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The Jesus Lizard and Plaque Marks @ Union Transfer, Philadelphia (Live Review + Photos)

The Jesus Lizard. Photo credit: Tashina Byrd
The Jesus Lizard. Photo credit: Tashina Byrd

Buncha fucking clowns.

No, seriously, that’s what Plaque Marks were repping: bassist Doug Sabolik sported a rainbow wig while guitarist Gene Woolfolk looked sweet with an oversized jaunty bow atop his head. At the side of the stage, someone – a roadie, perhaps? – had a full-fledged Bozo outfit on. He stood next to a dude in a flamboyant red suit who added trombone to a couple of songs. They came out onto the stage for a few bits, with the red suit guy for some barely-audible-over-the-din horn and Bozo for moral support.

Someone else not in costume came out and juggled while someone else entirely blew up balloon animals because that is what one does when the lines between circus and insane asylum are as blurred that much.

Plaque Marks serve as a new vehicle/side project for some Philly scenesters of note (Fight Amp and Creepoid alumni fill out the lineup). The group’s noise alternates between being bludgeoningly chugging and chuggingly bludgeoning — a perfect way to kick off a night of noise rock royalty.

And that’s what The Jesus Lizard is, really. They emerged to spearhead a noise rock renaissance during the height of alt-rock 1990s, Lollpalosers who snookered Capitol Records to subsidize their arts. Sure, they benefited from timing, but they benefited from being timeless more than that.

They still kick off their set with “Puss,” their biggest hit thanks to sharing a split with Nirvana. Within seconds of the churning riff that kicks it off, frontman David Yow is already sitting on the crowd – yes, that is the best way to describe his interaction with an audience that seems to view being sat on by Yow as a rite of passage. Before the song is over, he will be tossed back on the stage, his beer belly distending from underneath his shirt that reads “Fuck Trump” in capital letters.

This would not be an isolated incident. Yow spends as much time off the stage as on it. It’s not simple nihilism at work; when he laid atop the front row repeatedly chanting “Will you bury me?” as “If You Had Lips” creaked to a halt, he showed solidarity with the throng.

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As much as he captivates and capitulates, he isn’t what makes Jesus Lizard worth seeing over 30 years after they crawled out from Austin, ten years since the first reunion shows. It’s cool if he lands on you, sure, but Duane Denison is stoically and rigidly wringing every ounce of distorted staccato skronk from his guitar while Mac McNeilly is locked in with David Wm Sims keeping the chaos in perfect syncopation. “Bloody Mary” and “Blue Shot” alone put them front and center and makes it quite clear they are up there with any extreme music rhythm section you can name).

Anyone who thinks noise rock is all crass, no craft don’t know Jesus Lizard. If that person was at Union Transfer, they got to know the band pretty well. The band churned out visceral gristle for well over 90 minutes culled from the band’s entire discography save for the Blue swansong that I am pretty sure they have disowned entirely. Standouts among the 28 (!) tracks included the film noir police chase “Glamourous,” the fucked up blues of “My Own Urine,” the thrashing “Boilmaker,” and (to this day) watching them cover Chrome and The Dicks is life-affirming.

Helmet got a lot of accolades for jazzy precision and hyper-pretension plus they sold a ton more records, but Jesus Lizard has always been just as controlled, concise, and on-point. They only lacked the ostentation and who needs that anyway? In their prime they were just as accomplished as that classic, scintillating Rollins Band lineup, and the Lizard hasn’t seemed to lose very much from those halcyon days. If anything they’re even smarter now, having learned how to pace themselves throughout long, intense sets. With a dozen songs over two separate encores, that was kind of important.

This was actually the second Philly show since the Jesus Lizard reformed for the second time. The novelty is over. The Jesus Lizard couldn’t rely on nostalgia now, not anymore. Fortunately they don’t have to.

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