by Arlie Carstens


w/Juno, the Tiny Kings

Thurs May 15, Graceland, 8 pm, $10 adv (all ages).

All touring bands bring a massive grip of CDs to help shoulder long hours on the road. Within the Juno van, there's only one band we never tire of--the mighty, Baltimore-based Lungfish. Their music is our collective obsession. Formed in 1988, Lungfish do little to no publicity and rarely tour. And yet, anywhere in the world Juno's played, we've met legions of the Lungfish cult. From across the punk/rock spectrum, artists such as Low, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Palace, Shellac, Ida, June of 44, and Joan Jett count themselves as longtime devotees. And in a move that surely marks him as the high priest of the Lungfish cult, Fugazi's Ian MacKaye has produced nine of the band's 10 albums. "We just finished the 10th record... it's the best thing they've ever done," says MacKaye. "There's no fucking around with Lungfish. They continually sharpen the focus on the concept of 'real.'" This longstanding collaboration makes Lungfish both the longest-running artist on the Dischord Records roster and the only non-D.C.-based band in the label's 23-year history.

As far as anyone's able to decipher from the band's mythology, Lungfish's music is the aural manifestation of a cosmic creature known simply as "The Lungfish," and the band members are vessels chosen to channel its communications through the universe. In his only interview of recent years (Punk Planet, Jan 2000), vocalist Daniel Higgs declared, "When I think of the music, I know it as an entity.... I would hope it speaks to people, because it's speaking to us as we're making it. It'll be telling us many things at once.... It takes all four of us to listen, to take orders from it...."

Interested to know if fellow members share belief in "The Lungfish" phenomena, I asked bassist Sean Meadows to elaborate on Higgs' remarks: "Well, it is true, we are working with 'The Lungfish,'" he replied. "However, beyond its proverbial opulence, there is a benevolence which makes itself manifest through a system of music. Quite frankly, I'm surprised more people aren't working with his highest Gill, but I'm of the understanding that the revealing of this source is an enigma.... Its threshold to this world comes through Asa [Osborne, guitar], and Daniel helps kind of channel the songs through like a midwife. Mitchell [Feldstein, drums] then spanks the little thing on its ass to get it breathing... my part has been to find the body by pushing the exoskeleton out a little bit...."

The longer you immerse yourself in Lungfish's music, the more the idea that a cosmic divinity compels them seems plausible. People often describe the band as "minimalist," "meditative," or, if being derogatory, "primitive" and "repetitive." It could be better said that Lungfish create a mesmerizing chaos of beauty, mythology, and graphic, unsettling imagery. It sounds like a collision between the MC5's focused rage, the majestic guitar pageantry of Led Zeppelin, the transcendent prayer-songs of Zen Buddhism, the psychedelic rants of the 13th Floor Elevators, Devo's sharp wit, H. P. Lovecraft's hypnotic terror-worlds, and the slow, easy sex found in the buoyant bass lines and rock-steady rhythms of Jamaican dub.

Live, Lungfish are unlike anything you'll soon witness again. A barrel-chested, heavily bearded, full-grown man deep in the throes of a shamanistic reverie, Higgs conducts himself more like a crazed prophet/poet from another dimension than a rock performer. Ferocious and otherworldly on stage, he's covered in tattoos from earlobes to ankles, and often labors in at least two pairs of pants, three or four shirts, a sweater, suit jacket, and work boots. Part Old Testament harbinger of the Apocalypse, and part physician's encyclopedia, he'll shed light on everything that's ever intrigued and terrified you. The band barely moves behind Higgs as his eyes roll back in his head and oceans of sweat froth from his beard, as he alternately shadowboxes or attempts to pull his own tongue out. I've observed him break a mic stand in half while screeching, "I beseech your long locust leg/Lust against a cloak of organs!... I beseech your secret number and name/the power of a single dollar/the power of the pinky finger!... wages of sin!... wages of sin!!!" And during a show at Brownies in NYC, two friends swear they saw him stab himself in the forehead with a safety pin and then eat a pen. Never a dull moment. Now you have the rare opportunity of seeing "The Lungfish" in action. Don't blow it.