonstrably worse over time. This is not one of those cases. Listen to Down. Don’t be a dick.

Uniform and The Body's collaborative new album, Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back, is available now via Sacred Bones. Check out lead single, Penance, below: