Tight, Shiny and Abrasive

There are bands that make fantastic albums, then can't seem to muster enough energy to so much as pick their noses during a live set (did the Cars ever make anyone's Top Ten concerts list?). On the flip side, there are acts that produce terminally boring records and then turn around and transform themselves into the greatest thing since spice racks when they plug into the live crowd (Nine Inch Nails comes to mind). And then, because there is a God, there exist bands such as Chicago's The Jesus Lizard, which makes drivingly primitive rock and roll records with the best of 'em and is, on top of that, quite likely the greatest live rock and roll band to stomp turf since Iggy dropped the Stooges.

And it's not just that "tight and shiny" trick that singer David Yow, umm, pulls with his testicles that makes the show (though that certainly adds to the freakish attraction). No, it's more a rhythm thing that the Lizard taps into -- a tight, shifting blast furnace of tempo and dynamics that, for reasons I won't even guess at here, sounds more consistently in sync with whatever heart rock and roll has left than any other noise I can think of.

It's that clubland vibe that led to the recent release of Show (Giant), a live concert CD that also marks the Lizard's first full-length release on a major label. That project is what they call a one-off, though, and shortly after Show the Lizard released its fourth full-length studio album, Down, on longtime indie champion Touch and Go. Though the band has had "a ton" of offers from the majors, guitarist Duane Denison says none have been tempting enough to make the move.

"Touch and Go has taken very good care of us over the years, and we have a very good relationship with them," he says. "It's not a moral issue to us, it really isn't. There's as much bad music coming out on independent labels as on majors, and if someone came along and made a really good offer, we just might take it. But so far that hasn't happened."

Meanwhile, Down has come in for a bit of unusual criticism, with some critics complaining that it's not quite as abrasive as earlier work, but that doesn't much bother Denison. "On the one hand, I don't really get it. There's just as much dissonance and jarring rhythms and screeching vocals as anything we've ever done. That's the way we like it anyway. But you've got to balance it out with other things, with dynamics and stuff, otherwise, if you're constantly abrasive it just loses its impact after a while."

These ears hear no loss of impact on either Show or Down, and I don't expect to see or hear anything diminished when the Lizard pulls into town for one of four Texas shows that close out the present tour, despite Denison's understated explanation for the band's live rep.

"We just get out there and play those songs, and that's what you get," he says. "There's no big revelations." Excepting, of course, the happy notion that rock and roll's not dead yet.

-- Brad Tyer

The Jesus Lizard plays Thursday, December 15 at The Abyss. Pegboy and Kepone open. Tickets cost $9. Call 629-3700 for info.

Crit Picks:
DOS Records Showcase -- The little San Marcos label that could boasts a fine and eclectic roster of artists, and this gig's designed to show off two of them. Nashville songwriter Pat McLaughlin will plug his latest, Unglued. And Austin folk-rocker David Halley will continue to defy easy categorizations like folk-rock. At Rockefeller's, Thursday, December 15.

The Dave Matthews Band -- Matthews is a South African transplant to Charlottesville, Virginia, who decided one day to put together a little quintet of his favorite local musicians and stumbled on a formula pleasant enough to move 10,000 units a month of his self-released Remember Two Things -- out of the band's office, no less. Them's the kind of numbers the majors can relate to, and so the follow-up's a pretty package called Under the Table and Dreaming on RCA, produced by U2/Talking Heads/ Rolling Stones knob twirler Steve Lillywhite. The music profits from the attention, with the band's strength -- the interplay of horns, violins and the standard rock lineup -- recreated in loving detail. On the minor hit "Typical Situation," Matthews sounds like a nasally cousin to Counting Crows' Adam Durwitz, but elsewhere he comes across more like Sting with an imagination, which isn't really Sting at all, but is a nice idea nonetheless. At Rockefeller's, Friday, December 16.

104 KRBE Acoustic Christmas Concert -- Headliner Sarah McLachlan should be fun, The Go-Go's should be dated, ditto Simple Minds, Freedy Johnston will likely be brilliant and overlooked, and who the hell knows anything about openers, the Austin duo of Audra and Alayna? This is an all-acoustic holiday bash/promotion tool sort of show, and it ought to have its share of shining moments. The only drawback is that tickets aren't for sale. You'll have to listen to that damned radio station (the one with the peppy music all today's youngsters are listening to... Oh, wait, that's the other station. Hell, what's the difference?) and try to win them. At the Tower Theatre, Saturday, December 17.

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Brad Tyer