The Jesus Lizard, Glenn Branca, Peter Hammill,
and Venus in Leather!!
Published in CARBON 14 No. 2, January 1995


The "Centre commercial d'Italie'' or "Italy Shopping Center'', is in Southeastern Paris, in the general direction of Rome and Milan, hence its name. No Italians or other ethnics around, though, as not too many people tend to congregate near closed shopping malls around 10PM on Sunday. It was a rainy night on urban renewal and corporate development, I felt lonely and anxious, and my beautiful blonde neighbour wasn't returning my calls. A perfect setting for The Jesus Lizard.

The venue is called the Arapaho, and I half-expected to find a large hall, barn-like, with quaint Old-West dioramas and Plains Indian motifs. No such luck. It's in the shopping-center's basement, smallish, clean and stark, with two huge pillars holding their share of the MoFo Mall upstairs, so half the room gets to see one of the pillars before it gets to see the stage. As I move to the good half, I noticed a wall of cigarette smoke, leather jackets, long hair and goatees, and think: "Somebody spiked my drink and I'm back in Phillyl'' But when the singer from Stanford Prison Experiment, the opening act, mumbles something about murky beau cup , the spell breaks and I realize this is just another night of glory in the international underground rök scene. So I take off my leather jacket, rub my three-day stubble, and watch my hair grow while waiting for Chef Yow and his kitchen- prep boys to get it on.
There had been mentions in the Paris press (Liberation) of David Yow having slowed down somewhat, and of a bout with existential anguish, what with being 35 and all, and his desire to get back into the spicy-food kitchen, (one of his non-musical endeavors, it appears). Well, if the Jesus Lizard has slowed down at all, it's because it went from the barbecue grill to a slowly boiling and roiling mass of jalapeno and cayenne stew, a Tabasco juggernaut that can put the fear of god into Stone Temple Pilots and your hemorrhoids, all at the same time! The band is efficiently awesome, Yow's still wild, I'd say, and having himself some fun a-diving and a-moshing, wisecracking in vain to an essentially unilingual audience.
Meanwhile, this guy I met through my radio show a couple of months earlier passes me a joint, buys me a beer, and tries to hook both of us up with a couple of fiery red-headed lizardettes in the vicinity! I like that kind of initiative in a near stranger of my acquaintance! Unfortunately, les jeunes filles have other plans and, as the show ends, off we go, my buddy Pierre (not his real name) and I. He gives me an odd look, checks his watch and says: "I used to live near here. I want to show you something there that won't get you laid but it'll get you thinking.''

Fifteen minutes later, we enter this apartment building and I follow him quietly (his instructions) through a couple of inner courtyards to a locked glass door opening onto a dark space. It's pitch black except for some diffused light coming from some windows on different stories.
And there is a stronger glow coming from the other side of the glass door, which he carefully and ever-so-quietly opens. He looks in and turns back towards me with a big, grateful smile of thanks on his face: I now know this is it, whatever it is!
He locks the door behind us and we find ourselves in a private garden, unkempt, whose distances fade in the murky gloom. A leafy murmur can be heard all around us. And I look in: the room is nondescript, vaguely "yuppie modern'' with a couple of dim lights giving all the illumination needed to see... HER!! 
She's blonde and stunning with a beautiful face all of innocence and fragility; her long hair cascading down on precious shoulders of ivory, the creamy smoothness of her skin glistening as Cleopatra's would have, rising from her bath of mare's milk. She stands in a tight leather bustier and even tighter leather pants, all black. The excessively high black stiletto heels on her alabaster feet propel her perfect ass in loops of unending curvaceousness.
In one hand, she holds a short black whip, more of a swagger-stick with an extension. She has that extension coiled into a loop through which passes this kneeling gentleman's dark red and engorged tumescence, giving it a slow back and forth motion, like a hanged man swaying at the end of a black noose, rigor mortis setting in. Well, I don't know about mortis in this case, but rigor, yes, plenty rigor, thank you!
He's wearing a black T-shirt and sports a nifty dog collar and leash she holds in her other hand. I can't see his face because it's buried in the crack of her french derriere (she's still wearing the leather pants) as he kneels behind her. The matter-of-fact look on her face tells me this is business, not love play; yet, she doesn't look like she's working, more like an artisan displaying finely-honed skills, concentrating on the pleasure of a job well done, wanting membership in her craft's guild through this, her masterpiece! At any rate, she gets all the masterful discipline out of him as he concludes his prayers, changes his waters into wine and, after a period of meditation, removes his sacerdotal vestments, finally donning again his mortal garb: grey pin-stripes, shirt and tie. He makes what appears to be a donation to her missionary works, and leaves.
As Pierre and I rise from our pew, I get to think that if Miss Mary, here, with her ravishing look of innocence and the stern velvet of her commands, was to be named Vicar Disciplinarian of your Church, there'd probably be more men in religion, pondering Stigmatic mysteries, and orthodox iconography would soon be replacing the haloed white dove with the Jesus Lizard.

