Monday, May 27, 2013

Show Time!

JELLO BIAFRA AND THE GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE - LAS TETRAS - Powerstation, Auckland, New Zealand - 8th May 2013
During my 30 years of gig going, be it in the UK or here in New Zealand, this was the first time I had ever seen Biafra live. The last time Jello Biafra was in New Zealand with a full band was back in 1983 with the infamous DEAD KENNEDYS and I am guessing a lot of the crowd here had never experienced Biafra live either - although there were more than a few of older faces with grey hair who probably had attended.
My expectation was quite high; Biafra has recorded very few sub-average records and those with GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE must rank among the best of his post-DEAD KENNEDYS career. The new album, 'White People And The Damage Done' is the band's best yet. The band he’s assembled also leads to high expectations, be it former VICTIMS FAMILY guitarist Ralph Spight or former WEEN, ROLLINS BAND, PIGFACE, BUTTHOLE SURFERS (and more!) bassist Andrew Weiss, both names suggest quality. Round the band out with original guitarist Kimo Ball (who looks incredibly like the nephew of Malcolm and Angus Young and used to play with Spight in FREAK ACCIDENT) and drummer Paul Della Pelle (ex-HELIOS CREED) and it’s apparent this ain’t no band of slack, faceless session musicians playing second fiddle to Biafra’s infamy.
But before Biafra appeared, we got Auckland’s own LAS TETRAS. Made up of three young ladies, they played an impressive brand of moody and dramatic sound, mixing TH’ FAITH HEALERS, BREEDERS and a hint of JOY DIVISION. Unfortunately, the guitarist was plagued with problems from a (I think) distortion pedal that either crackled or, more often, just cut out. It was good to see the crowd who had bothered to come early get behind the band with some vocal support. Whether it was the technical issues or the size of the venue, the band did seem a little intimidated by it all.
TGSOM appeared amidst a volley of aural noise that seemed to go on for about five minutes; squealing guitars, pounded drums and destructo bass gave birth to a noise of intensity, of tension and almost apprehension before the opening notes of ‘The Terror Of Tinytown’ rang out and our hero Biafra bound on - dressed in a white doctor’s coat and surgical gloves all covered in blood! It made for an imposing sight and, with the band locked in in some heavy duty riffing, an excellent opener before ‘John Dillinger’ from the new album kicked in.
Given Biafra is now in his 50s and a little pot-bellied, it was great to see all of the theatrics and mime that make his live performance so compelling still intact. Once that doctor’s coat got removed, there was a Stars and Strips shirt under that with a ‘Shock-U-Py’ T-shirt under that! Nor has he lost any of his outspoken political rhetoric as between songs we got the Biafra ideal of what’s wrong with society, be it Obama’s failings for not impeaching the Bush regime for war crimes before ‘Barackstar O’Bummer’, some thoughts on religion prior to ‘Crapture’ or the scary science behind ‘The Cells That Will Not Die’. Nothing was held back from his performance - even getting shirtless and stage diving (several times) at the end.
As for the songs, tracks were played from all of TGSOM releases with highlights being a stunning ‘The Brown Lipstick Parade’, ‘New Feudalism’ and ‘Panic Land’ while ‘Three Strikes’ laid down some serious Hardcore that could be a lesson to 90% of bands today. ‘Shock-U-Py’ proved to be as effective live as it does on the new album also.
Some DEAD KENNEDYS songs got aired, including a revised ‘California Uber Alles’, ‘Police Truck’ and a stunning ‘Holiday In Cambodia’ that sounded frighteningly intense with two guitars. I could have done without ‘Kill The Poor’ and, especially, ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’. Both songs seemed out of place in the set - both in terms of sound and theme. I sense they were played as they were expected, much like crowd pleasers. Personally, I would’ve rather heard 'Victory Stinks' or something off ‘Plastic Surgery Disasters’.
The band also lived up to expectation - locking into some seriously intense riffing and a butt-swaggering rhythmic groove while the micro-stops mid-song were beyond tight. As for when the band kicked in after ward, it brought an uncontrollable smile of pleasure as the punch to the gut could be physically felt as well as aurally punishing. Spight in particular came across as the definition of a dynamic Punk Rock guitarist.
All too soon it had ended - Biafra had done his stage diving, the hum of feedback dwindled and the lights went up. I didn’t hear anyone complaining though - it proved to be an incredible night in every sense. Not only that, but it was also thought provoking. I remember going to gigs in my teens and coming away with new perspectives and ideas; now in my 40s it happens less often - but when it does, you know it’s a special person that can create such cogitation.
Only negative? Walking back to the hotel in the bloody rain of Auckland! And let’s face it, Biafra can’t control the weather!