Eleventh Dream Day

For indie rock fans of a certain age, a visit to a couple of Chicago parks in July may make it feel like it’s 1989 again. That’s because the Jesus Lizard and Eleventh Dream Day, bands that helped define Chicago’s music scene two decades ago, are making rare concert appearances this month.

The Jesus Lizard’s set at the Pitchfork Music Festival marks only the sixth show it will have played since reuniting earlier this year. Formed in 1987, the band (which takes its name from a reptile that runs on water) blazed a trail of powerful recordings and intense performances that earned it a deserved reputation as one of rock’s great live acts.

Stripped to the waist (and sometimes below it), David Yow would writhe onstage and bodysurf the crowd while howling his dark visions. The rest of the group—guitarist Duane Denison, bassist David Wm. Sims, and drummer Mac McNeilly—meantime played slashing riffs and hammering grooves.

“I’ve heard what I do described as confrontational, but I don’t think of it that way,” Yow says. “I’m not out to hurt anybody or fight anybody. It’s more about the excitement of dumb loud music and the possibility of danger.”

Since the Jesus Lizard disbanded in 1999, Denison has played in a variety of bands, including a stint with Hank Williams III; Yow moved to L.A., where he makes a living retouching photos while pursuing an acting career; Sims worked as an accountant in New York; and McNeilly is an Evanston family man who builds computers.

The once-buff Yow, now 48, is getting back into fighting shape with elliptical machine workouts at the Hollywood YMCA. “I want it to be as good and visceral as it ever was. I think it will be, too. The only difference will be more gray hair and wrinkles.”

Rather than break up after being dropped by a big record label in the early ’90s, Eleventh Dream Day has continued on a very sporadic basis, releasing four records in 15 years and playing concerts here and there.

Filled with churning guitar, propulsive momentum, and the clamoring voices of former spouses Rick Rizzo and Janet Bean, the music has always proved worth the wait. “When we do play, it’s always thrilling to me,” says Rizzo, who’s now 11 years into a second career as a schoolteacher. “It’s the same feeling I got from being in the band in the ’80s. It’s really no different.”

GO: The Jesus Lizard plays the PITCHFORK MUSIC FESTIVAL on July 17th. Eleventh Dream Day performs July 2nd on the Taste Stage at the TASTE OF CHICAGO.


Photograph: Jim Newberry