Jason Heller zeroed in on the year 1995 as the end of the “major label explosion of weird,” the era when “someone left the gate wide open” and bands such as Hum, Seaweed, Jawbreaker, and All surfaced from the underground. However, Capitol Records snuck in at least one more unsuspecting mainstream sucker punch: The Jesus Lizard, whose major label debut, Shot, hit stores on April 16, 1996—20 years ago today. As frontman David Yow told the Dallas Observer in 1998, “a larger budget” was the difference between Capitol and the band’s indie label—and the big leagues weren’t exactly asking the group to deliver hits. “Oh, they would love to have them,” Yow said at the time. “But I told them, ‘Good luck! I don’t think it’s going to happen. You heard us when you signed us.’”
But even if the label didn’t exactly know what it was getting into signing the Jesus Lizard, it probably had a better sense after releasing the mini-film Sho(r)t. The 33-minute VHS is a stream-of-consciousness account interspersing live footage with sideways biographical info (e.g., a litany of Yow’s worst injuries, a snarky chronicle of Chicago’s then-music luminaries, a dick trick) and “fan” testimonials—which, in true Jesus Lizard fashion, start with people describing the band as abrasive, noisy and out-of-control. The real carrot is the live footage, which captures the band’s scabrous nihilism in all of its chaotic glory.
A three-part YouTube video of the Jesus Lizard live outdoors at Aron’s Records in Los Angeles in 1996 is another fine encapsulation of the band at the time: Yow’s clambered into the crowd less than 90 seconds into “Nub,” as the rest of the band stays back under a striped tent and annihilates the song.
For a better sense of what the Jesus Lizard was like at the time in a proper venue, high-quality footage of the band opening for Ministry in Houston, and thrilling a teeming crowd, is an even better bet.