The following night, still conjuring up visions of Venus in leather, I went to what must have proven, to some, the audio equivalent of last night's beatitude in bondage and discipline.
Glenn Branca and his nine electric guitars and drummer were blasting the naughties at the Theatre de la Ville, on Halloween night. Bondage and discipline because the capacity crowd of about 1500 remained tied to their seats, mesmerized by the Branca leviathan, while the 100 or so who left unable to take the decibels, did so with restrained courtesy, hurling no abusive epithets at the screaming stage.
''Downtown'' Wharton Tiers, Mannhattan avant-guardists' favorite audio monster, turned it up to 9, at least, and provided Branca's music with all the mass and energy needed to bring it up to speed. Oddly enough, the program notes quoted Branca as saying he wanted to rely less on the  "hallucinatory acoustic phenomenum'' of extreme volume, and more, in effect, on ''expressiveness and a sense of textures and composition.'' And while a trained ear (read: one that went through the Jesus Lizard the night before) could discern some harmonic interchange, counterpoint even, in the enormous sheets of sound being moved about the stage by the 10 musicians, the over- all texture certainly remained firmly in the  "hallucinatory acoustic phenomenum" just mentioned. Still, Branca gets some extra points for some fine dancing and contorting while conducting.
After the concert, the musicians would not be denied a party. Halloween is a fairly recent import into Parisian culture, but it's taken hold of the French capital very successfully. So, on streets crowded with warlocks and goblins, I guided our friends to the party set-up in their honor, where large quantities of food, drinks and bewitching Parisiennes enchanted the Brancas.
Nothing like the sight of a sexy French babe, all styled up and accessorized, to bring a smile and a drool to an American male all too accustomed to the sorry vision of bicycle-shorts and sweat-shirted, gum-poppin' bimbos in sneakers that passes for feminity in the US!!

Big change of pace at the Bataclan on Tuesday night with Peter Hammill's magnificent performance.
The former vocalist for Van Der Graaf Generator (very former, it's been nearly 20 years) continues to be one of a small handful of completely unique performers in pop music.
But can it still even be called pop?
Hammill sounds like no one else, and his musical style offers no comparison or references to peers, past or present.
The unusual instrumentation of the four-piece band (a combination of acoustic and electric drums; amplified violin; Hammill's electric piano and guitar synth; and former VDGG mate David Jackson on saxes, flutes, pennywhistles, uillean pipes, etc... ) can evoke, at different times, jazz, rock, art song and romantic lieder or cabaret, without sounding in the least diluted or unfocused. An extremely intense emotional focus is actually palpable at all times, with Hammill's strong voice oscillating between tenor and contralto, sinking at times to a growling baritone, keeping the audience enthralled.
And it was the first time in years that I had seen an artist brought back for a second encore after the house lights had been turned on, and the canned music had been blasting for about five minutes. The screaming audience would not be denied another few moments of an extraordinary concert!!


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