Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

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News & Features » March 2014 » Rob Warmowski on the Jesus Lizard in Chicago, 1990

Rob Warmowski on the Jesus Lizard in Chicago, 1990

To celebrate the release of The Jesus Lizard Book, Akashic will be featuring excerpts from Book on our website once a week throughout March. Today, we bring you Rob Warmowski’s piece on the July 21, 1990 Jesus Lizard show at Edge of the Looking Glass in Chicago.

The Jesus Lizard is still on tour! Click here for full event details about upcoming Jesus Lizard events in Brooklyn, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

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JesusLizardBookSummer 1990, South Side of Chicago. The nearby smokestack of the country’s only urban coal-burning power plant quietly blankets a dust of arsenic and silicon dioxide onto the roof of Edge of the Looking Glass, a Michigan Avenue theater space. Tonight, it’s a rock show. The yuppie eruption of the Reagan era has leveled off, leaving the neighborhood temporarily cockblocked from a coming wave of development capital. First come the artists, begins the realtor’s asshole mantra. On South Michigan, first came the Jesus Lizard.

I had heard Head and Pure, but I had not yet seen the band. My first view, through a haze of Camel smoke: Scratch Acid’s David Yow, dressed appropriately, if ten years early, for the coming gentrification. Taking the stage in jacket and tie, leading a wiry contingent of roustabouts, he reached for the mic. Before anybody could get their bearings, the band exploded into:

1. A terrifying Pewish/Burnellian bass
2. Drums like a sideways howitzer
3. Diamond-sharp guitar blare
4. In front, Bob Fosse

When I say Bob Fosse, I don’t really mean the dean of American dance. I mean a woozy, elfin version of Bob Fosse: anchored, slow-dancing with himself, with us, eyes searching, index fingers extended in unchaste, gentle undulation. Until he, too, exploded.

During what I would come to know as “Then Comes Dudley,” “One Evening,” “Good Thing,” and “Killer McHann,” the mood and moves flipped into snarling fury and back in a way I had never heard any band manage before. Huge, yet never plodding. Mannered and precise, yet never busy. And always with that nice man in the suit who seemed like he had something on his mind.

By the time the elegiac masterwork “Pastoral” came, I was ready for anything. What I got was the unforgettable set piece of Yow reaching for a giant sea sponge soaked in what appeared to be ink. While Mac, Duane,  and Sims traced the mournful musical contours of what Nelson Algren called “loving a woman with a broken nose,” Yow lifted the sponge to his noggin and squeezed, sending dark rivulets of blue cascading down his face, finally ruining his duds, along with any chance I had of imagining a better band.

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ROB WARMOWSKI is a multi-instrumentalist, humorist, writer, and filmmaker from Chicago. He plays in Sirs and San Andreas Fault. His contribution to this volume is offered as reparations for musical ideas he has pilfered from the Jesus Lizard.

Posted: Mar 26, 2014

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