Dark Matter Presents: Split LP #1
Wild Jesus & The Devil’s Lettuce
Press Pot Recordings, 2016
by Matthew Meade
The blues, jazz, and funk fusion ensemble Wild Jesus & The Devil’s Lettuce Family Party Band have been lurking around the weird back alleys of Chicago’s avant-garde indie music scene since at least 2011. They’ve released a number of madman LPs infused with Tom Waitsian growls, Steve Reich style experimentation, and a flavor of neo-psychedelia that’s trippier than a mushroom experience at a planetarium on Mars.
They stir a lot of influences into their pot (yes, pun intended) including the funk of jazz legends like Joe McPhee, the slippery noodling of Sugie Otis, the drugged out head-bob of Tobacco, and the muscular bass lines of any blues rock collective worth its Rotosounds. They present themselves as if a demented Hoagy Carmichael replaced Wayne Coyne as the lead singer of the Flaming Lips. There is enough blues in there though to keep them from straying too far off into the noodling weeds. This is mostly due to the solid foundation provided by the rhythm section, but also due to the Bo Diddly style showmanship.
The band, which is populated with a menagerie of people named after animals (like The Hawk who, according to facebook, plays “soaring sensual-luv sounds,” and Smokey “The Bear” Mullen who is responsible for “putting out fires”), will sometimes stumble into the jurisdiction of late 90s jam-band appropriators like Sublime or OAR but Hawk, Bear, Wild Jesus, and whoever else is on the track always find a way to add something menacing and odd so they don’t come off too vanilla. When they are at their best they add a husky Nick Cave bark over all the jammy writhing and can recall anyone from Modest Mouse to noise outfits like Jesus Lizard.
On their new release from Dark Matter Coffee’s music imprint Press Pot Recordings they occupy side A of an LP split with doomy and erratic beer brewing outlet (and sometimes musicians) Brain Tentacles. Bruce Lamont, the tentacle responsible for saxophones and vocals, even lends his wry, late-70s-ad-man-style vocals to the second Wild Jesus track, “Snakes on a Plain,” where the band lays out a strange metaphor along with its slinking bass line and early ELP style piano insistences.
All of the vocals on these Wild Jesus tunes can be a little jarring. It’s a little like when a drunk hangs out with a group of pot heads and affects the entire evening. Sometimes the too loud slur can be for the better and sometimes it can be for worse but it always makes for a more interesting time.
Opener “Simmer” is jazzy and crisp with elements of 80s cinema soundtracks and 90s color palettes while “Dragon Acid” adds a bright, citrusy zest. They end up sounding like the Talking Heads if they took the piss out of New Wave the way the B-52s did with rockabilly. The songs have unexpected turns and strange movements like Frank Zappa by way of The Swans. The whole endeavor has the feel of some Phish heads being put through a Cronenberg-esque body swap with a cassette of Lou Reed’s Berlin. The strange horror, the bizarre imagery, the unintended consequences, and the unglued imagination of that imaginary fission process are all present in the music, but what else would you expect from a band called Wild Jesus & The Devil’s Lettuce Family Party Band?