It’s both visceral and ironic to see Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow howl “I can swim, I can’t swim!” atop a churning bay of hands during “Seasick.” But that’s not the only song known to inspire the pugnacious vocalist to crawl into a crowd. “It’s usually pretty spontaneous,” Yow says of his infamous bodysurfing. “It’s usually a barometer of how much fun I’m having.”
Based on reunion shows in December, Yow’s having a ball again as the Jesus Lizard rolls toward a Sept. 7 date at Royale—its first Boston appearance in nine years and only the second since the Chicago alt-punk band temporarily dissolved in 1999.
Yow recalls initial nerves when the group began a 2009 reunion tour at England’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. “I was really scared before we went on and I told the guys and my girlfriend that I was probably not going to take my shirt off and whatever—and within five seconds, the shirt was off and I was in the crowd.”
Having second thoughts over a mosh pit makes sense. “By the time I get home, I’ll be covered in bruises,” says Yow, who’ll take that over a flying bottle, like the one that once flew and smashed into his head, dropping him in a short-lived daze.
“I do love the dangerous part,” Yow admits of performing. “That attracted me to punk rock in the first place, where you’d go to a little club and you might get hurt by somebody in the audience, you might get hurt by somebody in the band. … Not that I want to get hurt, but the fact that the possibility is there is really exciting.”
Granted, Yow recently turned 58 and admits that shows have grown more physically demanding. “Outside of that, I think it’s very much like it was before, just a lot more gray hairs and a lot less hair and a lot more wrinkles,” the singer says from his home in LA, where he works on movie marketing art and acts in indie films (including last year’s Sundance winner I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore with Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey). “I never went to the gym in the old days. I didn’t need to because I was really healthy from all the alcohol and cigarettes. And now to get stamina and strength, I’m hitting the gym pretty hard.”
Born in Las Vegas, Yow was a military brat whose fighter-pilot father moved the family to Libya, North Carolina, Virginia and England before retiring in Texas. Yow became a self-described Beatles freak, then fell for Led Zeppelin, before punk rock “changed everything,” he says. “Then it was the Sex Pistols and the Birthday Party [with Nick Cave], and my mom said, ‘I wish you’d go back to Led Zeppelin.’ ”
Like Zeppelin, the Jesus Lizard swings on balanced combustibility in the gnashing guitar of Duane Denison, the heaving bass of David Wm. Sims (who played with Yow in ’80s noise-punk precursors Scratch Acid) and the piston-punch drums of Mac McNeilly. Their comeback follows the reissue of their seminal Touch and Go catalog, early ’90s albums produced by Steve Albini before he became famous working with Nirvana.
Yow’s lyrics can seem as confrontational as the band’s abrasive sonics. “Puss,” a split single with Nirvana, spins a brutal account of a woman abused at a club. And “Monkey Trick” notes “body parts all over this town” in a nod to a Texas murder.
His lyrics come from “real life or dreams or fantasy and don’t have a linear goal,” Yow says, adding, “It seems if you write books or films that are disturbing, it’s easier to get away with than in music.”
As for how long the Jesus Lizard will continue to perform, Yow observes that while money was never the quartet’s motivating force, each reunion has built dates beyond a high-paying festival gig. “In December, we played six shows and it was the most money I made in my life in one year,” Yow says. “As long as the next person or festival offers more than a hundred gazillion dollars, I guess we’ll keep doing this crap.” ◆
The Jesus Lizard plays Royale on Sept. 7.
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