David Yow's return to a D.C.-area stage didn't disappoint. He is still the consummate showman/wildman he was in his Jesus Lizard/Scratch Acid days, a terrific entertainer. But it's the band he recently joined that allowed it to happen, and the credit goes to Qui drummer-vocalist Paul Christensen and guitarist-vocalist Matt Cronk for making Yow's appearance a possibility. Like the trio's first LP together, "Love's Miracle," this Iota set showed it is that duo's band and at the same time expanded upon Yow's role.
With the first song, "Gash," it seemed Yow might not be his old self after all. While he shared lead vocal duties with Cronk, it was Cronk's voice that was heard loudest. And Yow's chant of "Smack her! Smack her!" wasn't quite as devilish as it sounds on record. The music was great from the start, though. Cronk's guitar was squealing, noisy and sparse but filling, and Christensen is a creative wizard on the kit. And then Yow opened the hijinks, introducing the band with, "We're Bill Clinton." A simple but effective way to elicit a chuckle from a D.C. crowd. He'd continue clowning with the crowd and bait them for more, louder applause. During "Belt," he leaned deep into the faces of audience members to pull more from them, nearly crowd surfing on one guy. And by then, he was a full-fledged third of the trio. His lunging, strutting and posturing was providing the stage show for the set, and his vocals had resumed that aggrieved, edge-of-insanity and often staggered affect.
"Can I get more of my vocals and less of David's?" Christensen requested.
"And can I get more of my vocals and less of David's?" Cronk echoed.
"Can I get more sousaphone?" was Yow's retort.
Midway through the set, Yow took a break after "A #1," one of the more melodic and slow-paced songs, which also thrives on crescendo. His break reminded that Christensen and Cronk had played together for several years before ever seeking out one of their heroes. But Yow's presence remained, as he climbed up into that little corner loft Iota has stage right, sat Indian style, smoked, drank and looked down approvingly at his new partners as they rolled through "Apartment." As much as the duo incorporates elements of metal, punk, noise rock and experimental music into their songs, they maintain a knack for tunefulness, and "Apartment" demonstrated this best. It threatened vengeance with a bombastic intro but quickly turned directions toward a quieter groove, though still maintaining a significant amount of doom. Then Christensen's softer, soothing voice took over. The song continued switching back and forth from aggression to melody before riding out on battling simultaneous solos from Christensen and Cronk.
Yow was quickly back to absorbing the audience's attention, though, particularly on "New Orleans." That slow-starting song opens with broken avant-garde interplay between Cronk and Christensen, leaving Yow with little else to do but climb up on the bar, walk the length to the bartender, then proceed to interview him during one of those breaks, asking for the bartender's full name, how long he had worked at Iota and whether or not he was married. "Yes, I am." "Sorry, girls!" Yow cackled before returning to the stage for the rest of the song, which remembers Katrina with the thrifty lyrics "What makes the green earth turn brown?/Fighting the sewers around./I'd like to think underground./Fighting the sewers around."
The set closed with some of Yow's most memorable vocal performances. "You think that's funny? Well, so do I," he taunts on "Today, Gestation," hanging on the "I." "You gave 'em your money and took off your clothes. But so did I." The most volatile lyrics of the set came with the closer, "Freeze." It's a big eff you, and Yow sang with his most bilious venom and screeched and sneered the haunting mantra, "Why would anyone want to live here?"
After leaving the stage together, Christensen and Cronk returned alone for their cover of Pink Floyd's "Echoes" (an earlier cover, a bloozey version of the Frank Zappa-Captain Beefheart song "Willie the Pimp," was another set highlight). While on "Love's Miracle" the song is a competent and pleasant but unexciting treatment, the duo threatened the original 20+ minute length of the Floyd version and got a bit louder and trashier with the song. And then for the extended outro, Yow, actually got up on stage, strapped on a bass and really turned the group into a trio by laying down a simple, steady bottom that enabled Christensen and Cronk to stretch out and really rock the show to a close. He was ready and willing to help out his mates, not just lend them a name, a face and a consummate rock and roll showman.