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June 27, 2001
This all went down at the tender young age of fifteen. I'd been to a couple of really good shows at that point in my life and some real lousy ones too, but I was admittedly still quite innocent on what to expect from a band called the Jesus Lizard. I had heard a couple of songs, which had left me unimpressed. However, I kept reading in the Chicago press that they were the best live band ever, so I decided to go to the big city and check them out. There was never much going on in Bourbonnais, Illinois, anyway.

I nodded my way through a couple uninspiring opening bands in the balcony of the Vic Theater. I was in a comfortable seat and expected to spend the Lizard's set in a similar place.

How to describe what happened next? Three regular looking Joes walked out and picked up their instruments and the place instantly exploded in a deafening sound. The guitarist, Duane Denison, sounded like he was sawing through the speakers, playing jazz meets Zeppelin. The bassist, David William Simms, scowled at the crowd and cemented the music with unbelievably tight riffs on a bass that sounded like the strings were made of tin. The drummer, Mac McNeilly, flailed his arms and played with a high octane precision that, to this day, after hundreds of concerts, I still have not seen one live drummer match. The sound alone would have been enough to make them among the greatest live bands ever. Yet there was more.

From out of the shadows emerged a man dressed in a suit and wearing a ski mask. After gulping down two beers, he started howling incoherent jibberish into the microphone and then sprang into the crowd like a tiger lunging at a zebra in one of those educational nature films.

When I turned to my friends to tell them I was going to head down to the first level, I realized they had already headed to the first floor themselves. The next two hours were an absolute blur, a twisted combination of astounding rock music and deranged stage antics. By the third song, David Yow's suit had been reduced to a pair of torn off shorts. At one point, he pulled a guy from the crowd on to the stage and tackled him. Then the guy pulled Yow back into the crowd, where he disappeared for about five minutes. The only reason anyone knew he was still alive was his drunken howling emanating from inside a mass of flailing bodies. I still don't know how he constantly held on to the microphone, but the snake of electrical linkage followed him around dutifully all night. The performance even included Yow's infamous "Tight N Shiny" (look it up kids) for an encore.

Yes, the testosterone levels were high that night, but it was also performance art on the grandest scale. The band hit on all levels, with some of the most interesting guitar I have ever heard, the best live rhythm section in history and the master of insanity leading his own personal circus.

I saw the band every time I could after that. The next few Chicago performances were almost as good, but later on they were just mailing it in. At the risk of being pretentious, if you didn't see the Lizard before 1995, you didn't see them. And if you never saw them, you never saw the greatest live band ever.

SEE ALSO: www.tgrec.com

--
John Steinbacher
The last we heard, Steinbacher was living in Minneapolis.

See other articles by John Steinbacher.

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