The band are never really about access; their noise rock is often jarringly loud, spastic, and contrarian. But on this night, a six-person incarnation seemed in full control of their unwieldy new songs, stretching out dissonant guitar-led skronks with surprising doses of melody and no wave abandon, all bolstered by punchy rhythms, startling dynamics and leader Elliott Jones's somewhat nervous, combative conjuring of a rockabilly tough. Of course, it can't be easy to walk out and own a stage you're sharing with one of the greatest front-men in rock'n'roll.
As the Phoenix curtain was drawn open to reveal the Jesus Lizard in ready position, David Yow was seated passively on the drum riser. As the driving "Puss" bellowed out of a band playing together in Toronto for the first time in ten years, Yow leapt into the crowd in time to screech, "Give me somethin' to stop the bleeding."
From then on, the Jesus Lizard reinvented the reunion tour, executing a set so fierce and captivating, you'd think they were the hungriest new band around. But the fans were just as rabid, tearing at gigantic songs like "Gladiator" and "Nub" like they'd been served a long-awaited feast. The moshing and jostling seemed far more celebratory in 2009 than it did in the mid-'90s, and armed with a mic and never missing a lyric, Yow literally rode the wave of fleshy adulation all the way to the soundboard at the back of the room at one point.
Duane Denison remains one of the most masterful guitarists in rock, wrenching gorgeous and terrifying sounds for songs that spanned virtually every one of the band's studio albums. Mac McNeilly's return on drums was certainly Bonham-esque and, in reconfiguring with mighty bassist David Wm. Sims, the influential and colossal rhythm section propelled songs like "Glamourous," "Blue Shot" and "Destroy Before Reading." For Yow's part, he completely charmed the audience with his wit, profusely plugged Brides as "the best band who've opened for us on this tour," and bore most of his pelvis and ass during the vicious "Blockbuster."
Seldom has such a doom-laden sound elicited such elation but they simply don't build bands like the Jesus Lizard anymore, and witnesses know this. They're absolutely one in a million and, even in their advancing years, are arguably the best live band on the planet.