Most musicians never start one good band, but Dave Yow and David Sims did it twice as charter members of Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard. While each guy posses a singular vision of what it is that they do —Yow with his garbled manly warble and Sims with his intricate and implacable bass figures—they were in two different bands.
This was clear during the 21-song set at Webster Hall. Playing to crowd that was populated by rock stars past and present and good number of people who probably saw the band back in the mid-‘80s, Scratch Acid managed to not necessarily turn the clock back but to at least stop it for a while and let the songs speak for themselves. The two were joined by guitarist Brett Bradford and drummer Rey Washam for a set that equaled the dazzling heights that the Lizard scaled in the late-80s and 90s.
On this night the band functioned like a well-oiled machine with Washem and Sims locked in from the get-go. And while music this aggressive and loud is usually thought of in terms of a blunt blows to the head, there was a time mid-set during “Big Bone Lick” that it dawned on me that not only did the two play very well together but they were meant to play together, wringing all the nuance out of the galloping rhythm.
I remember being absolutely blown away by Bradford during sets I saw of the band back in the day. Always overshadowed by the success of other band members had after Scratch Acid’s demise, Bradford’s broad orchestral playing created a nice wall of sound that was decidedly different than the angular riffage of TJL’s Duane Dennison. It was there on the records and you could hear it live too, and it was only enhanced by the volume. Part of this impression might have been the close proximity of my ear to the guitar amp back then, but the sound or soundman at Webster Hall seemed to do Bradford no favors, pushing him down further in the mix than need be. This meant that he was relegated to background riffage at times—happily, Yow took matters into his own hands, sticking the vocal mic up against the amp during the guitar solo on encore opener “Damned for All Time,” which still should go down as one of the best punk covers of musical theater ever done.
Most reviews of the band start with Dave Yow’s surf safaris into the crowd, cowboy boots and crotch grabbing, and that makes him a pretty damn good front man in my book. Add to that a marksman’s eye for spitting and general restless stage presence and you’ve got a classic model. While the other three had their parts down note perfect, Yow seemed to bring the slur and yowl from his Jesus Lizard work back with him. I actually like the fact that I can understand what he says in SA, though on this night only certain phrases cut through the mayhem.
Opening with the ferocious “Mary Had a Little Drug Problem,” the band roared through the first part of set leaving the crowd stunned—it was eerily quiet in between the first six songs—but the audience found its legs about the time the first crowd surfer appeared during “Monsters.”
For its part, the band’s third great moment of the set (after “Mary” and “Big Bone”) came when it tore through an epic version of the instrumental “Albino Slug.” Again sidestepping the blunt force the band is known for, this tune’s melancholy melody was played over and over as the band built huge dynamic waves of sound; one after another these build ups broke up the audience only to recede and then repeat.
The set closed out with a wholly unhinged version of “She Said” that sounded much more loose than the recorded version. With an encore of the aforementioned “Damned,” a visceral “Cannibal” and “Owners Lament,” another song filled with dynamics and melancholy, the night ended like it began, on a high note.
If nothing else, this tour should remind music fans out there that Scratch Acid was far more than a footnote to The Jesus Lizard. It was a band with a formidable sound that, along with the Butthole Surfers, put Austin on the noise-rock map. While some of Scratch Acid’s recordings sound dated thanks to some bizarre decisions regarding the sound of the drums, this band sounded as alive as it ever has on this night. Sure, we may not see them play again, but it was once again good while it lasted.
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