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Review: Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine

THE ROXY, WEST HOLLYWOOD APRIL 6 2014

Punk legend and former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra occupied The Roxy on Sunset Strip, packing the place, on a Sunday night, for over thirty years of classic protest songs. Here's some things we learned at The Guantanamo School Of Medicine....

JELLO BIAFRA CAN'T READ

There is a sign on the side of the stage, clearly visible to all, that reads NO STAGE DIVING. Given that the 55 year old frontman spends much of his time diving from the stage and disappearing headlong into the audience, it's only reasonable to assume he can't read. Unless, of course, he's willfully ignoring the sign. Which is also a possibility since he hits the stage dressed in a clown/business suit, complete with bowler hat, like Iggy Pop possessed by Batman's Joker and the ghost of Joe Strummer. As a frontman Jello Biafra is one of a kind.

THE RICH WOULD VERY MUCH LIKE TO GET RICHER AT YOUR EXPENSE

Not that this is news, but it's a lesson worth repeating and a point drilled home particularly well in New Feudalism, from 2009's The Audacity Of Hype. Indeed, not much of the material aired tonight is news, Biafra jesting that he's “preaching to the choir with Uncle Jello”, but with several generations singing along it always someone's first time. Far from being the spiky-haired nostalgia-fest that one might expect with the more vintage punk bands, both band and audience are from all walks of life, a rich and diverse bunch. Well, perhaps not rich. Jello suggests “corporate sabotage.”

IT DOESN'T HURT TO UPGRADE, BUT IT CAN BE CONFUSING

“I am governor Jerry Brown, my aura smiles but never frowns,” began the classic California Uber Alles, in 1979, before morphing, in 1984, to We've Got A Bigger Problem Now and “Emperor Ronald Reagan, born again with fascist cravings..” By 2005 it had become, “G_overnor Schwarzeneggger, pretty soon I'll be dictator_,” which is the version the band play tonight, Kali-fornia Uber Alles 21stCentury from the Biafra/Melvins collaboration Sieg Howdy. Except that Jerry Brown is the current governor of California so, ironically, the original would have been more up to date. Frighteningly prophetic.

DEAD KENNEDYS KICKED ASS

Again this is hardly news to anyone who was lucky enough to see them before it became a Biafra-less karaoke routine, but Dead Kennedys wrote some phenomenal tunes. Along with the aforementioned Uber Alles, The Guantanamo School Of Medicine belt out Nazi Punks Fuck Off, Chemical Warfare, Too Drunk To Fuck, Kill The Poor and Holiday In Cambodia, each sounding as vital as ever. Sometimes it helps to have a few young guns in the band, hungry and happy to be here, rather than some bloke who's worked in accounts for ten years and got back together for a last chance to cash in. But no Let's Lynch The Landlord in West Hollywood? For shame!

IT AIN'T OVER 'TIL IT'S OVER

After such a blistering set it is customary to pop back on a play an encore or two, but three or four? The Guantanamo School Of Medicine just keep coming back for more, catching several people off guard as they head out the door. But wait, there's more! White People And The Damage Done, Shock-U-Py, and still the pace never lets up. Biafra's off into the crowd again, four time during the last encore, kids hauling him one way while the stage crew tries to pull him back, following the mic lead for clues to his last known whereabouts. Biafra for president, anyone?

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