The Jesus Lizard Club

[Chunklet; 2011]

Styles: punk, noise rock, heavy metal, live albums, collector’s items
Others: Scratch Acid, Steve Albini, Oxbow, Pissed Jeans, The Men

Club has me staring down Ian Latta’s dilemma: the dubious responsibility of writing a review for a work that’s now become totally inaccessible, at least in its officially sanctioned, physical incarnation. The rare double-LP, limited to 1000 copies, was released as a vinyl-only soundtrack to the live DVD of the same name, which captured The Jesus Lizard’s first reunion show in Nashville, 2009. As I write this, Amazon has two vendors willing to part with it for a cool $42 + shipping and handling, although, unlike ZS’ fancy button-album, there also seem to be plenty of places to find a torrent on the sly.

Existing as a soundtrack to a live DVD, Club is an odd artifact. Live albums are generally regarded as the most superfluous entry in any band’s catalogue. For every artist-defining live document like Folsom Prison Blues or Plague Mass, there are dozens of live albums that play like greatest hits records with shittier sound quality or, perhaps even worse, greatest hits collections mashed-up with a layer of canned audience applause. Live records tend to demonstrate the most value as a document of a certain time and place. The real delight in listening to The Misfits’ Evilive record, for instance, lays more in hearing Glenn Danzig bark threats at hostile audience members pelting the band with garbage than from listening to muddy renditions of “Night of the Living Dead.” Or, to use a less dramatic example, the pleasure of listening to the audio portion of Kleenex’s Live Recordings, TV Clips & Roadmovie is derived from the sensation of experiencing, 30-plus years later, a unique and unrepeatable moment in a now-legendary artist’s career at its peak.

Club will not serve the same kind of historical function. Being the product of a brief reunion tour, it’s coming out of the least essential stage of The Jesus Lizard’s career. Listening to a live record from an active band, you can imagine that you are hearing the artists still wrestling with their material, still finding new ways to make it breathe. Songs played on a reunion tour are tamed animals, conquered long ago and trotted out for the audience’s enjoyment. And on top off all that, the record forces you to experience the concert blind, a serious disadvantage when you’re dealing with a live band as furious as The Jesus Lizard. Wouldn’t it be better just to get the DVD? The Club LP, then, serves less as a document of the reunion show experience (that’s what the more widely available DVD is for), and more as a “collector’s item,” a thing to own purely for the sake of owning.

With this in mind, an assessment of the record’s contents seems almost beside the point, since enjoying the content is secondary to owning it. Nonetheless, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t point out that Club captures a pretty vicious set. In spite of the fact that each of the members has moved onto other things, they sink their teeth into these songs as though they were written yesterday. The band is tighter than ever, and David Yow still spits, snarls, and hurls himself into the crowd with the same careless abandon that he had in his twenties. And even if the songs have been tamed and mastered, Club shows they can still kill on command. Duane Dennison’s razor guitar strokes, David Wm. Sims’ growling bass, and Mac McNeilly’s leaden drum beats don’t lose anything in the transition from the studio to the stage, and Club captures them in a pristine detail that previous live recordings, most notably 1994’s (also out-of-print) Show, had lacked.

The tracklist doesn’t shake things up too much from Show, focusing mainly on the band’s Touch and Go catalogue. One can’t exactly go wrong with songs as incendiary as “Gladiator,” “Bloody Mary,” and “Monkey Trick,” after all. Other welcome additions include a scalding rendition of “Mouthbreater” (listen to Sims’ bass on the second verse; fucking killer) and “Then Comes Dudley.” A special treat is “Blockbuster,” from the group’s debut EP, officially released with McNeilly’s live drums for the first time on this record. Best of all, though, is the version of “7 vs. 8” closing the main set. The band never sounds bigger than when it’s ripping into this one, with Dennison summoning titanic riffs that threaten to swallow whole Yow’s keening wails of oblation. To see it performed in concert is to be pummelled into submission by a thousand heavenly fists, and even when ripped from the sweaty context of its live setting and fossilized into recorded form, it sounds awfully damn good.

So, while Club is most certainly an inessential entry into The Jesus Lizard’s otherwise prestigious catalogue, it still manages to bottle some of the insanity of one of the all-time great live bands. For the hardcore Jesus Lizard fan, the time it will take to download and listen will certainly be time well-spent, but it’s a poor substitute for the full DVD, and an even poorer substitute for being there in the flesh.

Links: The Jesus Lizard - Chunklet

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