Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the Lounge Lizards. I doubt that many people figured the band to last half that long, and I wonder if anyone is more surprised than founder and leader John Lurie--after all, it was he himself who originally dubbed the Lizards' eclectic, jokey style "fake jazz." Lurie is one of only two remaining original Lizards, along with his brother, keyboardist Evan, and he has kept himself busy elsewhere over the years, most notably in films by Jim Jarmusch, but also with his own Independent Film Channel series, Fishing With John. (In its six Jarmuschian episodes, Lurie undertook exotic angling with friends like Tom Waits, Dennis Hopper, and Jarmusch himself, combining the sensibilities of Marlin Perkins and Matt Groening.) Before the new Queen of All Ears--originally due two years ago and finally released on Strange & Beautiful Music, Lurie's new label--the Lizards hadn't made a studio album since 1989, and in the interim they released only a couple live dates to suggest the intriguing change of direction Lurie was navigating. Former standouts such as trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and saxman Roy Nathanson have been replaced by cellist Jane Scarpantoni, reedist Michael Blake--whose inventive textures rub up against Lurie's saxophone--and trumpeter Steve Bernstein of the oddball trio Spanish Fly and the enjoyably raucous Sex Mob, who acts as musical director. The new music makes occasional use of African rhythms, and almost all the tracks take the time and slow the tempo to reveal compositional details that once got lost in the Lizards' skittery irony. But just when you're about to say "They're not your father's Lounge Lizards," along comes the album's penultimate track--a fast shuffle driven by David Tronzo's lobotomized slide guitar and punctuated by New York slop-jar horn riffs, with Lurie's hyperventilated narrative about a talking beast of burden, the moral of which is "Feed the fever and starve the yak"--and the band's vintage silliness makes a triumphant return. Tuesday, 8 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): John Lurie photo uncredited.