David Yow, former frontman for the ever-influential, post-hardcore noise acts Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard (predecessors to bands like Nirvana, Liars, and Lightning Bolt), has lived some amazing music moments. His favorite: playing Johnny Rotten in a Sex Pistols cover band at age 19. Take from that what you want, but one thing's certain — Yow evidently didn't pay attention to the story of the punk icon.
At age 46, Yow has chosen neither to burn out nor to fade away, opting instead to continue screaming his lungs bloody and scaring the shit out of audiences everywhere. Fresh off a recent Scratch Acid reunion tour, Yow is defying the laws of nature with Qui, an L.A. band that drops its first Yow-inclusive album the day before its San Francisco show.
The thing is, Yow didn't even want to be in Qui originally, at least until some stints as guest vocalist convinced him he would be doing something different.
"After Jesus Lizard, I had no desire to join a full-time band," Yow says in a phone interview. "I didn't want to repeat myself."
You might ask him to repeat himself, however, after the voice of Scratch Acid nightmare soundtracks like "Skin Drips" describes Qui's sound using the phrase "three-part harmonies." The idea of harmony was never much of a concern for Acid or Lizard, but fans shouldn't worry that Yow's straying into Zombies territory. At least one of Qui's other vocalists, Matt Cronk, grew up going to Jesus Lizard shows. And it shows.
The upcoming album, Love's Miracle, is the by-product of Yow and two talented noise-nerds — guitarist Cronk and drummer Paul Christensen — who grew up on stuff like Jesus Lizard, and probably the Butthole Surfers, Big Black, and now Ipecac-labelmates the Melvins. The scream-therapy vocals mixed with scary-hobo-style stream-of-consciousness ramblings should be familiar to fans of any of the aforementioned groups, although Qui's music has some complex arrangements that could only be pulled off by musicians with real chops and more diverse influences. Witness the disjointed percussion on "Apartment," not to mention the faithful covers of Frank Zappa's "Willie the Pimp" and Pink Floyd's "Echoes."
Yow says the typical Qui show has him feeling like "the oldest man in the room," but it's no doubt the youngsters who're backing away when he approaches the front row. The man is legendary for wild, sometimes deeply emotionally disturbing performances (he has a confrontational, occasionally angry stage presence, and there's that reported testicle-flashing incident). From the sound of things, the guy hasn't slowed down much over the decades.
Don't, however, confuse Qui for "David Yow presents Jesus Lizard Jr." Cronk and Christensen had been playing as Qui for six years when Yow joined the fold. Cronk asked Yow to sing a song with the group in one performance, and that led to several more, and then a rehearsed half-set. "We were all really getting off on it," Cronk says.
Fans and critics also needed a change of pants. The trio played to most everyone's satisfaction (and probably to the bafflement of more than a few) at South by Southwest this spring, and Love's Miracle is pretty much guaranteed to please if you actually read and understood this article up to this point.
Christensen and Cronk are doing their part to keep Yow from treading ground that's too familiar; Qui dropped a Jesus Lizard cover from its set list after some lamewad in the audience started yelling out song requests for that band. "That sort of bummed us all out," Cronk says.
Of course Lizard fans are welcome to attend Wednesday's show, but don't bum out an old-timer: Keep your nostalgic requests to yourself. Sex Pistols titles, however, are a totally different thing.